Bill de Blasio Off to Rocky Start With Reporters

Mayor de Blasio press conference

The wait is over: Mayor de Blasio arrives for a press conference (photo credit: Rob Bennett for the Office of Mayor Bill de Blasio)

Bill de Blasio only became mayor two weeks ago, but the city’s political reporters already have their gripes.

Notable among the complaints: The vast amounts of time spent waiting for him to turn up at his own press events. An hour-long delay has become standard for the mayor, who was recently dubbed “Mayor Tardy” by the New York Post

On Jan. 5, some reporters waited more than 45 minutes in the frigid cold for a 10-minute glimpse of Mr. de Blasio interacting with the masses. Journalists spent 42 minutes waiting for Mr. de Blasio to show up to a presser last Thursday, prompting many complaints. Last Friday, Mr. de Blasio was about an hour late to a graduation ceremony for the Department of Correction, thus delaying the whole event. At one press event last month, a photographer reportedly fainted while waiting for at least half an hour in a hot, crowded room before Mr. de Blasio announced a round of appointments. 

Angry tweets about the mayor’s lateness, including an entire (short-lived) Twitter feed devoted to it, and general grumpiness are signs of an increasingly rankled press corps. (Although it should be noted that Mr. de Blasio was actually on time for a press event outside of a Queens school yesterday, a rare occasion that did not go unnoticed, or unappreciated, by the press corps.)

Some reporters say they are even wistful for chilly Michael Bloomberg, who, though openly contemptuous of the press, was more or less respectful of schedules and deadlines. 

“There are no press conferences that start even 10 minutes late,” said one City Hall reporter, who, like most journalists interviewed for this story, would only speak on background. “The resentment is starting to show. This wouldn’t happen with Bloomberg in a hundred-million years.”  (Note: No Observer reporters were interviewed.)

Another political reporter said the mayor’s disregard for scheduling “affects deadlines and meetings. He’s up to an hour late, which makes it hard when you have to work within the constraints of a deadline.” 

Though Mr. de Blasio rode into office as a man of the people, apparently, they do not include the (mostly) 99-percenters known as journalists. 

“Bloomberg was candid about the fact that he wasn’t a big fan of the press,” said Myles Miller, a reporter who covers municipal government for Reuters.  

“Bloomberg was an impatient, data-driven businessman with no regard for the press. It was his whole shtick,” added the political reporter concerned with deadlines. “Bloomberg would cut you off three words into a question, but de Blasio criticizes you for asking it.”

Although Mr. Bloomberg was often openly dismissive, reporters say that Mr. de Blasio’s style is more cutting. 

“There’s a sense that dealing with the press is like having to explain adult things to children,” the City Hall reporter said, adding that Mr. de Blasio tends to chide a reporter for not listening if he or she repeats a question over multiple days. 

Mr. de Blasio is known to infuse press conferences with what has been dubbed “Dad humor,” but his jokes often fall flat and some see it as an attempt to manage the story.

“Beneath the jokes and less formal style, he’s still working hard to control the message,” said another reporter who covers the de Blasio administration. “For instance, he will answer questions directed at his appointees before they have a chance to.”
 
“That being said, he has offered some pretty substantive, cogent answers. But not before making multiple jokes about his height,” the reporter added.

Still, it’s only two weeks into the new regime. It may just take time for the mayor and the press to get used to one another. 

“There is always a dance between the mayor and the people who cover him,” said Doug Muzzio, a professor of public affairs at Baruch College and a longtime observer of City Hall. “Choreography requires the partners getting used to each other.” 

But, Mr. Muzzio added, chronic lateness can be perceived as a diss. “Forty-five minutes to an hour says something about attitude and scheduling,” he said.  

The thing is, the press corps doesn’t really have much choice other than to wait.

“It’s their show. We are just the audience,” said Tom Robbins, a legendary investigative reporter who spent years covering city government for the Village Voice. “Mayors are the stars of the show, and they show up when they want.” 

Anyway, he said, the new one isn’t all that bad.

“Reporters have to figure out the way to deal with everyone’s ego,” Mr. Robbins said. “But compared to past mayors, de Blasio is a pussycat.”