As Approval Drops, de Blasio Becomes Republican Whipping Boy

NEW YORK (Bloomberg) -

Mayor Bill de Blasio says he wants to influence the 2016 presidential race. Republicans are making his wish come true.

De Blasio, a Democrat who vowed to use the campaign to raise the nation’s awareness of income inequality, has instead become the target of Republican candidates who call him a symbol of inept liberalism. His role in helping Hillary Clinton get elected to the Senate 15 years ago makes him an even more attractive whipping boy.

What began as a trickle of Republican criticism has intensified as the New York mayor’s approval ratings dropped to a lowest-ever 44 percent in an Aug. 5 poll.

“If you are going to put liberals like Bill de Blasio in office in New York City — every one of us who spends time in the city has seen the decline in the quality of life here in New York City,” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said in an Aug. 18 Fox News interview.

The attacks by Republican candidates continued on Tuesday. In an appearance on MSNBC, former New York Gov. George Pataki said he agreed with the host’s observation that it’s beginning to feel like 1990.

“Things are getting worse,” Pataki said. “Leadership matters, and we’re seeing a decline in the quality of life for the moment. I hope de Blasio gets his act together and comes to his senses, but I’m not optimistic.”

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee asserted that shootings in New York had increased 20 percent under de Blasio, though crime statistics show otherwise.

“Bill de Blasio represents all that is bad with Big Government run amok,” said Ford O’Connell, a strategist who advised John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign. “He’s someone all Republicans can focus on, from South Carolina to New Hampshire. Once you tie him to Hillary Clinton, it makes more sense.”

Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, attacked de Blasio’s education policies at an Aug. 19 forum in Manchester, New Hampshire. Bush said the mayor created his signature universal pre-kindergarten program merely to empower the teachers union.

De Blasio’s reluctance to pour more resources into charter schools showed the mayor was doing “everything in his power” to deprive “low-income kids of the education they need to succeed,” Bush said.

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas raised a similar line of attack at the Heritage Action Conservative Policy Summit in Washington in January, accusing the mayor of being “more interested in pleasing the union bosses who are writing checks to him than taking care of the kids.”

Brigid Harris, who teaches law and government at Montclair State University in New Jersey, said Republican candidates are probably attacking de Blasio to raise money. Voters in early-primary states like New Hampshire, Iowa and South Carolina aren’t familiar enough with the New York mayor.

“It makes sense if they’re trying to court that Wall Street, New York money,” she said in an interview. “That might manage to endear them with that crowd. It seems like more of a money grab than a vote grab.”

De Blasio insists he’s not interested in running for the White House, despite a flurry of reports. Instead, he called himself a “national convener” and has invited all the candidates to a forum on income inequality in the fall.

De Blasio joked about becoming the target of so many attacks at a Friday news conference. A reporter observed that his vow to rid Times Square of vagrants sounded like something that would have been proposed by ex-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, a former Republican presidential candidate.

“I have never been accused of sounding like Rudy Giuliani, don’t you worry,” de Blasio said with a laugh. “He’s the only national Republican who hasn’t criticized me lately. He needs to catch up. Jeb’s way ahead of him.”