When I moved from working in New York City and state politics to doing the same in California, one of the biggest adjustments was learning that here on the West Coast, we get our morning news three hours late. By the time those of us who live and breathe the news of the day wake up and check Twitter, the Presidential tweetstorm has already died down, and we can read reactions and reviews over the first cup of coffee.
From here, our view of the 2020 Democratic Primary contest is of a vast constellation of progressive elected officials looking at innovative solutions to real problems. Whether it’s Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s plan to break up the largest tech companies, Sen. Cory Booker’s focus on criminal justice reform, or Gov. Jay Inslee’s intense focus on climate change, the campaign looks — to voters in the most populous state — like a growing competition of ideas.
So it has been with surprise and bemusement that those of us on the other side of flyover country have watched New York City media repeatedly throw the cold water of the East River on the apparently far-fetched idea that the executive of the largest city in the nation may have something to offer in this debate. We want to hear as many voices as possible, and that includes the policies of Mayor de Blasio.
Many of the debates within today’s Democratic Party ultimately boil down to the relative merits of universal vs. means-tested government programs — Medicare for All vs. an expanded Affordable Care Act, or college tax credits vs. a transition to tuition-free public universities. On this broad philosophical discussion about the future of our party and our country, Mayor de Blasio has staked out a firm position by supporting school lunches for all, regardless of income, the sort of expansive program championed by millennials and a resurgent left.
Between this and the resounding success of universal pre-K, the hallmark of his first mayoral term, he has both an ideological position to occupy and a record to support it.
After the presidency, mayor of New York City is likely the most complicated elected job in the nation. The de Blasio administration has shown a willingness to take on tough challenges, bringing peace to the city’s labor movement, a feat largely regarded as impossible when he took office, and has outlined a plan to reduce the city’s role in a racist culture of mass incarceration and close Rikers Island.
Keeping the city running — in fact, continuing to notch safety records even as he has reformed criminal justice — requires real executive chops, and anyone who can do it deserves to be taken at least as seriously as Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Buttigieg, who has been gaining momentum in recent weeks, represents a city smaller than a single New York City Council district. Rep. Beto O’Rourke had all of three terms under his belt as one of 435 members of the House of Representatives.
All candidates face a rift between their local reputation, earned over years of close scrutiny, and the national persona they have sought to craft and project. I realize de Blasio has fallen short in some ways; name a mayor who hasn’t. But his accomplishments are real and deserve a hearing by Democratic voters.
New York City has the most talented and hard-hitting press corps in the country — perhaps in the world — and it’s natural that New Yorkers will think of all the critiques, deserved and undeserved, that they’ve heard over the last six years. I hope you will forgive us, though, if far removed from debates about gym attendance or concerns about eating pizza with a knife and fork, the policies enacted by this mayor make for an appealing presidential candidate — or at least an intriguing one.
California Democrats will vote on our nominee in March of 2020, making the Golden State the first big prize of the campaign. Between now and then, I expect to have the opportunity to hear from the two-dozen candidates hundreds of times. I don’t know if I’ll mail in my ballot for Mayor de Blasio, but the leader of America’s largest city is certainly experienced, and brings interesting ideas to the table. I hope the concerns of his local detractors — whether or not they have merit — don’t stop him from sharing those ideas with us.
Mr. Mayor, we’re listening.