Bill Dante de Blasio

THE SON ALSO RISES?: Mayor de Blasio, whose initial election in 2013 has been attributed by some political pros to the appeal of a campaign commercial in which his teenage son Dante touted his virtues, has been hinting he may run for Governor. But the odds against that, particularly after a checkered Columbus Day weekend for the Mayor, are so big that his recently making public appearances with his now-23-year-old son have prompted speculation that he is preparing the runway for Dante to launch his own political career. 

Bill de Blasio has never been known for burning the midnight oil on weekends, particularly three-day ones, and so it was something of a surprise that late on the morning of Oct. 9 his public schedule went from zero to four appearances, two of which  he would attend in the company of his son, Dante.

Less surprising was that he would not be taking questions at either of those, the first an event held by the Brownsville Safety Alliance, the second a tour of the 73rd Precinct with its commanding officer that was listed as "closed press."

The younger de Blasio  had been out of the public consciousness for a while but came surging back two days earlier in a Department of Investigation report that found the Mayor had turned his protective detail into what Investigation Commissioner Margaret Garnett described as "a concierge service" for the Mayor, his family and friends.

It found that a full-time security detail for Dante had been "dissolved" in 2015, when he left home to attend Yale University, although Detectives assigned to it continued to take him to and from the college when they were available, and otherwise gave him rides to bus and train stations on occasions when making a three-hour round trip would have stretched City Hall security too thin.

Like an Armed Car Service

The DOI report stated that the continuation of the rides for Dante, and for his older sister Chiara, did not involve any of the preparations Detectives routinely take when there are safety concerns, stating it was the agency's understanding "that such transportation is provided by one officer, who neither 'advances' nor inspects the destination for security purposes, neither leaves the vehicle nor accompanies Dante or Chiara upon arrival, and does not remain at the location after Dante or Chiara have departed the NYPD vehicle."

It therefore concluded that their "use of NYPD resources is driven solely by their preference and the availability of personnel and vehicles..."

In other words, it's great to be chauffeured around town by armed security personnel who are not going to cramp your style by hanging around until you need to be picked up.

Early in his mayoralty, after a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo for his role in the death of Eric Garner, Mr. de Blasio tried to demonstrate empathy with a black congregation in the borough by telling them about how a couple of years earlier, he had given Dante "the talk" about being careful in his responses if ever stopped by police officers.

In listing the dozens of occasions in which Detectives transported Dante where he wanted to go even though he was unaccompanied by the Mayor, the report implied that the elder de Blasio never offered his son similar counsel about the perils of city streets and subways because he had ensured it wasn't necessary. It is known that he detoured from his trip into lower Manhattan during his days as Public Advocate to drop off Dante at Brooklyn Tech, and the report stated that a few months after his graduation from Yale in 2019, "Dante began receiving rides each weekday morning from Gracie Mansion to his place of employment, located in Brooklyn."

A Sheltered Existence

Traveling in that protective cocoon in his early teens, at a time when many New York kids are learning to navigate the subway system as an essential part of growing up, marks Dante as living with a helicopter parent, even though it was not until Bill's 2013 campaign for Mayor that he was a prominent-enough public figure to make his son particularly vulnerable to random strangers.

Dante became a familiar face doing a commercial on his father's behalf that more than a few people believe propelled him to the front of the pack in a crowded Democratic primary because of the appeal the son projected in explaining why he was the candidate most likely to end the abuse of young people of color at the hands of the NYPD's overused stop-and-frisk program.

His role in Mr. de Blasio's victory doesn't appear to have done him much harm, aside from his having grown comfortable with a taste for luxury and entitlement that has been known to afflict other Yale grads whose parents keep lower profiles.

But Dante's re-emergence in his dad's company in a civic setting can be viewed as the start of a new campaign. How much of it is about burnishing the Mayor's legacy as his tenure hurtles toward an end and how much is about laying the groundwork for a future bid for office—possibly by Danteremains to be seen.

"His parents are trying to raise his image, and it's possible he could run for office in the future," political consultant George Arzt said Oct. 13. "I think they're trying to build him uppeople run for City Council, State Legislature in their 20s," and 2022 is an election year for all state offices.

