Bill de Blasio Walks Away From White House Meeting With Sweeping National Hopes

Bill de Blasio and other newly elected mayors after their meeting at the White House.

Bill de Blasio and the other newly-elected mayors.

WASHINGTON — Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio went down to Washington, D.C. today to meet with President Barack Obama, emerging emboldened that a “progressive movement” was sweeping the nation.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, which included 15 other newly-elected mayors, Mr. de Blasio said it was clear to him that the fight against inequality–which formed the centerpiece of his campaign–was gaining steam far beyond the five boroughs.

“You can’t have a room full of mayors–literally every corner of the country–all spontaneously saying to the president of the United States the same exact things from their own experience: Something’s going on here … So what we have to do is organize it and amplify it,” he told Politicker.

“It was very interesting: a lot of them talked about pre-K, a lot of them talked about early childhood education as one of the breakthrough things we have to do to change the dynamics, a lot of them talked about their growing poverty levels and how it was undermining the future of their cities. So I think there was a really organic unity among all of us of the fact that this is the issue of our times. Fighting inequality is the mission of our times,” he said.

The meeting, organized by the White House, had been called “discuss the ways in which the Obama Administration can serve as an active partner on job creation and ensuring middle class families have a pathway to opportunity.”  Speaking in the Roosevelt Room, Mr. Obama said he hoped to partner with the city leaders to  help them achieve their goals.

“[M]y hope and goal out of this meeting is we immediate set up a strong partnership with all of the mayors that are here and all of the mayors that are not here where we get a clear sense of what their vision is of how they are trying to deliver services,” he said, according to a pool report.

Mr. de Blasio reportedly sat front and center in the room, directly across from the president as he discussed the recent budget deal, the importance of extending unemployment insurance and the potential benefits of raising the minimum wage.

Mr. de Blasio then led the group out of the West Wing, where he spoke to reporters on behalf of his colleagues, expressing excitement the president had echoed their vision.
 
“I think it was, to begin with, inspiring to hear our president, his concern for what we’re facing … He was quick to make clear how much he wanted to help us as we go through our transitions and help our cities as the leading edge of our national economy,” he said, surrounded by his fellow mayor-elects. “We talked a lot about the crisis of inequality. A lot of us ran in our elections on a message of addressing the inequality and it was extraordinarily gratifying to hear the passion with which the president and the vice president spoke about this challenge that our country faces and their desire to be active partners with us addressing income inequality and so many other challenges we face.”
 
The group also talked specifically about the value of universal pre-K–another central point of Mr. de Blasio’s mayoral campaign. “There was real passion in the president’s voice when he talked about how fundamental it is to move forward an early education agenda in this country and I think we all now know clearly that he will be a partner in all we need to do,” he said.

Later, Mr. de Blasio said that he hoped he and his fellow mayors would be able to come together to help push early education advances, just as current Mayor Michael Bloomberg joined with other city heads to advance issues including immigration reform, climate change and gun control–“but with a different approach.”

“What I think we have to do is something that reaches down more to the grassroots … a real effort to reach Americans in each and every part of this country to say this is a national imperative” he said. “I don’t have the game plan today, I can just tell you the vision to me is to take that same kind of approach that Mayor Bloomberg used I think meaningfully and add to it.”