How Bill de Blasio Overcame the Haters
Mayor de Blasio, despite his legion of critics, is striding toward re-election with a bloodless and boring campaign — just as he planned it.
It was the night before Thanksgiving last year when Bill de Blasio and Hakeem Jeffries met for a private dinner at Olea, a Mediterranean restaurant in Brooklyn.
For Mr. de Blasio, the mayor of New York City, it was a chance to size up the congressman seen by many to be the most threatening challenger to his re-election — an African-American rising star from Brooklyn, who could cut into the mayor’s base in the black community and his home borough.
The meal stretched more than two hours into the night. The men snacked on tapas and bantered about rezoning, policing and the shock election of Donald Trump — although they never spoke explicitly about the potential for a head-on collision. “It was beneath the surface,” Mr. Jeffries recalled in an interview, “but was never put on the table.”
Within weeks, Mr. Jeffries would be elevated to the House Democratic leadership. Mr. de Blasio would call to offer his congratulations. And Mr. Jeffries would forgo running for mayor to stay in Washington for the national fight. “It became clear to me that New York City was strong enough to survive another four years of Bill de Blasio, whether you like him or not,” Mr. Jeffries said. “It is not clear to me that the country can survive four years of Donald Trump.”
Mr. Jeffries was hardly the only politician to take a pass on the 2017 mayor’s race. One by one, all of Mr. de Blasio’s most formidable would-be Democratic rivals — Mr. Jeffries, Scott M. Stringer, the city comptroller, and Ruben Diaz Jr., the Bronx borough president — would decide against challenging him. The result was a landslide in the primary election this September: Mr. de Blasio thumped his second-tier opposition (led by Sal Albanese, who last held elected office in 1997) by the largest margin of any Democrat in decades.
Now the mayor is on the cusp of a decisive re-election, facing a fractured field of G.O.P. and independent challengers in a listless general election that polls have him leading by more than 40 points. The Republican candidate who spent the most money running against Mr. de Blasio grew so dispirited with his chances that he dropped out months ago.
In the waning days of the mayor’s race that wasn’t, the question gripping the New York political world is not so much who will win on Nov. 7 but how Mr. de Blasio pulled this off.
How has a polarizing politician with so many vocal critics, who seemed in such peril at times, waltzed toward a second term? How did this mayor — a man who had to fend off dual federal and state investigations into his fund-raising practices, who earned a reputation for arrogance and lateness, who seemed at times more interested in national politics than municipal management, who has fought with the city’s tabloids, who was protested by his own police force and who earned the enmity of the governor of his own party — so thoroughly scare everyone away?
How did Bill de Blasio do it?