Bill de Blasio Bets on 1199 as Mayoral Race Heats Up

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio speaking to 1199 retirees today.

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio speaking to 1199 retirees yesterday.

There were two big winners in this week’s long-awaited polls, and Bill de Blasio was not one of them.

But the public advocate, brushing off the numbers, has been working on shoring up support in his base. He spent yesterday afternoon pumping up the retires of 1199 SEIU, his largest union backer.

“Listen, this election is important to the future of the city. For 20 years, we’ve had Bloomberg and Giuliani. For 20 years, we have had the needs of working-class people ignored in New York City,” he told the group of about 60 members gathered at the union’s Midtown headquarters.

“The values you believe in are slipping away in New York City,” he warned, telling them they had the power to turn the tide by helping to elect him mayor.

“You can reach your family. You can reach your friends. You can reach your neighborhoods. You can reach the people you worship with. You can determine the fate of this city,” he told the room. “This union has the power to do it! And we need you to it once again.”

It was one of six appearances Mr. de Blasio has made in the past two weeks in front of members and retirees of the city’s largest union, which represents perhaps one of the biggest hopes for Mr. de Blasio as he enters the heat of election season in fourth place in public polling, behind Anthony Weiner, Bill Thompson and Christine Quinn. And without the broad labor coalition he’d hoped would coalesce around his candidacy.

The union itself boasts 200,000 members across the five boroughs and is known for its robust political organization–described by 1199 Political Organizer Jesse Smith Campoamor as “one of the most sophisticated, robust operations in the country.”

And the retirees that Mr. de Blasio has been schmoozing  are a major part of that operation. They’ll play a central role in the union’s phone bank operations, using auto-dialers in the building’s call room to target fellow seniors, and join other members door-to-door canvassing, knocking on hundreds of thousands of doors between now and September and running “Super Saturday” events kicking off on July 13, which the union hopes will draw hundreds of people with family-friendly activities, including music, food and face-painting.

“[We’re] very confident, very confident. We’ll do what we gotta get done,” said Mr. Campoamor of the efforts, which the campaign sees as critical to getting out is message.

Mr. de Blasio’s strong desire to rev up his granny army was on full display during the stop, where the public advocate—a towering presence in the room of senior citizens—worked the crowd after his remarks. Table by table, he stopped to listen to the members’ troubles, leaning down to their level, offering hugs, posing for photographs-and often taking people’s hands in his they spoke and offering his card to follow up.

The efforts appeared to be working.

“We’re gonna be with you!” said one member, taking a break from a heaping plate of chicken, rice and fried plantains to greet Mr. de Blasio. “I appreciate it. That’s how we win!” Mr. de Blasio replied.

Gwendolyn Dennis, a 68-year-old West Harlem resident, said she promised Mr. de Blasio that she’d be working hard to get him elected in the coming months by mobilizing friends and working the polls.

“I was telling him that me and my family and my neighbors, we have already decided to vote for him. So I’m going to do everything that lies in my power to make sure that happens,” said Ms. Dennis, who said he seemed to share many of her values.

“He seems to be a sincere person. He seems to be a loving father, a husband, and he cares for the poor,” she said when asked why she’d gravitated toward the candidate. “The city needs every nerve of Mr. de Blasio.”

But not everyone was quite as engaged.

“I’m going to vote for you!” said Jannie Robinson as Mr. de Blasio made his way around the table. “Why?” she later told Politicker after he passed, “Because I think he’s a person that should be our next–what is he running for? Comptroller? Um, mayor. I think he should be our next mayor.”

“I think he’s a very pleasant, intelligent person and he would listen to the poor,” she added.

Mr. de Blasio said the members he spoke with were generally most distressed about how unaffordable the city has become and feel left out by the current administration. He also downplayed the recent polls, arguing the race is still wide open, three months from the primary.

“People are just not yet focused on this election,” he told Politicker when asked whether he was disheartened. “It’s just too early. The public hasn’t yet engaged.”

And despite some critics’ assessments that his campaign has an uphill battle to make the runoff election, he said he remains confident that, once people begin to pay attention, he’ll have the message and organization needed.

“These 1199 retirees are a powerful force and we have the support of 1199 and other organizations that, between them, have over 300,000 members in the five boroughs,” he said. “So when it comes to a message that people believe in, and when it comes to the ability to turn out voters, we have everything we need and that’s what’s going to decide the election.”