Bill de Blasio’s come-from-behind victory in the 2013 mayoral race gave New York City its first progressive leader in generations — and unleashed eight years of controversy and turbulence that led voters to change course and choose successor Eric Adams, a former NYPD captain who ran on a pro-business, law-and-order platform.
De Blasio, who was prevented from running again due to term limits, was the Big Apple’s public advocate when he launched his bid for City Hall, joining what became a crowded Democratic field to succeed popular, three-term Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Portraying himself as a liberal counterweight to the billionaire media mogul, de Blasio — who flirted with Marxism into his 30s, including by honeymooning in Cuba — campaigned on the promise of ending the racial and income inequality that he said made New York a “tale of two cities.”
De Blasio was trailing badly in the polls when the surging comeback candidacy of former Congressman Anthony Weiner imploded amid a sexting scandal, and his fortunes soared with the help of a highly effective TV commercial featuring his teenage son, Dante.
During his first inauguration speech, de Blasio pledged a “dramatic new approach” to running the world’s greatest city, adding that “the world will watch as we succeed.”
But ever since, his administration was repeatedly rocked by the failures that mar his legacy as de Blasio, 60, prepares his next move — which he’s hinted might be a run for governor next year.
Among de Blasio’s multiple missteps, this dirty dozen stands out:
One of the most vivid — and visible — declines in the city’s quality of life under de Blasio is its continuing homelessness crisis, which The Post laid bare in July 2015 with a stunning, front-page photo of a rag-clad vagrant urinating in broad daylight while standing in the middle of Broadway on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
De Blasio initially denied the existence of the problem exploding before everyone’s eyes, leading even then-Police Commissioner Bill Bratton to call that strategy a “mistake,” leading the mayor to unveil a 128-page plan during his 2017 re-election campaign that called for opening 90 new shelters and expanding 30 others.
But the self-proclaimed “blood-and-guts war strategy” failed to produce results, as the outgoing mayor was forced to concede recently when he called homelessness the “biggest disappointment” of his eight years running the city — even while continuing to claim that “we’ve found some strategies that are working much better to get people off the streets.”
Meanwhile, Bratton last week tweeted a photo of a subway car overrun with vagrants sleeping on the benches, writing: “Why should working people & tourists be subjected to this? How’s it fair to those who need services?”
De Blasio spent much of his administration bragging that the Big Apple was the “safest big city in America” — even after alienating the NYPD’s rank-and-file by saying he and his wife, Chirlane McCray, “had to literally train” their biracial son “to take special care in any encounter he has with the police.”
Just weeks after the controversial remarks, cops turned their backs on de Blasio when he visited Brooklyn’s Woodhull Hospital following the execution-style slayings of two uniformed officers who were gunned down while eating lunch in a patrol car.
Cops repeated the insult at the funerals for Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, then continued the protest in 2017 after another officer, Miosotis Familia, was gunned down inside a police van in The Bronx.
Meanwhile, shootings have nearly doubled from the 777 in 2019, with 1,531 last year and 1,546 this year as of Sunday.
Homicides are also up from 319 in 2019 to 462 last year — with another 479 this year as of Sunday.
Policing expert Eugene O’Donnell, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said de Blasio’s “impact on public safety and the NYPD has been catastrophic.”
“There’s no other word for it,” said O’Donnell, a former NYPD cop-turned-lawyer.
“You have a police job now that is both unwantable and undoable. He took a safe city and he unraveled it. This was a near impossible accomplishment.”
Less than a year after taking office, de Blasio announced an ambitious plan to turn around nearly 100 poorly performing schools by spending $150 million a year on an extra hour of daily instruction, special training for teachers and targeted social services for students.
In 2017, an award-winning series of Post exposes revealed the “School Renewal Program” to be a boondoggle that produced few positive results, with enrollment down and the dropout rate up — and more than $12 million paid to a cadre of “directors,” “instructional coaches” and “leadership coaches,” some of whom raked in $1,400 a day.
De Blasio finally owned up to the costly failure and pulled the plug in February 2019 after burning through $773 million in taxpayer funds, offering as his excuse: “We did not say everything would be perfect.”
At the time, educational expert David Bloomfield, a professor at Brooklyn College and CUNY’s Graduate Center, said the mayor had been trying to “differentiate himself” from predecessor Mike Bloomberg and his policy of closing failing schools and breaking them up into smaller “academies” under new leadership.
“This was done more for political reasons than for clear instructional benefit,” Bloomfield said.
“But I do give the mayor props for admitting defeat.”
De Blasio’s fundraising efforts involving the short-lived Campaign for One New York nonprofit — which he created to promote his initiatives, including the city’s pre-kindergarten program — sparked pay-to-play corruption probes by both federal and local prosecutors.
