Bill Clinton will make a very public display of affection for Bill de Blasio Wednesday when the former president swears in New York City’s incoming mayor at a ceremony outside City Hall — cementing a longstanding relationship that could be a boon for Hillary Clinton if she runs for president.
At a time when the Democratic Party is tacking to the populist left, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren is galvanizing the base by taking on Wall Street, Clinton will need to show she’s in sync with the liberal grass roots should she wage another bid for the White House. There aren’t many figures who could do more to shore up her progressive cred than de Blasio, who swept into office on an unabashedly populist message.Continue Reading
“As church people say, he can ‘witness’ for them,” said James Carville, the longtime Democratic strategist and former Bill Clinton adviser. “He can go up, talk about her, how she stands up for people. It could be very, very helpful.”
The swearing-in ceremony will firmly affix the Clinton brand to a candidate who crushed his opponents by lamenting “a tale of two cities” under billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg — one where poverty and homelessness is rising, the other where the wealthy continue to enhance their rarefied standing.
Veteran Democratic strategist Tad Devine, nodding to the chatter about liberal alternatives like Warren, said that if de Blasio’s time in office is successful, “he’s potentially a really strong ally” for Clinton if she runs.
“That [progressive] element of the Democratic coalition will listen to him,” Devine said. “He’s in a unique position to … talk about Hillary Clinton, running her campaign, knowing her well. He’s going to be able to talk about her in human terms, which could be very helpful with an element of the Democratic Party that may want to put some distance between her and them because they’re to the left of her.”
The de Blasio message has echoes of that projected by Warren and other major national progressives who’ve crusaded against Wall Street excess over the past four years.
Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, which has focused heavily on income inequality, suggested that focus is not going to change anytime soon. She noted that de Blasio, with whom Tanden worked on Clinton’s 2000 U.S. Senate campaign in New York, elevated the issue.
“Bill de Blasio’s campaign raised fundamental issues around economic fairness and ensuring everyone gets a fair shot,” she said. “Those issues are the challenges of our time and will affect our politics and national policy for years to come.”
The Clintons’ relationship with de Blasio dates to before her 2000 Senate run, when he came recommended by his longtime friend, Harold Ickes, a veteran Clinton insider, as her campaign manager. Prior to that, de Blasio served in the Clinton administration, working in the Department of Housing and Urban Development under current New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
De Blasio was a surrogate for Clinton in early-voting presidential states in 2008, campaigning in Iowa and attempting to boost his former boss. He remains close with a number of people in her orbit, most notably Tina Flournoy, who currently is chief of staff in Bill Clinton’s personal office. Flournoy is a former teachers union official who worked on Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign.
Aides to the Clintons did not respond to emails for comment about their relationship to the incoming mayor.
De Blasio’s stint as Clinton’s campaign manager was marked by discord and he was ultimately layered over by another adviser, Patti Solis Doyle. A New York Times story in August reported that a number of people close to the Clintons saw de Blasio as overly deliberative in his decision-making during that 2000 campaign.
Still, the ties between de Blasio and the former first couple’s orbit remained over the past decade, in part but not solely, because of Ickes’s proximity to Hillary Clinton’s world. The Clintons stayed neutral during the mayoral race, as much out of a desire not to be drawn in by Anthony Weiner — who is married to Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin — as any other reason.