Is de Blasio Running for President? Sure Looks Like It

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He has traveled to three early presidential primary states, held $5,000-a-plate events for donors and hired a small-dollar fund-raising consultant.

He spoke at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobbying group, and is now on another trip to raise money in Boston, after which he will meet with Democratic activists in Las Vegas.

These are the concrete steps of a man preparing to run for president.

But thus far, that man, Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City, would prefer that his words speak louder than his actions. When asked if he plans to run for president, he gives the same answers. He is “not ruling anything out,” and will consult with his family before making a decision, one that he says will come “sooner than later.”

Bank on sooner.

Mr. de Blasio has had two City Hall aides working on his tentative campaign on their own time; one of them, Mike Casca, is a veteran of Senator Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign, and worked in the senator’s office.

The other mayoral aide helping Mr. de Blasio with his 2020 exploration is Jon Paul Lupo; last month, Mr. Lupo brought aboard Trilogy Interactive, a Washington, D.C.-based company that does digital fund-raising and marketing for political campaigns and others, to assist the mayor’s national political action committee, Fairness PAC.

Mr. de Blasio created Fairness PAC to fund national Democratic candidates, and to pay for his and his wife’s political travel outside of New York. The fund raised just over $600,000 last year and has spent almost as much.

Stacey Bashara, a partner in Trilogy, said that the company’s first task would be to reinvigorate and build out the PAC’s email list. She said she has not spoken with the mayor, or discussed his potential 2020 run.

“The work we’ve been hired to do is for Fairness PAC,” Ms. Bashara said. “There’s been no conversation beyond that.”

His potential candidacy has not caused much enthusiasm, even in New York. A poll released this week from Quinnipiac University found that 76 percent of New York City voters believe the mayor should not run for president. Another 47 percent of voters surveyed said they think a de Blasio presidential run would be bad for the city, including 43 percent of Democrats.

None of that seems to be deterring Mr. de Blasio.

“I’m glad I could unify the people of New York City,” the mayor said at a news conference on Thursday when asked about the Quinnipiac poll.

That was in keeping with his generally dismissive response to polls that point to his unpopularity. “I have spent a lot of time in dead last in many a poll in many a race,” the mayor told The New York Times after a January appearance in Iowa. “It’s not where you start. It’s where you end.”

He repeated that message as recently as this week, when Mr. de Blasio appeared at the National Action Network’s annual convention, a popular destination for presidential aspirants.

“Time and time again, people will tell you what you can’t do,” the mayor said. “But don’t let anyone tell you what you can’t do. Don’t let anyone talk you out of your own power.”

For all his public disregard of polls, Mr. de Blasio is no doubt aware that his chances of qualifying for the first of the Democratic presidential debates, which will take place in June, may hinge on how he does with poll respondents. Candidates can qualify either by meeting fund-raising goals or by gaining at least 1 percent support in three polls of Democratic voters, by any of several organizations approved by the Democratic National Committee.

By that measure, Mr. de Blasio is two-thirds of the way there. He met the 1 percent threshold in a poll released on March 11 by Monmouth University and another released on March 24 by Fox News.

“I feel like he’s going to run,” said Rebecca Katz, a former adviser to Mr. de Blasio and his family who is not currently attached to his exploratory bid. “I think he wants to be talked about in a serious way.”

A $5,000-per-plate fund-raising breakfast on March 6 underscored the mayor’s intentions. It was hosted by a real estate developer, Aby Rosen, whose company, RFR Holding, recently bought the Chrysler Building.

“This will be a private opportunity for a candid conversation with the mayor, who will share his insights and take your questions on the future of the New York City economy and the political trajectory of the Democratic Party, both nationally and locally,” said the emailed invitation, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times.

It said that the mayor had “a lot of value to add on how to navigate successfully this fraught political moment.”

A similar breakfast event, expected to draw a small crowd of wealthy donors, was set to take place Friday at the offices of Suffolk Construction in Boston. The company has been looking to expand its operations in New York. Later Friday, the mayor planned to travel to meet Democrats in Nevada.

[Read more about the fund-raiser hosted by a company looking to expand its footprint in New York City.]

For what it’s worth, Mr. de Blasio does seem to be enjoying himself on the prospective campaign trail, in contrast to his often dour demeanor when parrying with reporters in New York.

In Des Moines, Mr. de Blasio, a devoted Red Sox fan, signed a Yankees batting helmet for a young fan. He stayed so long speaking with people after a speech at the Asian & Latino Coalition PAC that his staff members had to pull him away so he would not miss his flight back to New York City.

On the trips to South Carolina and New Hampshire, the mayor was accompanied by his wife, Chirlane McCray; in New Hampshire, the couple visited the home where Ms. McCray’s mother was raised, and she led a round-table discussion about opioid abuse and mental illness.

“I’ve never seen a political race that the mayor has been involved in — going back to the school board — where Chirlane wasn’t a part of the decision-making process, the strategy and the tactics,” said Peter Ragone, a former top aide and now an informal adviser to Mr. de Blasio.

Mr. Ragone said he did not know whether Mr. de Blasio would run for president. “But if you look at his record and who’s in the Democratic primary, why shouldn’t he consider it?” Mr. Ragone said.

At the National Action Network, the civil rights group founded by the Rev. Al Sharpton, the mayor seemed extraordinarily animated, and talked about the “painful intersection of structural racism and income inequality.” More Democratic candidates for president have been addressing issues of racial inequality.

“My mission when I became the mayor of the largest city in the nation was to show that the status quo was unacceptable,” the mayor said. “And isn’t that a truth in our nation right now.”

Mr. Sharpton, a political ally of the mayor, said that Mr. de Blasio told him that he was exploring a run for president because he was being encouraged to do so.

The mayor did not say who was encouraging him, Mr. Sharpton said.

“In a crowded field he has some unique things. He’s progressive and has management skills. The question is, ‘Does he distinguish himself?’” Mr. Sharpton said. “He’s been underestimated before in the mayor’s race, so I would not count him out.”

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