And they came within a hair’s breadth of landing him in the dock.
In March 2017, then-acting Manhattan US Attorney Joon Kim and now-outgoing Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said no charges would be filed even though Vance said de Blasio appeared to have violated the “intent and spirit” of applicable laws.
Kim also noted “the particular difficulty in proving criminal intent in corruption schemes where there is no evidence of personal profit.”
And although he came into office promising to run the most transparent administration in city history, de Blasio waged a protracted court battle to keep secret his emails with his political consultants — whose firms received nearly $2 million from the Campaign for One New York.
In 2016, The Post and NY1 had to sue the city for access to the communications, with Hizzoner claiming an exemption from the Freedom of Information Law on grounds that his advisers were “agents of the city.”
After losing in both state Supreme Court and on appeal, City Hall coughed up thousands of pages that showed de Blasio secretly discussing his national political ambitions and attempting to boost the public profile of his wife, saying at one point, “Let’s release the tiger.”
In 2015, de Blasio put his wife, who was an English major in college, in charge of a “very bold plan” to revamp and expand the city’s mental health services — despite her lack of training in the complex fields of psychiatry, psychology and human behavior.
The program, dubbed “ThriveNYC,” burned through about $1.5 billion in taxpayer funds that critics said failed to produce measurable results for countless mentally ill people, including those roaming the city’s streets and subways,
“We’re spending $200 million a year on a mental health program, Thrive, with little accountability, with little data or outcomes to show progress,” outgoing Comptroller Scott Stringer said during a budget briefing in February.
The annual Mayor’s Management Report, which tracks the performance of various city agencies and programs, repeatedly found that ThriveNYC fell short of its own goals.
The most recent report, in September, also revealed that training programs were still suspended due to coronavirus safety precautions — even though city workers were back in their offices — and that the number of crime victims who were offered emotional support services had dropped 20 percent.
Nonetheless, de Blasio has claimed that ThriveNYC — which he rebranded in May as the Office of Community Mental Health — was among of his top achievements. McCray, meanwhile, has called it a success simply “because we are talking about mental health.”
De Blasio made closing the infamous jail complex on Rikers Island a top priority and, in 2019, pushed the City Council to approve a sweeping, $8.7 billion plan to replace it with new, smaller jails in each of the boroughs except Staten Island.
But the timeline for the controversial project — initially set for completion in the fall of 2026 — was pushed back last year until at least August 2027 due to a budget crunch caused by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Meanwhile, conditions on Rikers have deteriorated so dramatically this year — with a record 16 inmate deaths and about 500 broken cell doors fueling violence amid staffing shortages — that Adams recently branded it “a national embarrassment” that city officials “have ignored.”
Adams also vowed to immediately reverse de Blasio’s policy against solitary confinement, warning inmates that on “Jan. 1, they’re going back into punitive segregation if they commit a violent act.”
In 2014, De Blasio launched his “Vision Zero” plan to completely eliminate all traffic fatalities by 2024 through measures that included reducing the speed limit on virtually all city streets from 30 to 25 mph.
Total deaths dropped from 293 in 2013 to just 201 in 2018, according to city stats — only to shoot up for the next three years in a row.
As of Sunday, this year’s toll was 266, marking a three-year increase of 32 percent and reaching a record high since de Blasio took office.
One of the most worrisome trends involves bicyclists, who suffered just 12 deaths in 2013 but were killed in greater numbers every year since then but one — including 27 in 2019 and 19 this year through Sunday.
Bike New York spokesman Jon Orcutt — a former city transportation policy director who helped draft the Vision Zero plan — blamed lax enforcement of traffic laws, which he called “pretty thin prior to the de Blasio administration, and it got worse and has essentially vanished.”
Even de Blasio’s harshest detractors couldn’t have predicted his fumbling would actually take the life of the city’s most beloved weather forecaster: the Staten Island Zoo’s groundhog.
The freshly inaugurated mayor dropped the famous furball on its head during the zoo’s annual Groundhog Day celebration in 2014, and the critter was found dead a week later from “acute internal injuries” consistent with a fall, as The Post exclusively revealed.
The scoop — which also uncovered that the tragic rodent wasn’t actually “Staten Island Chuck,” but a female stand-in named “Charlotte” — made de Blasio the object of scorn. Late-night TV host Stephen Colbert even accused him of a “mob-style execution,” because Staten Island had voted against him.
When the mayor returned for Groundhog Day in 2015, the borough’s fuzzy forecaster was protected inside a plexiglass box. De Blasio’s fatal flub also led the US Department of Agriculture to slap the zoo with a citation for letting an “untrained person” handle the doomed Charlotte.
