The executive of New York City, America’s largest municipality, has at his (or her, but it has always been an honor for individuals whose pronouns are he’s) disposal a budget larger than that of many countries. He has a literal army in the 36,000-strong New York Police Department (NYPD)—a fighting force that operates around the world and is, again, larger and better-equipped than many of the standing armies in sovereign nations at the United Nations, which is also in New York City—and a horde of bureaucrats and workers. The mayor has this, because this is what’s required to perform all the functions necessary to prevent a city of 8.4 million people, speaking dozens of languages, stuffed shoulder-to-shoulder with each other and mixed with a constant shifting tide of gawking rubberneckers and unscrupulous hustlers from descending into utter chaos and bedlam.
This nonetheless sometimes happens, and happens for reasons as banal and ridiculous as everyone in charge banking on an overly rosy weather report. This is the divine mystery of New York City: One very dumb and predictable blunder—it might snow, maybe keep the snowplows and snow trucks handy? Nahhhhh—is all it takes for everything to grind to a very loud, very large and very angry halt. And yet (other than on the subway), this doesn’t happen very often.
Which is all to say that being “in charge” of New York is probably an impossible task. Nobody who could do this job wants it, because it is thankless and because your NYPD security team will ruthlessly leak you and your wife’s personal business to The New York Post if you don’t bend the knee to the blue line at the drop of a cold-cut—a technique that is used because it turns out to be extremely effective—and so the “qualified” people, whomever they are and however such an estimation is made, are off somewhere else making more money for less headaches.
But because New York is big and loud and always on, and it is filled with desperate and visionless dolts who work in media—I am among these myopics, the drinkers of the fetid Hudson-aid who are convinced, as we shuffle past enormous mountains of trash piled on the sidewalks into an ancient and crumbling museum piece of a mass-transit system that the other 7.5 billion people on earth are all sad and hapless rubes, because they don’t live in New York—people who make it big here tend to make it big elsewhere. Or, failing that, they are at least so drunk on their own body odor that they fool themselves into thinking that they can, or that they can shove aside someone else who is better but who isn’t quite as pushy, or brash, or loud, or hairy or whatever because they are from New York.
All of this is presented to you in an attempt to rationalize or explain Mayor Bill de Blasio’s apparent belief that because he can be mayor of New York City, he can also be president of the United States—or, failing that, his belief that if a millennial from flyover country who is mayor of a city of only 150,000 can morph from unknown Mike Pence foil to outpolling Elizabeth Warren and her much more sophisticated ideas, de Blasio can do something bigger too. Then again, it’s also true that the last guy to become president was a loafing, thin-skinned do-nothing from New York City—and as it turns out, de Blasio is most of those things.
On April 21, The New York Times editorial board broke with usual practice and turned its august and hoary attention to New York City. Local coverage is not the Times’ forte, nor usually its interest—not even in the movies—but halfway through his second term, de Blasio had been doing such a piss-poor job that it sucked air away from Donald Trump’s foibles, the rise of white nationalist mass-murder and the collapse of the global liberal order.
New Yorkers know better than anyone that if you don’t want to do something, like make a sandwich for lunch or go to the corner store for a bag of chips, you can usually hire someone to do it for you. (This is why UberEats exists.) As of mid-April, there were 14 executive-level positions in New York’s $92 billion bureaucracy that were unfilled. Some of them, like executive director of the New York City Housing Agency, which has a budget of $3.5 billion and is keeping 400,000 working-class and elderly New Yorkers housed, have been unfilled for more than a year. De Blasio has not found anyone to do these jobs.
De Blasio has some signature accomplishments—New Yorkers enjoy universal pre-kindergarten, which is good—but he now has a reputation as a bad mayor uninterested in the job of governing because he does things like show up to ceremonial events late, shuttle from Gracie Mansion on the Upper East Side to work out at the YMCA in Park Slope, where he used to live, and leave vital positions in New York City’s sprawling bureaucracy unfilled. His reputation is even worse now because he does all this while also visiting Iowa and New Hampshire to conduct events that nobody goes to. The hubris and the delusion are stunning.
Some have theorized that de Blasio wants out of his job so badly that he’s willing to entertain a ridiculous and quixotic bid for president. Maybe? I don’t know. Looking at an average day in the life of Donald Trump—filled with hours of executive time in which the lazy, sensitive and boorish New Yorker watches television, eats and serves fast food and tweets—living at the White House seems like an easier job. It is a childish and churlish logic—that other asshole from New York can do it; why not me?—but such is the chutzpah of a New Yorker.