11: Bill de Blasio

The announcement came late for a “Breakfast with Bill” event featuring New York City mayor Bill de Blasio. That seemed par for the course since de Blasio was also the last person with a national profile to announce that he was running for the Presidency. This was the weekend when candidates were swarming the state. I had seen Bernie Sanders the night before, and I was already planning to see John Hickenlooper and Kamala Harris later that day, but my morning was open. Besides, we were told “breakfast is provided,” and the event was slated for a favorite cafe in Waterloo.

We still had out-of-town guests visiting, and a couple of them were also up for “Breakfast with Bill,” so we made an early start of it and were able to get seats at a table on the outdoor patio where the meet-and-greet was slated to happen.  There were about 50 people there, a crowd of usual suspects, party officials and local activists I mostly recognized from other events. These were reliable people who could be counted on to turn out. However, the cafe also had a number of people who were just there for breakfast. I had thought maybe a buffet would be set up, but there wasn’t anything, and it didn’t look like there were any additional staff working. I began to have my doubts about breakfast.

Soon enough, Mayor de Blasio arrived and began working the crowd. The first thing I noticed was how tall he is. Afterward, I looked it up on Wikipedia and found out that he is 6’ 5” (though Wikipedia packaged that info in an utterly meaningless factoid: “At a height of 6 ft 5 in (1.96 m), de Blasio is the tallest mayor in New York City history.”). He was there with his notably shorter wife, Chirlane McCray (whose height was not available online).

When de Blasio came over to our table, we all shook his hand and chatted amiably.  One of our guests was from Yonkers, New York, and I felt obligated to bring this up, considering how close it was to New York City. de Blasio nodded and said something about this being a long way to come. He then moved on to shake more hands and immediately spoke with a guy who said he was from Brooklyn. I could see that it was not going to be that surprising to find former New Yorkers in Iowa.  Of course, since my wife is originally from Rochester, New York, I probably should have realized this already.

After working the crowd a bit, the formal part of the event got started, and I could see that there was no hope for even a cup of coffee.  But I marshaled on as the Waterloo mayor welcomed the New York City mayor and his wife. Chirlane McCray spoke first. She has been an activist and spoke about her work as a mental health advocate and about efforts made in New York to address access and care issues. Then she turned the stage over to her husband.

When de Blasio took the stage, he started with a nice set piece about how he and McCray had first met when they were working at city hall together. She had come over to his desk to ask for something.  His account is worth quoting directly: “I looked up from my desk and I saw her gliding like an angel toward me. And I guarantee you all, I experienced something like love at first sight. It actually exists: love at first sight. And Chirlane McCray experienced absolutely nothing.” However, perseverance paid off and he eventually won her over.  He also spoke about the challenges they both faced in caring for elderly parents.

After the personal opening, de Blasio turned to policy, detailing his work as mayor in New York City, focusing on programs and reforms aimed at improving the quality of life for working New Yorkers. During his administration the city has begun free universal pre-K and school lunches, and much of his speech was about the impact of income inequality on issues like health care access. Having just seen Bernie Sanders speak the night before, I was surprised to see him echoing many of the same themes. He’s running in the same lane, which I suppose I should have realized.

It is worth noting that de Blasio’s campaign has not been received well by New Yorkers, as most of his constituents who were surveyed don’t want him to run. However, my past experience with New Yorkers makes me take such polls with a grain of salt. In New York, dislike is a form of affection. To be truly unpopular in the City one has to be ignored.

Toward the end of his stump speech, de Blasio zeroed in on Trump, calling him a schoolyard bully and the “con-mander in chief.” He shared the experience of how the Trump administration threatened to cut off security funding to New York City unless it began complying with administration dictates on immigration that de Blasio considers unconstitutional. The city took the federal government to court on the issue and beat them. Lesson learned. Clearly, de Blasio is itching for the opportunity to take on Trump directly.

In the Q&A, de Blasio talked about efforts to address climate change, and he mentioned the creation of a network of charging stations for electric vehicles in New York City. As a new electric car owner, this caught my attention. Since I was standing right next to the Waterloo mayor, I took the opportunity to lean over and put in a plug (sorry, I know that’s a bad pun, but it’s what I said at the time without realizing it). I mentioned that there was no electric car charging station in downtown Waterloo. Without missing a beat, the mayor replied, “And there’s no money for one either.” Zing! I’m taking this as a personal challenge to search out some grant money or other type of funding. Feel free to call me on it.

After the Q&A, de Blasio and McCray were available for pictures, a moment I did not let slip by, as Devin and I were able to get shots with both of them. Though when the mayor towered over me, it became even more evident how tall he really is. The event began breaking up and we didn’t stick around, since we still needed to eat. It was the beginning of a day when I would be attending three candidates events. I would need to be well fortified.

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