New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio brought a surprisingly confrontational energy to the crowded debate stage Wednesday night, loudly staking his claim in topics like healthcare and gun violence without holding back from challenging his fellow candidates.
De Blasio, who has stayed relatively quiet on the campaign trail, used his time to flex a mayoral muscle using examples from his two terms in office as policy pitches.
He repeated hallmarks of his mayoral career as promises to the American people: $15 minimum wage, paid sick leave and universal pre-kindergarten.
“These things really matter,” he said. “These are the things I did in New York and want to do for this whole country. We can put working people first, again, in America.”
On stage, the 58-year-old mayor rose above other candidates in stature, in volume and in bold ideas.
De Blasio was joined only by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren in raising his hand in support of getting rid of private health insurance entirely and implementing government-run healthcare, and when former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke defended a healthcare system that stops short of a full-blown expansion of Medicare, de Blasio unabashedly jumped in.
“But private insurance is not working for tens of millions of Americans,” he said, marking the first clash of the night.
The mayor came in strong on other issues, like underscoring the need for congressional authorization of war by talking about his father’s suicide after World War II and telling of his son, Dante, as an example of why he cares about police-involved shootings and gun violence.
“For the last 21 years I have been raising a black son in America,” he said. “He has to take special caution. We need to have a different conversation about guns and a different conversation about policing.”
Since he was elected mayor, however, he has disappointed many of the Democrats who voted him into office on the progressive issues he talked about Wednesday night. While he vowed to make life better for struggling New Yorkers, income inequality has widened during his time in office.
When asked about how he’d address income inequality as president, he repeated examples of some of his mayoral victories, and echoed his own campaign slogan: put working people first.
“Yes, we’re supposed to be for free public college, we are supposed to break up big corporations when they are not serving our democracy. In New York we prove that we can do something very different,” de Blasio said. “We can put money back in the hands of working people. There’s plenty of money in this country, it’s just in the wrong hands. Democrats have to fix that.”
An April Quinnipiac poll showed New York City voters gave de Blasio an anemic 42% job approval rating and at the time of the poll, an analyst for Quinnipiac University, Mary Snow, said de Blasio’s flirtation with a 2020 White House bid prompted “a rare moment of unity among New Yorkers.” “Three-quarters of them say, ‘Mr. Mayor: Don’t do it,’ ” she said.
The dismal poll numbers played out in real life in Miami this week. New York City’s Police Benevolent Association — which is headed to a negotiation with the city over a new contract — took out a full-page, $15,000 ad in the Wednesday Miami Herald slamming their mayor, and sent protesters and an electronic-billboard truck circling the Arsht Center.
De Blasio is set to have a rally Thursday at the American Airlines departures door at Miami International Airport.