De Blasio’s role among Republicans: nemesis

New York TimesMay 14, 2014 

Jeb Bush, a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2016, offered to help run a campaign to oust him. Bill O’Reilly, the Fox News titan, said he wanted “to beat him up.”

And at a black-tie dinner a few nights ago, a billionaire donor to the Republican Party warned that New York City risked becoming the “New Havana” under his stewardship.

National Republicans, alarmed by the rising influence of activist liberals in government and eager to paint the Democratic Party as captive to its left wing, seem to have settled on an unlikely new nemesis: Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City.

It is a startling turn for a municipal leader who was virtually unknown, even in New York, just a year ago, but now finds himself on the same conservative dartboard as far better established figures, like U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and the occupant of the Oval Office.

But in the actions and policies of de Blasio’s young administration, Republican leaders see the embodiment of their fears about an empowered New Left: a populist disdain for the rich, open sympathies for organized labor and a relentless focus on income inequality.

Republican Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey told a Chicago audience not long ago that de Blasio’s emphasis on closing economic disparities represented a march toward “mediocrity.”

And when the National Republican Congressional Committee sought to undermine a Democrat challenging a Republican House member from Staten Island, it mocked the candidate for his association with “a tax-and-spend liberal like de Blasio.”

Kevin Madden, a senior adviser to Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign and a Republican political consultant, said, “For conservatives, de Blasio is a case study of big government progressivism and its inefficiencies.”

Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City and a onetime Republican presidential candidate, said that when he met with Republican operatives and donors around the country, they peppered him with anxious questions about the liberal influence of de Blasio.

“They ask me, ‘What is going to happen to the city?’” Giuliani said in an interview.

De Blasio’s emergence as a Republican piñata is a measure of his growing prominence beyond the city. The mayor is now in high demand at national Democratic gatherings and has appeared on “The View” on ABC.

But the attention is also a sign of just how much de Blasio has conformed to Republican stereotypes about what happens when a liberal takes charge. The mayor has guaranteed billions of dollars in back wages to local unions; unveiled a budget that raised spending and deficits; and spoken out against the growth of charter schools, a cherished project of many in the conservative elite.

On the Republican fundraising dinner circuit these days, New York ballrooms bristle with frustration and resentment toward de Blasio and his policies. Guests mutter about his threats to raise their taxes and, in their view, his failure to appreciate the virtues of big business.

At the annual dinner on Monday for the Manhattan Institute, a conservative-leaning think tank, the zingers directed at de Blasio arrived so frequently, it was as though the speakers were engaged in a game of one-upmanship.

Paul Singer, a prominent Republican who is a hedge fund manager and chairman of the Manhattan Institute, lampooned de Blasio to the delight of a tuxedoed crowd of wealthy conservatives. He pleaded with Bush, who was in the audience, to “educate our mayor” about the realities of a free-market society.

When Bush took the stage, he promptly ticked off a list of the Republican Party’s nuisances - “Mayor de Blasio, Barack Obama, Elizabeth Warren - all your favorite progressives.”

The crowd groaned.

Bush, a former governor of Florida and an honoree at the dinner, acknowledged the curiosity about his own political ambitions, but quickly pivoted to the comparatively faraway New York City mayoral race, three years from now.

“I’d like to take this opportunity tonight to say that, if asked, I would be willing to chair the Rudy 2017 campaign against Bill de Blasio,” he said.

Of course, the complaining can be music to the ears of de Blasio’s team, which relishes placing him at odds with the corporate class that he faults for widening economic disparities in the city.

It did not help that the denunciations of de Blasio at the dinner were voiced beneath the gilded atrium of the Midtown restaurant Cipriani, where tickets started at $500, and guests dined on racks of lamb.

“These folks can still party like it’s 1999,” said Peter Ragone, a senior adviser to de Blasio. “The 21st century called and asked if they want to join us and help everyday Americans get ahead.”

For now, anyway, top Republicans are disinclined to join hands with de Blasio.

On cable news and conservative talk radio, the de Blasio name has quickly become a byword for the excesses of liberalism, cited in a variety of discussions about the country’s political direction. One broadcast host dismissed the mayor’s message as “income-inequality malarkey,” and, on air, Republican operatives have called him a “Sandinista mayor” and a Bolshevik.

When de Blasio moved to prevent several charter schools from opening inside city-owned buildings, the issue was seized on by national political shows typically uninterested in the day-to-day operations of city government.

“This is not an issue that’s limited to New York City,” said Andrea Tantaros, a co-host of “The Five” on Fox News, as she and other commentators criticized the mayor’s stance on charters during a recent episode. “This is a national issue because progressivism is back.”

At a Long Island fundraiser recently, Fox News personalities traded barbs about de Blasio in exchanges posted on the gossip website Gawker. It was there that O’Reilly mused aloud about administering a beating to de Blasio, a sentiment met with applause.

When it comes to de Blasio, there is a whiff of regret in the air for leading Republicans, few of whom lifted a finger to block him from ascending to the mayoralty last fall.

At Cipriani on Monday, de Blasio’s Republican opponent in that race, Joseph J. Lhota, seemed comforted by the company of disaffected peers. At one point, Lhota reached into his suit pocket and withdrew a custom-printed sticker that summed up the mood in the room.

“Don’t blame me,” the sticker read, “I voted for Lhota.”

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