LATE TO WORK
De Blasio made a habit of being the boss who shows up late to work, starting just days after he was inaugurated, when his tardy arrival forced the Department of Correction officials to delay a graduation ceremony by nearly an hour.
But the annual tolling of a bell to honor the 265 victims killed in the 2001 crash of American Airlines Flight 587 in Queens couldn’t wait for de Blasio, who blamed missing it on “a very rough night” that left him “really sluggish and off-kilter.”
Still-grieving attendees blasted his excuse as “complete BS” and said, “He treated us like garbage.”
In a bid to get the mayor moving on time, The Post gave de Blasio an old-fashioned alarm clock — without a snooze button — during a news conference the following day, but even that couldn’t rouse him.
After de Blasio showed up 41 minutes late for a live TV interview in 2019, PIX11 Morning News co-host Dan Mannarino tweeted his excuse: “Says he set his alarm for the wrong time.”
Meanwhile, de Blasio somehow found the time for up to two hours of leisurely morning stretching and stationary bike-pedaling at the Prospect Park YMCA in Brooklyn, claiming he needed his security detail to drive him the 13 miles to get there so he can stay connected to the people in his old neighborhood.
FAILED PRESIDENTIAL BID
NYPD cops and Black Lives Matter activists found they had one thing in common, when they both showed up to oppose de Blasio’s quixotic presidential campaign during a live appearance by the mayor on ABC’s “Good Morning America” in May 2019.
“Can’t run the city! Can’t run the country!” the improbable allies chanted while standing shoulder to shoulder, as de Blasio promoted his ill-fated run inside the show’s Times Square studio.
And when the rest of America got to know him, de Blasio proved so unpopular that he wound up speaking to a half-empty hall of voters in New Hampshire, scored just 25 of 20,000 votes in the Iowa State Fair’s iconic “corn kernel poll” and took a break for a lonely stroll through the Nevada desert.
He also infuriated Cuban exiles in Florida when he traveled to Miami for a Democratic primary debate, committing a major political gaffe by using a Communist rallying cry made famous by Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara while he addressed striking airport workers.
And in the Big Apple, New Yorkers made clear that their favorite mayor was rival Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, who humiliated de Blasio in his own backyard by raising more money from more city residents — at rates greater than 2-to-1.
When de Blasio finally gave up following four months of fruitless efforts, The Post published a front-page obituary that declared his campaign “dead of ego-induced psychosis,” adding: “Neighbors said the body had been in rigor mortis for some time.”
Then-Manhattan US Attorney Geoffrey Berman said his “blood was boiling” when he learned the results of a federal probe that found the New York City Housing Authority worked for years to hide squalid conditions in its buildings — including lead paint, vermin infestations and broken elevators — rather than actually fix the problems.
The bombshell findings led to a 2018 deal with the de Blasio administration that called for at least $2.2 billion in repairs and came after de Blasio’s hand-picked NYCHA chief, Shola Olatoye, was forced to resign amid a scandal over her false certifications of inspections for lead paint hazards in about 55,000 apartments.
Last year, The Post revealed that de Blasio repeatedly tried to downplay the lead paint crisis — including by claiming that “there is less here than appears” — even as city inspectors were finding lead paint in hundreds of NYCHA apartments.
Little more than a month later, a court-appointed federal monitor said that lead paint was likely present in 9,000 apartments where young children live or spent lots of time — triple the number that NYCHA estimated in 2018.
“Mayor de Blasio and the de Blasio administration have failed the residents immensely in public housing,” said Danny Barber, chairman of the Citywide Council of Presidents of NYCHA tenants associations.
“This administration had no respect for the residents of public housing.”
FERRIES FOR THE RICH
When it comes to the city’s costly ferry service, de Blasio’s massive investment really tells a tale of two cities.
Internal surveys have shown that ferry passengers are disproportionately white and wealthy, with 65 percent earning over $75,000 a year and the median rider raking in between $100,000 and $150,000 annually.
Meanwhile, taxpayers subsidize the NYC Ferry operation at a rate of more than $9 per trip.
Transit advocates question the $500 million-plus de Blasio has spent on NYC Ferry when many more people ride buses, which fall under the mayor’s purview because of his control over city streets and bus stops.
“The issue is one of comparison,” Riders Alliance spokesman Danny Pearlstein said.
“Millions Of New Yorkers of color take buses every day. A tiny fraction of that number rides the ferries. The foremost issue of transportation equity in the city is the fact that for several decades our leaders have not taken the time of bus riders seriously.”
Additional reporting by David Meyer and Craig McCarthy