Game of DeThrone: The Pols Who Might Challenge de Blasio

The city’s political sharks smell blood, but running against (let alone defeating) an incumbent mayor is far easier said than done

From far left: Rubén Díaz Jr., Scott Stringer, Eric Adams, Don Peebles, and Hakeem Jeffries encircle Mayor Bill de Blasio. (Edward Murawinski for Observer)
From far left: Rubén Díaz Jr., Scott Stringer, Eric Adams, Don Peebles, and Hakeem Jeffries encircle Mayor Bill de Blasio. (Edward Murawinski for Observer)

Mayor Bill de Blasio" class="company-link">Bill de Blasio’s poll numbers have moved in one direction: down. His landslide victory in the 2013 mayoral race never bought him universal popularity. While he’s notched his fair share of impressive accomplishments—universal pre-kindergarten and mandatory paid sick days, to name two—his mayoralty has also been defined by a general failure to sell himself to the public.

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The city’s political sharks smell blood, which means threats of a primary in 2017. Of course, running against (let alone defeating) an incumbent mayor is far easier said than done. In any theoretical matchup, Mr. de Blasio—with his name recognition and long list of allies in the organized labor world—starts out as a prohibitive favorite. This hasn’t stanched speculation that some charismatic Democrat (the Republican Party’s bench is nonexistent) can unseat Mr. de Blasio. Here’s a handy guide to his potential challengers.

Congressman Hakeem Jeffries

Mr. Jeffries, an attorney who has drawn comparisons to Barack Obama, represents the black central Brooklyn residents who powered Mr. de Blasio’s stunning victory two years ago. An ally of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, City Hall’s greatest antagonist, Mr. Jeffries is a tireless critic from the left and right: he complains that Mr. de Blasio hasn’t done enough to reform the NYPD or defend charter schools.

Why he’ll run: He is a darling of interest groups on both sides of the aisle. Activists admire Mr. Jeffries’ fierce condemnation of the Eric Garner grand jury decision and police brutality overall. His defense of tech giant Uber and charter schools has won him plenty of wealthy friends. He could knit together a coalition of blacks and affluent whites.

Why he won’t: Mr. Jeffries can wait until 2021, when Mr. de Blasio is term-limited, and take his shot then. Many of his constituents remain loyal to Mr. de Blasio. He would burn countless bridges with the labor unions and progressive organizations that could support him down the road.

Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz Jr.

Another Cuomo ally, Mr. Díaz has attacked Mr. de Blasio for how he handled a deadly Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in the Bronx and blasted the mayor’s plan to rezone large swaths of the borough. Mr. Díaz, who is said to dream of becoming New York’s first Latino mayor, enjoys a cozy relationship with the powerful real estate industry.

Why he’ll run: Latinos are growing disenchanted with Mr. de Blasio and could have a hero in the suave, trailblazing borough president. Mr. Cuomo would do what he could to help his buddy kneecap Mr. de Blasio.

Why he won’t: He’s up for re-election in 2017, which means giving up his cushy gig to risk a campaign against Mr. de Blasio. He’s not widely known beyond the Bronx. Latinos, many of them new to America, aren’t quite the force in local politics they’re projected to be.

Comptroller Scott Stringer

Mr. Stringer has hounded the mayor on everything from allegedly faulty contracts for homeless shelters to a proposal to cap the number of for-hire vehicles in the city. Though nebbishy, the former Manhattan borough president is not to be underestimated, especially after he defeated former Gov. Eliot Spitzer in the 2013 primary.

Why he’ll run: Polls show Mr. de Blasio is deeply unpopular with white voters. If liberal whites in the brownstone belt turn their backs on him, Mr. Stringer, an Upper West Sider, will be there to scoop up the pieces. His scrutiny of the beleaguered New York City Housing Authority could win over nonwhites, too.

Why he won’t: Most New Yorkers still don’t know who he is. He defeated Mr. Spitzer thanks to a unified front of unions and their ground troops; the very same forces would oppose him if he challenged Mr. de Blasio.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams

As a former state senator and police captain, Mr. Adams is the borough’s first African-American president. Following the murder of two police officers and mass anti-police brutality protests a year ago, Mr. Adams emerged as a voice to bridge the divide between law enforcement and aggrieved communities of color. He proudly admits he wants to be mayor someday.

Why he’ll run: Moderates will like that he’s a retired police captain. Liberals will like his push for NYPD reform. 

Why he won’t: He’s up for re-election in 2017. He’s been less adversarial toward the mayor than other Democrats on this list. He’s still working on growing his name in Brooklyn.

Don Peebles

Mr. Peebles, a real estate developer, raised money for Mr. de Blasio in 2013. But he has soured on City Hall, telling reporters he was fed up with the mayor’s criticism of charter schools and his failure to give enough city contracts to minority and women-owned businesses. He publicly acknowledged that he is exploring a bid against Mr. de Blasio.

Why he’ll run: An African-American developer taking on a mayor who fancies himself as a progressive will make headlines. He can self-fund a campaign and boasts strong ties to national Democratic circles.

Why he won’t: Gracie Mansion is a steep uphill climb for a novice politician. A campaign against Mr. de Blasio would be grueling, and Mr. Peebles may realize his real estate buddies will stick with the mayor, who has developed strong relationships in the industry. His commitment to New York will also be questioned: he has homes in Miami and Washington, D.C.

Game of DeThrone: The Pols Who Might Challenge de Blasio