By Former Assemblyman Steven Sanders
Bill de Blasio is in double trouble. I have always liked him as a decent person. But his administration faces allegations of corruption, cronyism and election finance violations with possible criminal referrals. Those legal issues would be enough to deal with. But the mayor and his administration face an equally damning political charge of hypocrisy. The latter could prove to be fatal for his mayoralty.
The voters are used to a bit of skulduggery on the part of the ruling class. Politics is not missionary work and politicians are not saints. That has been true since the beginning of time. However, voters do expect at a minimum a level of competence and a modicum of trust that when a politician says something he or she will follow through. When officials hold themselves out to be paragons of virtue and then do the opposite they can rightfully expect the wrath of their constituents.
Bill Clinton was a case in point. Voters knew that he was a bit of a rogue and that he practiced politics without pretending that he was an exemplar of ethical behavior. So they forgave him his lapses. But Bill de Blasio promised that he was above all that. A different kind of politician who eschewed political deal-making and promised to reform the political process and its campaign finance practices, and to have an administration that was totally transparent and accountable. Uh-oh.
It now appears that the mayor’s administration has been involved in very questionable policy initiatives in part designed to help the mayor’s closest friends and donors. And perhaps worse, the de Blasio political operatives have been actively trying to skirt the very campaign contribution laws that the mayor says he wishes to strengthen. What makes these allegations being investigated by multiple state and federal authorities so damning is that Bill de Blasio is being made to look either incompetent, by not knowing what his underlings were doing, or looking like a hypocrite… saying one thing and doing quite another, legal or not.
In less than three years in office, Bill de Blasio has made a mortal enemy of Governor Cuomo by condemning him as not being a real progressive for his refusal to raise taxes as the preferred way to pay for the mayor’s universal pre-K initiative. Cuomo did not take kindly to the mayor’s assertions of the governor’s political bona fides. The two have been at war ever since.
De Blasio made the same mistake with Hillary Clinton early on by saying that he would need to be more convinced of her progressive credentials before he could support her. This while he was in hot pursuit of trying to become the national leader of the more liberal wing of the Democratic Party. His attempts to do that by travelling around the country espousing his views on income inequality and social injustices failed miserably and alienated a lot of his New York constituents by setting records for being away from City Hall so much in his first years in office.
To make matters worse, when he was in town and attending to city matters he was frequently absent or late for events. He held closed door meetings out of the sight of the press or public. So much for transparency. The mayor’s attempt to intervene in upstate and suburban political races in the State Senate by funneling big contributions through backdoor political accounts that could then be turned over to favored candidates in excess of campaign contribution limits was also a bust. All that did was enrage the powers that control the State Senate and make it worse for New York City to achieve its objectives in the legislature especially after poking the governor in the eye with his tax stick.
Mayor de Blasio has failed to impress the voters or the newspaper editors as being a mayor focused on day to day New York City matters. He seems to have been more intent on building a national reputation amongst progressive Democrats than doing the often mundane tasks of governing the city effectively.
As a candidate for Mayor in 2013, de Blasio vowed he would transform the murky political world into one that would be much more upstanding and fair to ordinary people without special connections. The allegations of corruption are now swirling above City Hall like vultures anticipating prey.
Now what we see is a mayor who was very good at saying all the right things while running for office, but was seemingly never intent on or capable of living by those precepts.
In politics, hypocrisy is one sin that the voters do not forget or easily forgive.