That actually seems more plausible than Bill's apparently harboring hopes of being elected Governor. The average voter might file Detective escorts for the Mayor's children in the nice-work-if-you-can-get-it category, but his refusal to reimburse the city for the $320,000 in security expenses he incurred by bringing members of his protective detail along on his short-lived run for President is tougher to explain away.

Lightning Won't Repeat

And the younger de Blasio, who worked for six weeks at the end of that presidential run for his father, couldn't do anything to revive a campaign that seemed doomed from its start.

"I doubt he would have won that [2013] election without that commercial with Dante," Mr. Arzt said. "If you're looking for lightning to strike twice here, it probably won't."

One reason is that despite his efforts to drum up support by energizing the progressive portion of his base on matters like ending the city's gifted-and-talented test for 4-year-olds, Mr. de Blasio can't outrun some of his past failures and the reality that an already-thin administration is growing thinner.

A New York Times story Oct. 6 focused on three recent Commissioner appointmentsGabrielle Fialkoff at the Parks Department, Peter Hatch at the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection and Henry Gutman to run the Department of Transportationas choices whose primary qualification for those jobs was their past generosity to his political campaigns. Nothing says you're playing out the string quite like tapping your donors and buffing up their resumes rather than promoting career civil servants whose knowledge of the agencies might allow them to keep moving forward.

Perhaps the Mayor was right to be wary of choosing someone with real expertise in their field: the following day, it was more difficult for him to credibly claim Ms. Garnett was showing naivete in her critique of his use of the protective detailif naivete existed, it was in her belief that a well-functioning security detail should be serving the public interest rather than the whims of the person who commanded its members.

'Loyalist' Exposed Warts

On the other hand, her predecessor, Mark Peters, had been Mr. de Blasio's 2013 campaign treasurer. That led him to recuse himself from examining the curious transactions that led to the site of a hospice for AIDS patients, Rivington House, being sold to someone who quickly flipped it after administration officials altered the property's deed, to allow the second buyer to convert it for the building of condos. 

And that blistering report by Mr. Peters's subordinates was just the first shot against the administration's credibility: damning reports under the then-Commissioner's imprint followed concerning the handling of child-abuse cases by the Administration for Children's Services, conditions at Rikers Island, and the failure to check Housing Authority apartments with small children living in them for lead-paint contamination.

The day after Ms. Garnett's report embarrassed the Mayor, he announced that he was discontinuing the city's Gifted-and-Talented program on the grounds that it wasn't serving enough children in the city's poorest neighborhoods.

The most-concrete step he took on that front was announcing that the special exam given to 4-year-olds for admission to that program would no longer be held. It was a move that made sensea test for children that age virtually guaranteed that those who did best were the sons and daughters of those willing to spend the money for fairly expensive prep courses.

But even some of those who praised the move were applauding with one hand. David Bloomfield, a Professor of Educational Leadership Law and Policy at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York Graduate Center, said in an Oct. 13 phone interview, "The substance of the move is great. Almost everyone agrees that giving 4-year-olds a test that is a track into specialized high schools and screened elementary schools is a bad idea."

'Typically Bad Timing'

But, he added, "The timing is terrible, and typical of de Blasio to take an empty stand. He can't implement the program without the consent of the next Mayor, and both leading candidates have said they want to keep gifted-and-talented but in a different form."

Professor Bloomfield also noted, "De Blasio wanted to continue the 4-year-old test [earlier] this year, but was overruledunusuallyby his own Panel for Educational Policy. Public opinion was against it." 

Asked why he thought the Mayor belatedly ended the test, he replied, "Two reasons. He thinks it's the right thing. The second is, he may be running for Governor, and this is a tack to the left that he thinks will help him."

But, he continued, the gifted-and-talented classes starting with the fourth grade are likely to continue under the next Mayor, and so discontinuing the test for 4-year-olds at this point was "totally symbolic."

Critics like New York Post editorial-board member Michael Benjamin, a former State Assemblyman, hit harder on a point Professor Bloomfield made about the change from gifted-and-talented to what the Mayor is calling "Brilliant NYC," which would include coding, robotics and community advocacy in their curriculums.

