National News

Inauguration Marks an Unofficial Start to the 2021 Mayoral Campaign

Posted January 1, 2018 7:37 p.m. EST

NEW YORK — If the second inauguration of Mayor Bill de Blasio on Monday lacked some of the excitement of his first go-round, the undercard at the event — a pair of speeches by the newly re-elected comptroller, Scott M. Stringer, and the public advocate, Letitia A. James — provided at least a hint of dramatic tension.

Both politicians are in the second and final terms of their offices and are already being talked about in political circles as potential rivals in the Democratic primary for mayor in 2021. And so, for each, the inauguration address was the unofficial opening stump speech of what is likely to be a protracted, if not yet announced, campaign to succeed de Blasio, a Democrat.

Stringer, in his speech, made a nod to consensus, calling the mayor and James his “partners in government,” while pointedly focusing on the economic inequality and poverty that still bedevil New York City four years after de Blasio promised to end what he termed the “tale of two cities.”

“More New Yorkers live in poverty than there are people in Philadelphia or Phoenix,” Stringer said in an address that included no direct mention of the job of comptroller. “If we become a place where the entrance fee is a $2 million condo and where only the most privileged can prosper, then we will betray the promise of New York.”

James, for her part, aimed for the political center and used unifying language that appeared to reach for President Barack Obama’s early rhetoric.

“All New Yorkers want a safe neighborhood where police and communities are partners and where your success is determined by your hard work and God-given potential,” she said, addressing a crowd of more than 900 huddled with blankets and handwarmers on the frigid City Hall plaza. “These are not Republican or Democratic values. These are not even just New York values. These are American values.”

In a speech marked by messages of cooperation and a summary of her record, James took two veiled shots at de Blasio, bringing up the need for public housing that is “free of dangerous lead” — a reference to failures at the city’s Housing Authority under de Blasio to test for the potentially hazardous lead paint — and the city’s chronic homelessness crisis. “The best solution for homelessness is more homes, not more shelters,” she said. The mayor has called for 90 new shelters across the city.

But de Blasio, from his seat behind the podium on the dais, nodded in agreement both times.

“Today was the first unofficial day of the 2021 campaign,” said David Greenfield, a former city councilman from Brooklyn who attended the ceremony.

Stringer and James are not the only ones in the undeclared competition.

The extended list, at this far-too-early date, also includes officials like the borough presidents of the Bronx and Brooklyn — Ruben Diaz Jr. and Eric Adams — and Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, who at least one administration official has said would be interested in making a run. (Others have denied that she has any interest.) Each would be out of a job in four years and may be looking for the next high political perch. All three were in attendance Monday.

Some political observers have also added Corey Johnson, who was also at the ceremony and is beginning his final term as a council member and is expected to be elected speaker of the City Council on Wednesday. “I think Quinn is in the minds of most electeds looking to 2021,” said Christina Greer, a professor of political science at Fordham University, who attended the inauguration Monday. Christine C. Quinn, the former City Council speaker, was seen as aligned with the policies of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, which hurt her Democratic primary bid in 2013. In other words, the mayoral hopefuls will quite likely spend much of the next four years as foils to de Blasio.

It is a familiar dynamic.

“I guarantee you in the next four years, we’re going to agree on everything!” de Blasio said sardonically of James and Stringer during his inaugural address.

Stringer, who privately toyed with the idea of mounting a primary challenge to de Blasio in 2017, begins the competition ahead in the money game. Because he did not accept matching funds for his re-election campaign for comptroller — a race in which he faced no strong competition — he can roll over much of his campaign cash into his 2021 mayoral campaign account, a sum that his aides put at more than $1.3 million.

Diaz had about $900,000 after his re-election race, though only about $600,000 of it could be rolled over into a campaign account because he took public funds for his campaign that he will have to return, according to a spokesman. So did James for her largely carefree cruise back to the public advocate’s office; she also has far less in her account — about $39,000 — and the unspent funds would have to be paid back. But there is a lot of time to make up ground.

“Tish James!” a man at the inauguration, wearing a pair of blankets over his wool coat, yelled out several times, whenever her name came up. He left after James spoke.

Before the inauguration, several council members in attendance joked that whoever gave the shortest speech would be the early favorite for 2021.

In that, Stringer prevailed. While James’ remarks stretched to 13 minutes, his ended in less than six.