Facing months of speculation, Mayor Bill de Blasio on Friday came the closest he has to date of confirming that he is entertaining, if not actively pursuing, a possible run for New York governor in 2022.
Asked about a Politico story that he had reached out to labor groups to gauge their support, the mayor told MSNBC host Willie Geist that he was committed to a life of public service.
“I want to keep working on crucial issues and causes I particularly care about, things like education for our kids,” he said. “These are the kinds of things I’m going to devote myself to.”
Several hours later, when pressed on the issue by WNYC’s Brian Lehrer, de Blasio responded: “I want to keep serving. I’m going to look at the best way to do that. And that’s a decision I’ll make in the future.”
De Blasio’s statements comes amid intensifying interest in the upcoming Democratic gubernatorial primary, which is set to take place in June. Kathy Hochul, the current governor who abruptly replaced Andrew Cuomo in the wake of a sexual harassment scandal, has already said that she plans to run for a full term and has already made efforts to broaden her appeal among downstate voters. She has filled key posts with faces or names familiar to New York City voters: Brian Benjamin, a state senator from Harlem, is set to be sworn in as lieutenant governor on Thursday, while Kathryn Garcia, the Democratic runner-up in the mayoral primary, starts Tuesday as the state director of operations.
Depending on how Hochul governs in the next few months, experts say the field could get crowded. Jumaane Williams, the city’s public advocate, has already said he is exploring a run. Both Hochul and Williams recently visited the state fair in Syracuse, seen as a kind of test-run for a statewide campaign, as did Attorney General Letitia James, who is perhaps considered the strongest contender who has yet to announce her intentions.
Two Long Island Democratic lawmakers—Steven Bellone, the Suffolk County executive, and Representative Thomas Suozzi—are also said to be interested in the job.
De Blasio, who is in his second and final term, has also been talked about as a possible candidate. But one of the clearest signs that he is serious about launching a run came after the New York Times this week reported that Anna Greenberg, his longtime pollster, had conducted a survey that sought to measure the mayor’s popularity among residents outside the city.
One of the criticisms of de Blasio was that he did not seem to enjoy the actual job of being mayor. But earlier this year, as Cuomo’s troubles grew and his emergency powers ended, the mayor seemed to loosen up as he assumed the role of cheerleader for the city’s recovery from the pandemic. The so-called “Spring of Bill,” a term dubbed by the mayor’s press secretary, Bill Neidhardt, soon turned into the “Summer of Bill,” during which de Blasio made a fashion statement at a Brooklyn public pool and sang along with his music idol George Clinton at a press conference.
It’s not clear yet if such efforts have improved his popularity among New York City electorate, which plays an outsized role in any statewide contest. A Spectrum News NY1/Ipsos poll taken in May found that only 37% of city residents approve of the job the mayor’s doing. The mayor appears to be staking his part of his legacy on getting the city to reopen with a vaccine mandate, although concerns about the Delta variant have caused some companies to delay their plans to summon employees back to the office.
Another challenge he faces is the return of nearly 1 million students to public schools on September 13th. Despite calls for a remote option, de Blasio has said all students must return to the classrooms.
Wednesday’s historic rainfall which killed at least 13 city residents posed yet another test for the administration, raising questions about whether the city should have been better prepared for what have become increasingly common extreme weather events. On Friday, the mayor introduced new procedures to address those concerns, including the use of travel bans and door-to-door evacuation of basement residents.
Several experts predicted that de Blasio, a former political strategist, would almost certainly mount a run for governor because he is a born campaigner.
“He is a political consultant playing the role of mayor,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a veteran political consultant. “He will return to what he knows to do: professional politics.”