Dubbing him the "Mayor of Mediocrity," Mr. Benjamin accused Mr. de Blasio of "failing to address an intractable systemic problem: low achievement in predominantly black and Hispanic public schools."

His column continued, "I think the real intention here is simple: Dumb everything down. Keep every kid down. And with the jettisoning of academic metrics, like standardized tests, who'll be the wiser?"

New Fire to Put Out

Around the time that the Mayor was making his grand announcement about the gifted-and-talented program, his Fire Commissioner and Corporation Counsel were getting an earful from a Federal Judge wondering why the Fire Department's suspension of nine firefighters for sharing racist memes and messages mocking the murder of George Floyd 17 months earlier hadn't come to his attention until he saw a front-page story in the New York Times a week earlier.

Under a settlement reached by his administration in 2014 of a hiring-discrimination lawsuit brought by the Vulcan Society and joined in 2007 by then President George W. Bush's Justice Department, besides agreeing to address past bias against black candidates on the exam for Firefighter, the city had consented to the appointment of a court Monitor to ensure that it was complying with the conditions of the deal.

Yet somehow the administration that Mr. de Blasio had pledged during his 2013 campaign would be the "most-transparent" in the city's history had not told U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis, the Monitor he had tapped, or the media of conduct by those firefighters that blatantly ran afoul of the settlement terms, or the discipline that, as the Times article put it, was "quietly" imposed months before the court hearing.

When Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigrowho according to the court record of that Oct. 8 hearing was credited more than other city officials with showing good faith about complyingwas asked by reporters afterward why disclosure hadn't come sooner, he cited an unspecified regulationwhich apparently was Section 50-a of the state Civil Rights Lawthat created a barrier to releasing disciplinary information concerning firefighters and police officers.

But Section 50-a was repealed on June 12, 2020, when Governor Cuomo signed a measure  approved by both houses of the State Legislature a couple of days earlier. The Times account of the racist memes and messages indicated that they became public within the Fire Department this past April, 10 months after that section of the law was off the books.

And so the obvious question is, was the Fire Department's handling of the racist behavior kept secret from both Judge Garaufis and the media because Mr. de Blasio decided to roll the dice and hope by the time the matter came to light, he'd be gone from City Hall and would feel less heat and embarrassment than he has since the beginning of this month?   

A Jailhouse Note

Columbus Day began with this front-page Times headline: "Lawlessness Inside Rikers Lets Inmates Flex Power." 

Talking about how conditions had deteriorated even faster than the physical plant amid a continuing high absence rate among officers, the article stated, "Detainees in some buildings have seized near-total control over entire units, deciding who can enter and leave them, records and interviews show...The jail complex is also reliant on guards whothanks to years of mismanagement and ineffective trainingsometimes fail to follow rules meant to keep them and incarcerated people safe."

It went on to report that civilian staff upon arriving at one jail last month "were greeted by a group of detainees who offered to escort them through the building to keep them safe," and encountered other detainees milling about in the halls with no officers in sight.

The Mayor's response to the situation had previously been to blame employees whose morale had plummeted and the union that he claims, without tangible evidence that could hold up in court, has encouraged a sick-out by its members.

It brought to mind Philip Marlowe's description in "The Big Sleep" of what a particularly heartless thug would do to him: "Beat my teeth out, and then kick me in the stomach for mumbling."

A Reception He Earned 

Later that morning, Mr. de Blasio marched in the Columbus Day Parade in Manhattan and was booed by a segment of the crowd.

And the rude receptions are likely to continue. Mayoral and Fire Department officials are scheduled to provide the settlement Monitor with explanations for the withholding of the information about the handling of the racist memes mocking Mr. Floyd's death and the FDNY's attempt to keep things quiet prior to a Dec. 16 court hearing before Judge Garaufis. A Mayor can shimmy and shake his way through tough media questioning, but trying to bulldoze a Federal Judge is not so easy. As Michael Bloomberg, who was Mayor at the time that Mr. Garaufis in 2011 found the city and the department guilty of race-based discrimination, learned, a match lit in a courtroom a few blocks to the northeast can singe the ears and other tender spots of the man in charge at City Hall.

And so while Bill de Blasio may not have reconciled himself to the reality that his career in elected office is nearly over, he may have enough concern for his son's future to suggest changing his last name.    

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