Opinion: Being mayor in New York City

By former Assemblyman Steve Sanders

Five years ago this month, Bill de Blasio was running for mayor against a bevy of better-known candidates featuring City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Congressman Anthony Weiner in the Democratic Primary. His early standing in the polls was fifth among five.

As the summer wore on, one by one they fell by the wayside.

Weiner’s political career dissolved amid a flurry of revelations about his obsession with sending pictures and texts of the most personal nature to women (and later even girls). He was utterly discredited. Quinn came across as entitled and arrogant and the voters soured on her. Another contender, City Comptroller John Liu, had been fined hundreds of thousands of dollars for illegal political advertising and never gained traction. And Bill Thompson could not repeat his impressive showing from four years earlier.

By the end of August just weeks before the primary, voters began to gravitate towards de Blasio by process of elimination. He was progressive and made great promises about a liberal renaissance after 20 years of Republican rule in City Hall.


He proposed freezing rent increases, creating a new generation of affordable housing, advancing social justice and so much more. He was free from scandal and seemed to hit all the right chords with Democratic voters. He won the primary, and easily defeated his Republican opponent in the November General Election to become New York City’s 108th mayor.

Last year with minimal competition he was re-elected. However, once in office, de Blasio showed little appetite for doing the small things, the nuts and bolts of running the city. He was often late arriving to community events and even blamed his tardiness on oversleeping and waking up groggy. He likes being driven from Gracie Mansion to his favorite gym in Brooklyn. Often his work day would not begin until after 10 a.m. He got into a major fight with the Police Union and made matters worse by appearing to give police nemesis Rev. Al Sharpton a leading role in law enforcement policy.

He spoke often about the larger national issues and spent time traveling to other states trying to become a national spokesman for progressive causes. Early in his first term he got embroiled in an ongoing battle with Governor Cuomo over political primacy in New York. He tried without success to engineer the defeat of Long Island Republican state senators, which enraged that majority party. It made him persona non grata in the Senate, effectively hobbling any hopes of getting his legislative agenda passed in Albany.

Now less than a year into his second term, de Blasio is beset by a trio of problems that may sink the rest of his mayoralty. The New York City mass transit system is in crisis needing a massive infusion of capital spending to keep the infrastructure from failing. De Blasio’s feud with Cuomo is making that herculean task even more difficult. As a consequence, little progress is being made.

Public housing conditions became a major scandal after it was revealed that critical testing for lead paint was either never done or records were falsified under de Blasio’s watch. Try as he may, the mayor cannot evade direct responsibility. Meanwhile, children have been diagnosed with dangerously high levels of contaminates in their blood. And to make matters worse for de Blasio, his image as a dedicated reformer is being shredded by revelations of big political contributions funneled to his campaign in exchange for favors to the donors. Maybe in his final three years in office he can turn things around, but it looks doubtful.

Is there a moral to this story? Most mayors come to the office with lofty political hopes for themselves that may extend beyond the corners of New York City. But the really successful ones know that first and foremost they must attend to the daily needs of governing the world’s greatest city. Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia set the standard in the 1930s and ‘40s. Ed Koch followed in that tradition for 12 years in the late 1970s and ‘80s, as did Michael Bloomberg more recently. Each had their ambitions, but the public felt that these persons were laser focused on New York City, and as such had confidence in their ability and work.

With term limits we know for sure that New Yorkers will elect a new mayor in 2021. My advice to that person is to keep their eyes trained on the five boroughs, not to over-promise, and certainly not to oversleep.

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3 thoughts on “Opinion: Being mayor in New York City

  1. Ever since he’s become mayor this city has become a sess pool. With the mentally ill homeless people roaming the streets, with the rehab places for troubled teens and men harassing innocent people (Kips Bay recently teen beat up a women in BROAD DAYLIGHT as a result of a new home for troubled teens on 1st avenue in the 20’s), and something new thanks to deBlasio…. you can now PISS in the streets. Yep, men can now take their penis out and urinate in between cars and it is now okay. Hey Mr. deBlasio, the streets smell like PISS. He has taken us back to the streets in the 70’s where the city was disgusting and not safe. So thank you Mr. deBlasio for bringing the 70’s back. In a bad way. You ruined my city.The only reason he won was because there was no one else. The majority of New Yorkers don’t want him and think he is doing a terrible job. Get with the program deBlasio………. PLEEEEEEASE. This is my home.

  2. The mayor of New York can’t do anything directly about the subway. That problem is entirely the governor’s issue, and by framing the issue as being held up by a “feud” we stroll directly into the governor’s accountability trap.

    Yes, the governor has asked the mayor to contribute money to the MTA. It’s not the mayor’s money. It’s our money – municipal taxes paid to support municipal services, not state spending. Cuomo’s gambit is to charge us twice for something that is being done 0 times (the Emergency Order has delivered no positive results in subway reliability, even though city tax revenues ultimately funded half of it).

    The other issues are the mayor’s to own. I’m not concerned about the accusations of “pay to play” as much as I am concerned about the other issues, mostly because the other issues directly impact the health and transportation (basic needs) of New York citizens, but also because generally de Blasio has not seemed to deviate from well-worn paths in city contracts/policy and political fundraising (he has met with the same lobbyists, received money from the same donors, hired the same contractors and kept the same general agency policies as previous mayors) – with few egregious exceptions. He’s far from being the most notable corruption case in New York, though clearly he is no angel or populist when it comes to fundraising. I am aghast at the issues with lead paint in NYCHA, and it’s not acceptable to say that these were issues he inherited (technically true, still deplorable). I truly hope the public isn’t bored of hearing about NYCHA issues because so much more needs to be done & it’s really all about money (that needs to be spent well & not funneled elsewhere).

    As a side note, while the city government has no role in the operation of the subway, NYC DOT has a very big part to play in NYCT bus services. DOT, and the mayor himself, have dragged their feet on following through on commitments to create corridors where adequate bus service can be run. This is mostly because neighborhood residents are staunchly against bus infrastructure (because it displaces their personal cars or a driving lane) and because NYPD is not committed to enforcement (because the officers’ personal cars & the department’s unused cruisers are the things blocking existing bus lanes all the time). These are situations where the fixes are very simple but the mayor is not interested in doing the right thing due to the irrational opposition these fixes would ignite. And I am not going to lie: the council, the borough president, the other citywide electeds, and local Albany reps are all very very quiet on this matter as well. (Well, except the ones who are fighting to maintain free street parking spots in corridors where better bus service is needed) Meanwhile bus ridership is cratering. People in poor-transit districts are taking cabs everywhere now. We are regressing and this situation is unsustainable. This is far, far more damning for the mayor & all the politicians and leaders in NYC than anything that the governor is trying to pin on de Blasio regarding the subways. (BTW: Have you seen Cuomo advocate for better bus service in NYC once in eight years? No one could care less about that than he has.)

  3. He should be fired. No one understands that he remains in office after the findings of the public housing debacle. Not one media outlet is reporting on it. That shows the New York Media is too liberal and in support of de Blasio and does not care about problems New York is facing. Any other person and the media would be all over it, each and every day, evening and night till that person would resign. Disgusting the present media and its mayor. Time for real change. De Blasio doe snot care about New York, he wants to become Governor and up. Stop him before it’s too late

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