In his novel “Anna Karenina” Tolstoy writes that “All happy families are equal; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
Something similar can be said about the mayors of New York: Successful people share policies and leadership qualities, while the unsuccessful ones map out individual doomsday paths.
Over the last five decades, Gotham has experienced both. The successful mayors – Ed Koch, Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg – stand tall because they took office in times of crisis and turned New York’s fortunes. They had their warts, but each left town better off than when he started.
Something deceased Senator Pat Moynihan said about Koch could also be said about Giuliani and Bloomberg. “He gave the city its spirit back,” Moynihan told me.
It was a key insight that illustrates the fact that even if policies matter, the best policies without an infusion of indomitable optimism and determination will turn into little. An eagerness to succeed can also overcome political mistakes.
Conversely, two of the three failed mayors – Abraham Beame and David Dinkins – had their spirits shattered by the problems they faced. Beame, in his time as controller, was instrumental in creating the fiscal crisis that flooded his mayoralty, and Dinkins was largely paralyzed as violent crime and disorder rose on his guard.
They were decent men, but lacked the right things to master the chaos they faced. As a result, the city was worse off when they traveled than when they began.
All of this brings us to Bill de Blasio. He is also a failure, but on such a large scale that he belongs in category one. Mayor Putz, also known as the worst mayor ever, is unique in all the wrong ways.
He inherited a remarkably safe and prosperous city, the culmination of a 20-year stretch where first Giuliani and then Bloomberg pushed crime to historic lows and heralded a golden age of prosperity.
Instead of following the obvious path forward, de Blasio decided to break what his predecessors had set out to do. He leaves a city in such dramatic decline that many people wonder if it can be saved.
De Blasio’s will to be a destructive bullet was evident at his inauguration.
The ceremony was filled with insults aimed at the city’s progress, and Bloomberg, who sat in the front row, was treated like a dog treating a fire hydrant. Harry Belafonte called the city’s justice system “Dickensian” without acknowledging that the jail rate fell by 36% under Bloomberg, as crime also fell.
Later, the Sanitation Department chaplain Fred Lucas Jr. the town for a “plantation,” a monstrous incantation magnified by de Blasio’s comment that he had no problem with the inflammatory remarks.
Alas, it was all downhill from there when New Yorkers quickly discovered that the new guy contained a trifecta of huge flaws.
A corrupt mayor would be troublesome enough, but de Blasio’s shortcomings did not stop with his crooked plans with donors and unions. He is also blatantly incompetent, which, coupled with the dirty deals, has put the city behind 8 ballet for much of the last eight years.
To top it off, Mayor Putz is spectacularly lazy, working half days from Gracie Mansion or a Brooklyn cafe where he liked to stroll after police had driven him to a gym. As time went on, he failed to show up at City Hall more often than not – even before the pandemic hit. Being mayor was never a part-time concert before de Blasio got it.
In several crucial moments, he could not be bothered to make difficult decisions. Insiders describe a man who sees the small details of management under him.
Important political issues, whether homelessness, hospitals, education or crime, lingered for months because he did not want to spend time hearing competing arguments and making the final choice.
To the extent that de Blasio is motivated, it is out of a vague fascination with the extreme left-wing ideology. He was so fascinated that he and his wife Chirlaine McCray snuck onto the prison island of Cuba for their honeymoon. How fun!
Unfortunately, he never grew out of a crush on the Castro brothers and spent most of his term as mayor trying to redistribute the money of others. Perhaps the most memorable thing he has ever said was that “Brothers and sisters, there is a lot of money in the world. There is a lot of money in this city. It’s just in the wrong hands.”
He said that in 2019, six years after he first campaigned with the theme of a “tale of two cities.” Rhetorically, he was at least consistent.
If the city had any luck under his mistreatment, it was that de Blasio’s avoidance of actual work meant that he was leaving most of his agenda incomplete. For this and this alone we are deeply grateful.
In fact, his dream language and outlined plans made it appear that Putz had one concern – to create an image as a card-carrying progressive so that one day he could get another government job. The imagination was revealed when he ran for president in 2020 and barely registered in any polls.
A likely candidacy for governor next year will almost certainly lead to another landslide defeat.
Oddly enough, de Blasio never seemed to like New York and has no passion, love or hate for the five neighborhoods. As one observer puts it, “You do not even understand that he cares about the city.”
One sign is his absence from bourgeois life. Unlike all the other mayors before him, de Blasio often failed to show up for the city’s great moments.
Whether it was a tragic event like a police shooting or a major accident in which a mayor had to show up to show a stable hands-on leadership, he was mostly not there. He also avoided glamorous events like the Met Gala, which celebrates the city’s cultural richness.
He was a no-show at Yankee Stadium and Citi Field, Madison Square Garden and the Barclays Center. He did not walk the streets of the neighborhood and talk to people, nor did he hold town hall-style meetings.
When he showed up, of course, he was often late, a testament to the lack of respect for the job and the public itself.
Even the eternally angry Bloomberg, who early complained that he would not waste time on tape clips, quickly discovered that the public expected their mayor to see and be seen.
The results of de Blasio’s deplorable action are inevitable. The growing crime, hatred and routine disrespect for the police, homeless camps and wandering lunatics, dirty streets, failing schools, lots of money wasted on stupid ideas – these are the consequences of the worst mayor ever.
There are several candidates for his biggest mistake, but the most consequent was his handcuffs on the police, which were most dramatic during the riots and looting in the summer of 2020, and which have continued ever since. After growing out of the protests over the assassination of George Floyd in Minneapolis, chaos and destruction had nothing to do with police reform and everything to do with crime.
In many ways, his decision was a continuation of de Blasio’s icy relationship with the police, which began when he campaigned against the NYPD in 2013. His provocative statement that he was advising his biracial son, Dante, on how to behave, if the police stopped him, rightly outraged officers.
At the end of his first year, December 20, 2014, police officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu were murdered while sitting in a patrol car in Brooklyn. The killer, a career criminal who committed suicide when officers beat him in the corner, had promised revenge on police over the deaths of several suspects, including Eric Garner in Staten Island.
Most officers’ belief that the mayor was helping to create an anti-police, pro-criminal climate led most to turn their backs on de Blasio at the funeral of the murdered officers.
Putz later signed on to defund the police movement. Although the $ 1 billion cut in the NYPD budget was smaller than one might see, he had once again signaled his will to the men and women who risk their lives to protect all New Yorkers.
His successor, Eric Adams, is a former officer who takes office with the promise of cleaning up the mess de Blasio leaves behind. He promises to tackle crime, cut budgets and show America how to run a city.
Goodbye to Adams and a piece of advice: In the face of almost any problem or decision, try to imagine what Mayor Putz would do.
Then do the exact opposite!