De Blasio gauging support for gubernatorial bid

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NEW YORK — Bill de Blasio, a career politician and operative, was facing the prospect of life outside public office for the first time in two decades. Then came the downfall of his archnemesis, Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Now the New York City mayor, who will leave office in four months due to term limits, has begun calling allies about a prospective run for governor in the wide-open Democratic primary next June.

De Blasio phoned several labor leaders in recent days to gauge support, a union affiliate familiar with the previously unreported conversations told POLITICO.

“He’s letting the leaders know that he’s considering running for governor,” said the person, who requested anonymity to speak freely about the preliminary steps.

Asked to characterize the conversations, the person said, “He’s just asking friends to hold off on making a decision” about endorsements until he figures out his own plans.

“It was just to let them know that he’s seriously considering running with the explicit purpose of trying to head off any momentum for Tish and Kathy,” the person added, referring to Attorney General Tish James and Gov. Kathy Hochul, who assumed office when Cuomo resigned last month after a report found he had sexually harassed staffers.

Several current and former aides to de Blasio acknowledged he wants to stay in politics — the only career path he has ever known. But many wondered how he would amass support among his reliable base of Black voters in Brooklyn and Queens if he competes with James, a popular Black attorney general who has won citywide and statewide races.

“I’ve been of the opinion that Tish ultimately wouldn’t challenge Hochul, but lots of chatter yesterday and today that she’s seriously exploring a run,” Democratic consultant Neal Kwatra, who has worked for de Blasio at times, tweeted Tuesday afternoon. “Gonna be a fascinating Fall in NY politics. If Tish runs, there is literally no lane for [de Blasio] either. [Rep. Tom] Suozzi still in mix too.”

Peter Ragone, a longtime friend and adviser to the mayor, left the door open when asked if de Blasio plans to run for governor.

“Whenever we talk, the mayor’s focus is always on fighting Covid and [the city’s] recovery,” Ragone said. “He’s an elected leader who proved he can accomplish big things like getting 70,000 children into universal pre-kindergarten. I think anyone with that kind of record and commitment to public service should consider other options to contribute, whatever form that takes.”

The outreach to union leaders is the surest — but not only — sign the mayor is testing the waters.

He has been making himself seen beyond his daily public briefing on Covid-19 — riding a ferris wheel in Times Square; visiting a Sikh cultural center in Queens; and on Wednesday night, taking the opportunity during a livestreamed interview on Peacock to tout his handling of the pandemic.

He is also assessing public opinion.

The New York Times reported Wednesday evening that his longtime pollster, Anna Greenberg, recently tested his popularity outside the five boroughs.

Aides said the mayor’s interest was piqued when Data For Progress, a left-leaning national think tank, found him tied in second place with Hochul in a potential gubernatorial matchup. James led that hypothetical lineup with 26 percent and one-quarter of those surveyed reported being undecided.

But the mayor — who successfully won re-election and has seen his approval ratings stabilize — faces substantial obstacles if he pursues higher office.

If he solicits campaign contributions while he’s still mayor, he risks criticism about prioritizing politics during a public health crisis.

But if he waits until he is out of office in January, he will lose the advantage of raising money from people looking to curry favor with a sitting mayor — a practice of his past fundraising operations that sparked several years-long investigations, which did not result in charges.

The mayor, who won in 2013 with support from a multiracial coalition, has lost the backing of his former white voters, poll after poll has shown.

Wealthy and politically moderate white voters were never part of de Blasio's base. But left-of-center Democrats in parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn have soured on him after helping usher him into office eight years ago.

If his base of Black voters favors James or any other candidate, de Blasio will need to recover some of his lost white support. What’s more, moderate and conservative Democrats tend to exert more influence in statewide races than citywide contests.

As one Democratic operative, who asked to speak on background, recently said: “He’s in the worst spot possible where the left thinks he’s pro-cop and the cops think he’s a Sandanista.”

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