De Blasio defends ‘two cities,’ and takes a five-borough tour

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De Blasio. (Azi Paybarah via flickr)
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When he announced he was running for mayor yesterday, Bill de Blasio called New York a "tale of two cities," and declared that "all boroughs were created equal."

Today, de Blasio blitzed all five boroughs and at least one of the New York Cities.

First, he sat for an inteview on Fox 5, where host Greg Kelly, son of NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly, noted that de Blasio's line about New York being a "tale of two cities" was used by Fernando Ferrer in 2001, who lost his mayoral bid that year. "Many people think [the city] has improved since 2001," Kelly said.

De Blasio said income inequality has grown, and went into a pitch about taxing rich New Yorkers to pay for early childhood and afterschool programs.

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Kelly prefaced another question by saying he thought de Blasio was one of the "smartest" guys in city government, but asked how many people currently work in his office, and when de Blasio told him he has about 30 employees, asked if that demontrates enough executive experience to lead the city.

De Blasio said he did a lot of other things before becoming public advocate in 2009, including working for Mayor David Dinkins, in the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, and serving two terms on the City Council.

In an interview with WNYC, host Brian Lehrer asked de Blasio about some of the criticisms he outlined in his announcement yesterday, which didn't name any other candidates but accused some of being too close to Mayor Bloomberg's policies. Lehrer wondered if his "argument against Quinn will be that she is too much like this mayor?"

"Yes," said de Blasio, who went on to say it's too early to get all that right now.

De Blasio also, for the first time, drew some distinctions between himself and New York City Comptroller John Liu, a likely rival in the primary, whose former campaign treasurer and a contributor are facing federal charges for allegedly skirting campaign finance laws. (Liu has not been accused of any wrongdoing and has vowed to go "all the way," with his campaign.)

Lehrer asked if de Blasio agreed with Liu's call to "abolish" the controversial stop-and-frisk strategy, which the administration says removes guns off the street but critics say unfairly targets minorities.

De Blasio said Liu's position was "irresponsible."

Later, de Blasio said he would not seek to expand the number of charter schools allowed to open in the city, a marked change from the current administration's policy of actively promoting the creation and opening of charter school.

In between the Fox and WNYC interviews, de Blasio traveled to Washington Heights for his first appearance outside a subway station as a mayoral candidate. De Blasio, who won two Council races representing Park Slope, and a tough public advocate race in 2009, appeared a little rusty at the fine art of glad-handing grumpy New Yorkers.

De Blasio stood outside the subway entrance at 168th Street, while the kind of non-elitist straphangers who his campaign is targeting emerged from the stairs below, bobbing and weaving past two newspapers hawkers. 

De Blasio's two campaign aides stood holding signs, trying to encourage people to shake the candidate's hand, while a boisterous hakwer for amNew York was constantly talking, almost shouting, something about how he had been partying with celebrities the night before and was here in the morning giving out newspapers. The man eventually worked de Blasio into his pitch.

"Mr. De Blasio. He's at the top of the steps. In the flesh. Shake his hand. I aint playing. He's right here. Gooood morning, am New York. How you folks doing this morning? Yes, you're part of the news cycle."

"Hi, I'm Bill de Blasio," the candidate repeated endlessly.

I overheard de Blasio tell one rider he thought "Ray's done a great job," in reference to the police commissioner, but that some tactics needed to change. Another man told de Blasio he wanted him to be mayor, than maybe governor or a senator. De Blasio smiled and thanked him.

"Good luck. Good luck!" shouted another and ducked into the subway.

During a lull in traffic, I asked de Blasio if he was happy with where he stands in the early polling. By all accounts, he's behind Quinn, and bumping elbows with Liu and former comptroller Bill Thompson, each of whom have distinct ethnic voting blocs they are counting on for votes.

"Absolutely," de Blasio said. "This election is just beginning. People are just beginning to focus. The response to my message has been strong."

"I feel very good about where we stand," he said.

"And I know it's just the beginning," he said, adding, "I think when that message gets out, fully, there'll be a lot of movement our way."

After a few more minutes of hand-shaking and photograph snapping, de Blasio and his aides departed. They had four other boroughs to visit. The newspaper hawker wasn't done though.

"am New York. Gooood morning folks," he said. "Mr. De Blasio was here, in the flesh. You could have met him if you got here earlier."