Is Bill de Blasio trying to be president or just the next Elizabeth Warren?
On Wednesday afternoon, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio held a press conference in the Bronx to announce some new environmental initiatives. However, when he took questions from reporters, de Blasio found himself being asked whether he's eyeing the White House.
"No. No. No," de Blasio stated in response to a question about whether he's running or in any way positioning himself for a presidential campaign.
"I’ve really said ‘no’ a lot. I’m going to say no again. I am running for re-election as the mayor of New York City in 2017," added de Blasio, who took office last year.
Though he's just a little over five years removed from the City Council, de Blasio was the subject of intense presidential speculation following a report published by the New York Post's Fred Dicker on Monday that alleged the mayor is in a "secret bid to be Dems' 2016 pick."
"Mayor Bill de Blasio is positioning himself to be the leftist 'progressive' alternative to Wall Street-friendly Hillary Rodham Clinton as the Democratic candidate for president, a national party operative told The Post," Dicker wrote, adding, "De Blasio’s hope, the operative said, is a 'Draft de Blasio' movement will develop among progressive activists over the next several months that will lead to the mayor being able to defeat Clinton in the primary elections next year."
Dicker's story referenced de Blasio's recent trip to Iowa, a crucial early primary state. But one de Blasio ally told Business Insider that the mayor's campaigning is "absolutely not" tied to the presidential race and described Dicker's story as "ridiculous."
"He is only interested in elevating the issue of income inequality and proposing progressive solutions to it," the ally said of de Blasio, adding, "That was written in an alternate reality."
In an email to Business Insider on Wednesday, Dicker said, "I stand by my column."
Along with his visit to Iowa, de Blasio went to Nebraska earlier this month. He is scheduled to go to Wisconsin this weekend and Washington, D.C. next month. The ally, who requested not to be named in order to speak candidly about de Blasio's strategy, described de Blasio's travel tour as a mission to push a series of policy proposals rather than testing the presidential waters.
"This is about elevating a set of issues, it specifically focuses on income inequality and progressive remedies to the wage gap," the ally said. "He wants that to be a part of the national discourse and he wants candidates and elected officials at every level to address these issues in specific terms."
While his trip to Iowa was indeed focused on his efforts to promote progressive policies to confront poverty, the potential 2016 symbolism of a campaign appearance in a key presidential primary state is undeniable. This was particularly true because de Blasio's visit to the Hawkeye State took place just after he went on NBC's "Meet The Press" on the morning of April 12 and declined to endorse Hillary Clinton, who was launching her White House bid later that day.
"Like a lot of people in this country, I want to see a vision and that would be true of candidates on all levels. It’s time to see a clear bold vision for progressive economic change," de Blasio said, later adding "No, not until I see — again I would say this about any candidate — until I see an actual vision of where she wants to go.”
With the timing of his remarks and the fact that de Blasio managed Clinton's 2000 U.S. Senate campaign in New York, his comments made national headlines. Following the Post report, New York Republican Party Chairman Ed Cox also tried to promote the idea that de Blasio could threaten Clinton in 2016.
However, the de Blasio ally said the mayor's remarks about Clinton were simply an extension of his efforts to push other politicians to focus on income inequality.
"For him to have spent months and months talking about how elected officials and candidates at every level need to spell out solutions on income inequality and for him not to have made the same demand of the Clinton campaign would have been disingenuous," the ally said.
Business Insider also confirmed with a source that de Blasio's appearance on "Meet The Press" was already scheduled before news broke that Clinton would announce her campaign that weekend.
Still, despite his denials that he's eyeing the presidential race, a former de Blasio aide suggested to Business Insider that the mayor might have a desire to inject himself into the 2016 conversation.
"I keep thinking how insane it is that he actually went to Iowa," one of the ex-aides said, adding, "It's not like a national self-promotion tour is out of character for him."
Another former de Blasio aide said the mayor may hope to inspire the same kind of grassroots movement that has emerged to push another progressive, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), to run for president. Though Warren has repeatedly denied she's interested in the 2016 race, many activists are attempting to draft her. There's even a "Ready For Warren" group dedicated to the cause. However, the former aide said they doubted de Blasio could generate the same kind of enthusiasm as Warren even if he wanted to.
"I don't think there's a 'Ready for de Blasio' crowd except in de Blasio's head," they said.
A D.C.-based progressive operative suggested that there is a position de Blasio is clearly running for, but it's not president. Rather, they suggested the mayor wants to "position himself" alongside Warren "as a co-lead of the progressive wing of the party."
"He's deliberatly injecting himself in the conversation for purposes of leadership of the progressive movement, not name recognition," the operative said. "He wants to position himself as a co-leader along with Warren of
The idea that the mayor is trying to emerge as a leader of the Democratic Party's progressive wing fits more closely with what the de Blasio ally said is the goal of his travels around the country. However, the ally rejected the idea that de Blasio wants to become a figurehead for progressives.
"I think he wants the issues elevated and he wants people to propose real solutions to it. He's not intent on being the leader of that. He wants others to speak out and he's actually urged others to be part of this. It's not about him, it's about the set of issues," the de Blasio ally said. "He's going to be a forceful advocate for this, but he wants others to step up because there's such a hunger for this around the country."
In his speech in Iowa, de Blasio described his view of "the so-called 'progressive wing' of the Democratic Party." Based on the prepared version of those remarks, he positioned himself as one of many Democrats pushing this agenda.
"One only [needs to] look back at history to understand the progressive movement is the majority of the Democratic Party — and has been since the Roosevelt era," he said, adding, "I share those values."