As Emails Reveal His Grievances and Grudges, de Blasio Doubles Down
Posted May 25, 2018 7:17 p.m. EDT
NEW YORK — Regrets? Mayor Bill de Blasio had but one.
A day after his administration reluctantly released more than 4,200 pages of emails, many of them offering his frank, occasionally profane and often dismissive opinions of the media and other entities he deemed unworthy, the mayor paid a rare visit to Room 9, the City Hall warren for the local press corps.
An apology would not be forthcoming.
“Some of this is my frustration and my pain over what I’d hoped for versus what I experienced,” de Blasio said Friday of the news media, and mentioning the generations of journalists in his family, including both his brothers. “I have not seen what I hoped for.”
De Blasio’s only offered regret Friday was that his comments had been made public. He said he assumed that they never would be and so he felt freer to write what he really felt.
“Obviously if we had known that we would not have put those things into email,” the mayor said during a radio interview Friday morning. “I regret the whole thing.”
The disclosure of emails sent by the mayor of the nation’s largest city contained no hints of scandal, but offered yet another reminder of the danger of committing private thoughts to a digital record.
His missives provided the most direct look yet at an often private mayor and his insular close circle of advisers. In writing, de Blasio is by turns sensitive and sanctimonious, aggressive and insecure. He parses political tactics and media strategy with an intensity of a campaign operative who sees public perception as blood sport.
“I have no use for these people,” de Blasio wrote in a late 2015 email after a profile appeared in The Atlantic magazine that he hated. “Let’s just do the work and go right around the so-called referees.”
“NO ONE say ANYTHING about the MTA publicly without clearing it with me first,” he wrote elsewhere in a 2015 email to aides who would have had him recommending more city spending on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, something he did not want to do.
On Friday, de Blasio sought to explain his remarks, and in doing so, doubled down on them.
His first comments came on his weekly Friday radio interview on WNYC, excoriating the corporate ownership media, and expressing his preference for The Guardian over any local paper, including The New York Times, which he said was “not my cup of tea.” His saved his harshest words for The New York Post, saying that should it ever close he would “not shed a tear.”
Then de Blasio carried that sentiment to Room 9 in City Hall, his first appearance there in nearly two years.
“Are we living in a dream world?” the mayor said during a remarkable and testy 26-minute news conference, a back-and-forth carried live on local television. He suggested some form of state media might be desirable, attacked the “corporate media” whose profit interests he said led to unfair coverage of his administration and defended his tough words with aides.
“I’m often dissatisfied with my own performance,” he said without elaborating. “It’s not the question of being blunt with people or being tough with people: that’s not changing.”
De Blasio bristled when a reporter asked if he saw some similarity to President Donald Trump’s disdain for the media, but his remarks have more in common with Trump than he would care to admit, said Jeanne Zaino, a professor of political science at Iona College.
“He’s sounding more and more like the president to me,” Zaino said. “There is very little air between him and Donald Trump in feeling like they are being attacked by the media.”
The release of de Blasio’s emails came after a state appeals court ruled against city lawyers earlier this month in a case involving thousands of emails between his aides and outside consultants that his administration once memorably dubbed “agents of the city.” The term was meant to underscore their privileged status. Instead, the court found that these non-city workers had no special status that protected their communications with the city from disclosure under the state Freedom of Information law.
De Blasio had long contended that he needed to prevent the disclosure of the emails in order to get unvarnished advice from those he trusted, what he often referred to as his “kitchen cabinet.” But it appears from the trove that he also sought to protect his own communications — about a hundred, including some that are painfully direct — from seeing the light of day.
De Blasio found support from some of his advisers. John Del Cecato of AKPD Message and Media, who helped the mayor with speeches and other public relations, suggested strategies to improve the mayor’s image, such as posting Twitter messages showing him riding the subway or working late at night. Jonathan Rosen, a principal in a public relations firm, BerlinRosen, with clients before the city, talked openly with the mayor about the political experts they disliked, or tired of hearing from. Among the emails was one from de Blasio just days into his first term, in which the mayor is angry with Richard Brodsky, a former Democratic state assemblyman, over a quote about the prospects for raising taxes to pay for prekindergarten, a mayoral priority that ultimately failed.
Rosen suggested that any article with quotes from Brodsky or Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic political adviser, might be disregarded as a matter of course.
“Rosen called me yesterday and he started with an apology,” said Brodsky, who then referred to a scene from a “Godfather” movie.
“As Hyman Roth says to Michael Corleone, this is the business we chose.”
Rosen and Del Cecato declined to comment. Sheinkopf, however, was happy to talk.
“You can’t survive in politics when you have no friends, and that’s where this is heading,” Sheinkopf said in an interview. “Ask Eliot Spitzer — he had no friends. This will mean that the last two years of this administration is going to be difficult.”
Karen Hinton, a former press secretary to de Blasio, said that she had advised the mayor to spend more time with reporters and take his lumps when they came. “That will make your position much stronger,” she said.
The former speaker of the City Council, Melissa Mark-Viverito, said she had learned to take a similar approach with the media, even though she sometimes disagreed with the coverage she received.
“When I became speaker I had to find a way to work with people,” Mark-Viverito said, “because there is an important role and function the media plays in our society.”
De Blasio instead opted Friday for a more direct approach, telling reporters to cover more “truth” about his administration, both the bad and the good. “Not that it’s supposed to be Vladimir Putin kind of coverage,” he added. “Just fairness.”
Aides said the idea of his talking to the media in Room 9 was to put the story of the emails behind him before the long weekend so that it would not extend into next week.
But with questions remaining and some reporters straining past the row of television cameras, the news conference ended with a shouted question: “Who owns you, Mr. Mayor?”
De Blasio did not respond.