NYC Mayor Seeks National Spotlight, New 'Contract With America'
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It was two decades ago that congressional Republicans unveiled the Contract with America, and that group of conservative priorities helped them recapture control of Congress. Today, Democrats and liberal activists will unveil their own contract on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. It's an effort that is championed by the self-proclaimed progressive mayor of New York City. NPR's Joel Rose reports.
JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Mayor Bill de Blasio is spending a lot of time outside the five boroughs this year, from a rally in Washington, D.C., to big campaign-style speeches from California to New Hampshire.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)
MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO: We're in the great unknown right now. We're in a place we have not been.
ROSE: Here's de Blasio talking about his signature issue, income inequality, last month in Iowa, the state that holds the first presidential nominating contest.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)
DE BLASIO: Rampant inequality, growing inequality and the things that could be done about it are literally not on the table in Washington, D.C.
ROSE: Sounds like a candidate, but de Blasio insists he is not running for president. He won a landslide victory in the 2013 mayoral race, talking about the tale of two cities New York had become and how to fix it. And de Blasio has managed to deliver on one big campaign promise - free prekindergarten for all New York children. Now he wants to be a player beyond the Big Apple, says longtime political consultant Hank Sheinkopf.
HANK SHEINKOPF: Mayor de Blasio thinks that he is the future gatekeeper on the left for anyone who wants to be called a progressive.
ROSE: De Blasio is trying to push the Democratic Party to the left. He caused a stir by declining to endorse his fellow New Yorker Hillary Clinton for president on NBC's "Meet The Press."
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MEET THE PRESS")
DE BLASIO: It's time to see a clear, bold vision for progressive economic change.
CHUCK TODD: So you're not - you're not - you're technically not yet endorsing her?
DE BLASIO: No, not until I see an actual vision of where they want to go. I think she's a tremendous public servant, but we need to see the substance.
ROSE: This from the man who managed Clinton's Senate campaign in 2000. His national ambitions have also led to some grumbling at home.
CHRISTINA GREER: You know that many New Yorkers are definitely feeling frustrated with this particular mayor, especially the progressive wing.
ROSE: Christina Greer is a professor of political science at Fordham University. She says de Blasio's supporters want to see him create more affordable housing and implement deeper reforms at the New York Police Department.
GREER: It doesn't matter if someone in Iowa or New Hampshire or California, even, thinks that he's a fantastic mayor or progressive. If he can't win re-election after, you know, one term as mayor of New York, then what's his platform?
ROSE: But de Blasio is defending his travels. Here he is at a press conference yesterday.
(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)
DE BLASIO: I've got to use the tools we have here to address income inequality and a host of other issues. But I also have to participate in changing the national debate and changing the reality in Washington in a way that will support the people of New York City. We've got to do both at once.
ROSE: That answer is not really satisfying to community groups who complain that the de Blasio administration is inaccessible. They'd like the mayor to answer questions directly from ordinary New Yorkers, the way his predecessors occasionally did. Alan Ditchek is president of the Manhattan Beach Neighborhood Association in Brooklyn.
ALAN DITCHEK: We would hope that the mayor would be, you know, open to having a town hall meeting and fielding some of these questions. Spending time out of state, you know, certainly takes away from time that could be spent here locally.
ROSE: Today, de Blasio is in Washington, rubbing elbows with the likes of liberal Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren in an event about rising income inequality. In the afternoon, he'll help to unveil a Progressive Agenda to Combat Income Inequality. That is what's being compared to the conservative Contract with America. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who delivered the original, has taken the opportunity to tout what he considers its success.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
NEWT GINGRICH: The original Contract with America had big ideas that were real, backed up by real legislation that led to real change. So I look forward to seeing whether he can produce an equally effective Contract with America.
ROSE: Democrats across the country may be watching too to see if Bill de Blasio can balance the challenges of governing New York City while reaching for the national stage. Joel Rose, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.