De Blasio’s Pitch for Progressivism Finds an Ally Across the River
Posted May 2, 2018 12:14 a.m. EDT
NEWARK, N.J. — New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has logged tens of thousands of miles traveling across the country selling what he has called his brand of “progressive economic populism.”
From at least three trips to Iowa and several trips to the nation’s capital, de Blasio has crisscrossed America during his 4 1/2 years as mayor talking about the wave of progressivism that he sees sweeping the country.
De Blasio has not always had success in that endeavor. A presidential forum that a liberal advocacy group, founded by the mayor and his wife, Chirlane McCray, planned to host in Iowa to shape the elections around income inequality was scrapped when no candidates agreed to attend.
That failure has not deterred de Blasio, who said that a five-day, taxpayer-financed swing through the South in March was explicitly to strategize with other like-minded progressive elected officials.
Two months earlier, during a recent trip to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Ras J. Baraka, the mayor of Newark, New Jersey, said he asked de Blasio about New York City’s right to counsel law, which provides free lawyers in housing court for tenants who make less than $50,000 per year for a family of four.
That discussion led to Tuesday, as de Blasio took the 10-mile drive across the Hudson River from City Hall to Newark to help Baraka announce a tenant initiative modeled after New York City’s, which was believed to be the first in the nation.
“We obviously took the lead from Mayor de Blasio and the great work that he’s doing in New York City,” Baraka said during a news conference at Newark City Hall, as de Blasio stood behind him wearing a big smile.
“At the U.S. Conference of Mayors, I got a chance to corner him and sit down and have a conversation about a few things — Amazon, second term and right to counsel,” Baraka said, referring to his city’s efforts to become home to Amazon’s second headquarters and his bid for a second term.
De Blasio was equally effusive.
“So, this is going to be a game-changer for Newark,” de Blasio said. “And I want to say, thanks to Mayor Baraka, a lot of people are going to be able to stay in their home, a lot of illegal evictions are going to be stopped, that’s a new day for Newark.”
City officials say this is not the first time that an idea from de Blasio’s administration has been picked up elsewhere. London modeled a citywide mental health initiative after ThriveNYC, an $850 million effort to address mental health issues that is led by McCray. New York has also offered consulting to several other cities, including Detroit, Milwaukee and Chicago, about its municipal identification program called IDNYC, officials said.
“At the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Mayor de Blasio has a huge footprint,” Baraka said in an interview. “People look to him. As one of the larger cities in the country, he’s very vocal about the pushback against Donald Trump.”
Christina M. Greer, a political-science professor who is a McSilver Institute Fellow at New York University, said she was not surprised to see de Blasio promoting his brand outside of the city.
“If he wants to maintain the idea that he is a progressive mayor, he has to consistently reiterate the ways in which he supports progressive ideas,” Greer said.
The danger is that highlighting these proposals also highlights some of the difficulties the city has had, Greer said. For example, the IDNYC program caused the administration to go to court to be allowed to destroy the information of unauthorized residents. Others have questioned the effectiveness of ThriveNYC in light of recent fatal police shootings of mentally ill individuals.
“We have a lot of progressive values and ideas that appear to have been a success, but you scratch the surface and there’s a lot more to be done on those issues,” Greer said.
Newark, where 78 percent of the residents are renters, still has to work through several issues, including funding.
Baraka said that de Blasio is not the only mayor he looks to for ideas, citing two other Democrats, Eric M. Garcetti in Los Angeles and Mitchell J. Landrieu in New Orleans. He’s considering implementing a proposal from Stockton, California, whose mayor, Michael Tubbs, has suggested that homeless people clean the streets.
“Mayors, we encourage each other, we support each other, if one’s got a good idea they tell the next one,” de Blasio said. “If one’s got a problem, we talk it through and help each other out.”
De Blasio then concluded his remarks and ducked out of Newark City Hall, refusing to take questions.
Baraka did not follow the mayor’s lead, inviting the media to ask questions.
“The mayor has to head on back to New York,” Baraka said moments after a hug and a handshake from de Blasio.