President Bill Clinton wasn’t around last night to see Bill de Blasio officially sworn in as mayor of New York City. This, despite his headlining role in today’s noon services–a public event in which Clinton will swear de Blasio in before the people. The distance is a perfect metaphor for the Clintons’ relationship with de Blasio.
New York’s new mayor is expected to storm the doors of City Hall and herald in the kind of progressive leadership the city soundly rejected since the era of David Dinkins. In the process of running a campaign based on softening police presence and using government to benefit the poor, de Blasio is expected to become a bona fide progressive icon of the Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren variety. To put a fine point on his brand of progressivism, the modest New Year’s Eve ceremony, in which he performed all the technicalities of the transition, had a tiny guest list that included Bertha Lewis, former head of ACORN.
Mayor Blasio’s image as a far-left stalwart and his new position as America’s most powerful mayor make him an attractive commodity for Democrats in 2016, and at least a couple of his former bosses have noticed. Bill and Hillary Clinton have a long, complex history with the new mayor, one defined by de Blasio’s loyalty to them and their lukewarm reciprocation.
Hillary Clinton hired de Blasio to run her first Senate campaign at the turn of the century, after the latter worked under her husband’s White House administration. A story on that relationship in the New York Times presents it as turbulent and raises questions about de Blasio’s ability to run City Hall. The Clinton campaign was not at all impressed by de Blasio’s leadership skills–or lack thereof–and he was eventually run out of the job. Not that he was given all the powers of a traditional campaign manager, as Hillary Clinton did not seem to trust him enough even for that. The Times notes that “he did not have signoff power on many key issues, and did not enjoy the same access to Mrs. Clinton as other advisers.”
Despite this ugly faraway past, de Blasio appeared eager in his campaign to discuss his ties with the former First Family. He was a friend and ally of the Clintons and aspired to govern like them, his campaign seemed to often imply, initially without any indication his admiration was reciprocated.
He did eventually receive their endorsement in a joint statement–but only after the complete and perfect implosion of novelty candidate Anthony Weiner, once a person who actually held public office representing the state of New York. The former Congressman, of course, was married by the same man who would swear in de Blasio as mayor, his wife a beloved aide to the former Secretary of State. This, many speculate, led the Clintons to wait for the primaries to end before endorsing a man whose leadership style exasperated them.
When they did end, however, the Clintons came through. Hillary Clinton hosted a fundraiser that raked in $1 million in contributions. The family’s ties led the Clintons to a prominent role in today’s inaugural. Yet that checkered past with de Blasio alongside a potential 2016 bid begs the question of what the Clintons really think about their longtime ally.
They at least think this: de Blasio’s star is rising, and they want to be there to hitch a ride on it. Bill Clinton’s presence at this public inaugural makes the event about a former President and a former Secretary of State, not about this modern-day Mr. Smith Goes to Washington who will walk through City Hall’s doors as mayor today. As de Blasio begins to implement progressive policies that will not truly damage the city for years to come, candidate Clinton in 2016 can attest to being there on the first day, a true-blue capital-D Democrat. For today, the bond between the Mayor and President and potential future President remain rock solid.
What the Clintons will do once New York City’s budget begins to feel the strain of de Blasio’s proposed reforms is up to the Clintons of the future. But if the Clinton’s of the past are any indication, de Blasio has once again set himself up to be a disposable prop in the great theater of the Clintons’ quest for political power.