New York – The moment that arguably defined Mayor Bill de Blasio’s tumultuous second year in office may well have been a steamy afternoon this past summer when he summoned a group of reporters to City Hall.
De Blasio proceeded to rip into Gov. Andrew Cuomo for blocking his key initiatives at every turn, acting out of pettiness, “game-playing” and “revenge for some perceived slight.” Even as he thundered on, de Blasio acknowledged his comments could prompt Cuomo to unleash a “vendetta.”
Since that tirade six months ago, the relationship between the state’s two most powerful Democrats has become even more toxic. The frequency with which Cuomo has inserted himself into city business and outright second-guessed the mayor has increased dramatically.
And the governor may prove to be of little help to de Blasio as the mayor, now at the midpoint of his term with his re-election bid on the distant horizon, prepares to again take his agenda to a state capital that in many ways is still tightly controlled by Cuomo.
“De Blasio felt like he had to say ‘Enough is enough’ but found himself out there against a powerful governor alone,” said Christina Greer, a Fordham University political science professor. “Their feud has consequences.”
In part because of that tension, de Blasio, swept into offices with a liberal mandate to solve the city’s widening wealth gap, has endured a decidedly mixed record in his second year.
He had victories such as a massive pre-kindergarten expansion and launch of a mental health outreach program, but they were frequently overshadowed by a series of time-consuming, headline-generating feuds, including one with the ride-hailing behemoth Uber and another over the fate of topless women who pose with tourists in Times Square.
There was also a foray into national politics that led to a clumsy, delayed endorsement of his former boss, Hillary Clinton — de Blasio once ran her U.S. Senate campaign — and the embarrassing cancellation of an Iowa presidential forum because of lack of interest.
And then there were the persistent municipal challenges like opposition to his affordable housing plan and a rise in homelessness that led his poll numbers to sink to the lowest of his term. City tabloids waged monthslong series arguing the city was returning to its crime-ridden “bad old days,” with daily photos of homeless in the streets. One even had a tag line: “Rotting Apple.”
But a constant running through the year was his turf battle with Cuomo. When de Blasio considered limiting Uber’s expansion, Cuomo said a statewide policy was needed. When the mayor moved to crack down on aggressive panhandling, Cuomo was quick to evoke the “bad old Times Square” mantra. And when 12 people in the Bronx died of Legionnaires’ disease from infected air-conditioning towers, Cuomo criticized the city effort and said the state “was taking matters into our own hands.”
They fought bitterly over mass transit funding. And after receiving criticism for being slow to address homelessness, de Blasio sought this month to overhaul the city’s response to the crisis. But once again, Cuomo moved to potentially big-foot the mayor, saying he aims to outline his own plan to handle New York City’s homelessness problem in next month’s State of the State address.
And through it all, the governor’s poll numbers have remained higher than the mayor’s.
De Blasio said this past week that he had no regrets about airing his grievances against the governor.
“I’m satisfied it was the right approach,” de Blasio said. “When the governor or anybody in Albany helps New York City, I will praise them … and when they don’t support New York City’s interests, I’ll say it.”
The third year of a mayoralty will likely be the time that potential challengers to de Blasio — who, as an incumbent with widespread labor support, holds massive advantages — would begin to lay the groundwork for their bid. Aides to Cuomo have said the governor has not considered who he will support in 2017.
A Cuomo spokeswoman, when asked about de Blasio standing by his criticism, simply said: “Here’s to learning from mistakes and a better 2016.”