President Bill Clinton appointed Bill de Blasio to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Hillary Clinton elevated him to be campaign manager of her Senate bid. And both Clintons appeared at de Blasio’s mayoral inauguration and have supported his agenda, both publicly and privately.
With those close ties as the backdrop, the mayor made an appearance Sunday on “Meet the Press” in the hours before Hillary Clinton announced her candidacy for president, and he raised eyebrows by declining to endorse his former boss.
De Blasio, a Democrat more liberal than Clinton on most issues, said he’s withholding his blessing “until I see an actual vision of where they want to go.”
“She’s a tremendous public servant,” the mayor continued. “I think she is one of the most qualified people to ever run for this office. And by the way, thoroughly vetted, we can say that. But we need to see the substance.”
The backlash was immediate.
Former Rep. Anthony Weiner, whose wife is a top adviser to Clinton, told The Wall Street Journal, “You don’t ask a family member to lay out her resume before you decide to support her.”
And as other New York politicians — including Gov. Andrew Cuomo and its U.S. senators — quickly endorsed Clinton, both city tabloids ripped the mayor on their front pages, going with “Traitor” (New York Post) and “Stabbed in de Back” (Daily News).
Much of the criticism suggested that de Blasio was being ungrateful to the Clintons by bolstering his own national profile at their expense. Others noted that he backed Cuomo instead of his far more liberal opponent to keep the peace with the state’s most powerful Democrat.
“I think it’s really problematic that it came off like it was all about him,” said Jeanne Zaino, political science professor at Iona College. “His own political future — not hers, not the good of the party — seemed to matter most.”
But some believe that de Blasio’s reluctance to immediately offer his backing was a calculated move.
“De Blasio is setting himself up as the progressive seal of approval and that means that any candidate he blesses checks all the right liberal boxes,” political strategist Hank Sheinkopf said. “So, when he’s eventually out there campaigning for her — which of course he will be — he acts as a barrier to any attacks from the left.”