New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio may have a staffing problem on his hands. Despite his four months in office, he has yet to hire a communications director. The New York Post reports Thursday that a source says a number of individuals approached about the job turned it down, including Salon editor Blake Zeff.
The Post cites several insiders as telling the paper that de Blasio approved at least three candidates, some more unorthodox than others, for the job. All have declined the opportunity, which boasts a six-figure salary. The paper highlights former spokespersons for both New York Senators Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) as being on the list. Most interestingly, however, is that the Mayor’s office approached Blake Zeff, Salon politics editor and Capital New York contributor, to take on the job, says the source.
Zeff attracted the attention with a column in Capital New York entitled “How de Blasio Can Fix His Press Problem,” in which he broke down the various failures of the administration in interacting with the media and improving a relationship with the press he described as “startlingly toxic.” Zeff noted that Mayor de Blasio “often seemed unprepared to give meaningful answers to substantive questions.” He also pointed out that, among other things, he should give the press more access to events that may not seem as politically significant to staff as they would to members of the media.
“They begged him to come in, and at first he wouldn’t take the meeting,” one source told the New York Post. He eventually told City Hall he did not intend to return to the communications business, something written plainly in his Capital New York article: “I’m out of the business of political communications now, after a decade working for candidates and officials on the local, state and presidential level.”
The New York Daily News reports that de Blasio appears to have taken at least some of Zeff’s advice, holding more events for the media, including an “off-the-record cocktail party,” and offering more interviews.
The position has been open since January, one that appeared an easy position to fill before Mayor de Blasio’s team decided to dismiss former campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith. Local newspapers revealed that Smith, an experienced communications professional, had begun to date former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer late last year. That revelation resulted in Smith’s being cut from the transition team after de Blasio’s election, a move that many criticized as ill-advised and severely damaging to his relationship with the media.
With Smith gone, de Blasio’s team must convince a new person to join a staff in City Hall that has made headlines for the difficulties involved in working under de Blasio. Shortly into his term, stories began to circulate that staffers were given little management or instruction, other than a vague “be progressive.” With little guidance on logistics, many staffers reported frustrations with their jobs, and the results of de Blasio’s tenure suggest his leadership style has diminished productivity in City Hall.