New York City mayor steps onto bigger political stages

De Blasio's growing stature has been noted in national political circles

By Jonathan Lemire
Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) - A speech at the United Nations. A spot next to Al Gore leading a massive climate change march. A prime speaking slot at a political conference in England.

Those big stages - all happening within a few days of each other - have become more common for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. His profile is on the rise both nationally and internationally and he is increasingly viewed in political circles as a rising star, particularly in the most liberal wing of the Democratic party.

De Blasio's higher profile - partly a concerted effort by his team and partly a byproduct of leading the nation's largest city - has provided him everything from a platform from which to espouse his liberal political views to potentially setting him up as a valuable surrogate in the 2016 presidential election.

"It enhances his power locally, because he becomes more formidable for having achieved this global respect," said Kenneth Sherrill, retired political science professor at Hunter College. "And he's serious about being a spokesman for a national urban agenda."

De Blasio's rise has been sudden. A mere 18 months ago, he was a little-known second-tier mayoral candidate. But his campaign soared just as those of other contenders imploded, and after spending his first few months in office solely focused on his legislative agenda, the new mayor began to step beyond the five boroughs.

Looking to spread his view of an activist urban government, he attended meetings with U.S. mayors in Dallas and Chicago and later hosted the U.S. Conference of Mayors in New York. He journeyed to Washington to lobby for big cities and attended a White House state dinner. He's hosted various political dignitaries at City Hall and, even on a family vacation to Italy, met with the mayor of Rome.

A spokesman for de Blasio said the mayor's focus is his city and dismissed any suggestion that voters could perceive he was more interested in global issues.

"Income inequality doesn't stop at a city limit, a state line or a national border," said Phil Walzak, "and by promoting local strategies and building a national urban agenda together, the mayor believes we can create real change for people in New York City, and beyond."

This week is de Blasio's biggest step yet onto the global political stage. He marched with Gore and hundreds of thousands of demonstrators on Sunday to lobby the United Nations on climate change and then on Tuesday he addressed the UN's General Assembly on the same topic. On Wednesday, he spoke about progressive values at the Labour Party's annual conference in Manchester, England.

His growing stature has been noted in national political circles.

De Blasio now is mentioned as a leader of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party as 2016 approaches. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the strong favorite for her party's presidential nomination if she decides to run, is closely linked to him. He managed her 2000 Senate campaign.

Clinton was beaten on the left by Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential primaries and some fear she may be vulnerable there again; a powerful de Blasio could provide some protection.

"I think he could be enormously helpful to the Clintons, because a thumbs-up from him will go a long way in progressive circles," said Jeanne Zaino, political science professor at Iona College.

Clinton and her husband have stayed close to de Blasio, appearing at his Inauguration and at several events since. Donna Brazile, an adviser to the Clintons, said de Blasio has quickly become a leading voice in the party on addressing income inequality and promoting early childhood education.

"His agenda is designed to lift up people who need better jobs, more opportunity and better schools," Brazile said.

De Blasio is far from the first New York mayor to become a star beyond his city's borders. Michael Bloomberg used the stature of the office - and his personal fortune - to become a leading voice on climate change, while Rudy Giuliani came to be viewed as a national authority on crime.

But de Blasio may not be a household name just yet. Last weekend, he and an aide took a spur of the moment road to trip to Pittsburgh and sat in the stands at a Pirates game.

The mayor largely went unnoticed.

Published: Thu, Sep 25, 2014