When you’re the mayor of New York City, nothing is off topic.
Michael Bloomberg wasn’t particularly fond of this truism and did little to disguise his displeasure. Bill de Blasio promised to be everything Mr. Bloomberg wasn’t. Transparency, he said, would be a hallmark of his administration.
But then those annoying reporters in City Hall started asking questions about … everything. Often the questions were about issues that the mayor didn’t want to discuss. Imagine that. Mr. de Blasio and his aides responded with contempt and evasion. So much for transparency.
The mayor’s disturbing treatment of the reporters who cover him has been evident for months now. The Observer has taken note of City Hall’s ham-handed attempts to control what is asked of the mayor and when it is asked. Now, the New York Press Club has entered the fray with a stinging letter to the mayor from its president, Larry Seary.
Mr. Seary noted that Mr. de Blasio has “departed from a precedent set by at least eight mayors before you, which has been to take questions in open press conferences without restriction to subject matter.” That chronology takes us back to the late 1940s, when Bill O’Dwyer ran the city.
Mr. de Blasio certainly is not the first New York politician to dream of complete control over his or her message of the day. But his attempts to turn that dream into reality have been, as Mr. Seary noted, without precedent. He regularly declines to answer questions that he deems off topic. His press office is famously uncooperative. He sets conditions and ground rules for press conferences that do nothing to encourage a vibrant and, yes, transparent discussion of city government and politics.
It would appear the Mr. de Blasio entered City Hall convinced—for reasons that only he can explain—that reporters were enemies of his self-styled progressive agenda. That’s a rather counter-intuitive view of the press, but perhaps Mr. de Blasio believes that anybody who asks questions is, by definition, an obstacle to progress.
The shame of this is that Mr. de Blasio is a smart, articulate leader who probably would benefit from wide-ranging news conferences. He ought to try it, for a change.