New York City’s newest mayor, Bill de Blasio, was sworn into office in the first moments of the new year with the blessing of some very important friends seated in the front row: Bill and Hillary Clinton.
The former president and the Democrats’ greatest hope to run for president in 2016 have a long history with de Blasio. And they’ve drawn upon that history to help pave the way for New York City’s first Democratic, and most progressive, mayor in more than 20 years.
Bill Clinton further cemented the relationship with a symbolic swearing-in ceremony of de Blasio today.
“I strongly endorse Bill de Blasio’s core campaign commitment that we have to have a city of shared opportunities shared prosperity shared responsibilities,” Clinton said today moments before leading de Blasio in his oath of office. “This inequality problem bedevils the entire country.”
The Clinton-de Blasio connection goes way back.
De Blasio served in Clinton’s administration in 1997 as the highest-ranking New York and New Jersey official in the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
One prominent Clinton hand, former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Harold Ickes, has played a crucial advisory role in the de Blasio campaign, also helping to corral the donors in the Clinton orbit that de Blasio needed to win the general election after he rocketed from relative obscurity to front-runner in the final days of the Democratic primary last year.
It was also Ickes who helped place de Blasio in the high-profile role of manager of Hillary Clinton’s 2000 Senate campaign, though the post did not make him an instant insider in the famously cloistered Clinton inner circle.
Nevertheless, that connection has paid dividends.
Clinton, who has rarely delved back into politics since leaving her post as secretary of state in February, has been generous with her support of de Blasio’s bid.
Both Clintons endorsed him in September, shortly after he cinched the Democratic nomination.
And Hillary Clinton held a lucrative fundraiser on his behalf.
The relationship is mutually beneficial.
De Blasio could be boosted by the Clintons, whose blanket endorsement might help soften the shock of his unabashedly progressive policy priorities.
Though de Blasio is eager to move the city past the reign of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, he has used Clinton, whom most people view as a moderate Democratic president, to defend his focus on economic inequality from the suggestion often made by Bloomberg’s supporters that he’s encouraging class warfare.
“There is nothing divisive about acknowledging the struggle so many New Yorkers face. It’s not class warfare. As my old boss Bill Clinton would say, it’s arithmetic,” de Blasio noted as he name-dropped a Clinton on the campaign trail in October.
For the Clintons, de Blasio’s progressive bona fides could be a boon for Hillary Clinton if she seeks the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, when she might face a primary challenge from a candidate seeking to tap into populist sentiments within the Democratic Party.
She might not have yet decided whether she’ll run, but progressives who have been pushing alternatives like Mass. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Calif. Gov. Jerry Brown, who ran against Bill Clinton as a more leftward alternative in the 1992 primary, are taking note.
“So, he obviously thinks that swearing in de Blasio will help her, which means in turn that Bill Clinton thinks that de Blasio-style, left-leaning populism represents something real within the Democratic Party,” noted Michael Tomasky, editor of the liberal journal ‘Democracy: A Journal of Ideas’ in a column today.
“Can’t hurt, the Clintons must be thinking, to make a symbolic hitch-up to that wagon.”