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Why Is Bill de Blasio Running for President?

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“Bill de Blasio has a real progressive record of accomplishments to run on and actually is a pretty decent campaigner,” says Rebecca Katz, another top adviser during the 2013 race who later served in the administration. “The trick will be if he can get decent press, which is his ongoing challenge. Will he play nice, and will that be well received?”

Katz is also sitting out de Blasio’s campaign. The New York City–based Working Families Party, which de Blasio had a hand in getting off the ground and which propelled his earlier victories, is expected to support Bernie Sanders, highlighting a separate issue: Is there room in the race for another candidate running further to the left than Democrats are used to? Elizabeth Warren has already discovered how rough that territory can be, and that’s as a nationally known figure revered among many in the Democratic base.

Hillary Clinton’s orbit hasn’t forgotten, and won’t forgive, de Blasio’s drawn-out refusal to endorse her in 2016. “Buttigieg started at zero, had to earn it on the trail. And everyone is seeing him as he does,” tweeted the longtime Clinton aide Philippe Reines on Friday. “Being the Mayor of the biggest city means BdB’s in the public eye, sized up, dismissed – including dipping his toe in the water earlier this year.”

On Friday, as the New York Daily News reported that de Blasio’s 2020 campaign launch was imminent—a rumor that had been going around for about two weeks, but which his since-departed communications director had been shooting down—I emailed de Blasio. “How do you mount a strong campaign without the support of close aides and the operatives who’ve worked for you before?” I asked him. Some people see him as angling to be the Democratic National Committee chair after the next election, so is that what he’s really after? De Blasio didn’t respond, but about an hour later, Peter Ragone, an old friend and adviser, reached out, eager to talk.

Ragone, who worked for de Blasio in his first campaign and during his first term, said he’d discussed the potential 2020 campaign with de Blasio over several recent dinners, but asked the mayor not to inform him of his final decision so as to avoid having to deceive reporters seeking information. But Ragone, like de Blasio, blames “New York City elites” and insiders for tarring the mayor’s reputation and constantly betting against him. They believe de Blasio’s negative press coverage comes mostly out of spite and from people opposed to his politics—though that underplays how much his own approach has hurt him.

Look at his record, Ragone said: creating universal pre-K in the city; ending race-based policing practices, including stop-and-frisk; revolutionizing public-housing programs. “You don’t really know who is going to break through, and if you have a message, get out there,” Ragone said. “This might be the right time for this message.”

Ragone said if there is a campaign, he’s not likely to sign on fully, given other professional and personal commitments that he has, but added, “I will help him in any way that I can.” In that, he seems to be the exception.

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