Donald Trump of New York: How 'Resistance' Leader Bill de Blasio Became City Hall's Very Own Trump

Bill de Blasio outside Trump Tower
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks to the press in front of Trump Tower after his meeting with President-elect Donald Trump, New York City, November 16, 2016. Drew Angerer/Getty

Bill de Blasio is furious. Not because economic inequality, which he has promised to eradicate, persists across the five boroughs. Not because New York remains two cities, as he vividly described it in his successful 2013 mayoral campaign, one for the powerful, the other for the powerless. No, his ire is rather more personal in nature: de Blasio wants to know why his wife and close adviser, Chirlane McCray, has to work for free.

Mayoral spouses are not elected and therefore not paid. This has recently come to bother de Blasio, who ran for mayor as a scrappy Brooklyn populist (he is actually from Cambridge, Massachusetts, but nevermind that) willing to take on Manhattan's elites. But nearly five years of toiling in the onetime marshlands of lower Manhattan have brought about a change of heart. "I don't understand it because if someone is working full time and is a professional with a whole lot of background and applying themselves, I don't understand why they can't get paid," de Blasio said earlier this month. This plaint comes as McCray's political ambitions are becoming clear, with The New York Times wondering if the couple is hoping to become a Clinton-style dynastic duo.

Some observers pointed out that the notion of paying a family member, no matter how influential, looks like nepotism. But the mayor peevishly dismissed that concern as "the most idiotic thing I've ever heard in my life." He added that the accusation "smacks of sexism."

Hiring family members who lack obvious qualifications for political office, then lashing out at journalists who wonder about the ethics of doing so — that sure sounds similar to the approach of a certain real estate developer from Queens who recently decamped for Washington, having been elected President of the United States.

Donald Trump and Bill de Blasio dislike each other plenty, but the antipathy can't hide the striking similarities between the two. There is, for one, their relentlessly combative approach to the press. Both treat anything but the most flattering coverage with unrestrained contempt. Trump's favorite targets are purportedly liberal outlets like CNN and The New York Times. De Blasio, meanwhile, routinely attacks "the tabloids," by which he means The New York Daily News and the New York Post, whose scrappy reporters hound de Blasio about the city's troubled schools, his unkept promise to fix public housing, his insulting propensity for lateness.

In the more than a year since I first wrote about the similarities between Trump and de Blasio, the two men have come to resemble each other even more. Just as the investigations into Trump's potential collusion with Russia were ramping up, investigations into de Blasio's campaign fundraising were winding down. These found widespread malfeasance by his underlings, who engaged in the kind of blatant graft that would have made Boss Tweed proud. De Blasio himself avoided any charges, claiming plausible deniability — however implausible that might be. Trump could similarly escape by arguing that he had no idea that his son Donald Jr. was eager to receive "dirt" on Hillary Clinton from the Russians, or that Julian Assange, the Wikileaks founder, was working so assiduously on his behalf that he may as well have been on the campaign payroll.

Trump has dismissed the investigations as a "witch hunt" and has shown little concern that the Russians will doubtlessly interfere in this November's midterm elections. De Blasio seems equally untroubled by suggestions that his administration is rotted through with unsavory characters like Emma Wolfe, a high-ranking deputy and onetime progressive rising star who appears to have been central to fostering the pay-to-play spirit at City Hall. Asked in 2016 why his administration, so rife with do-gooders, was so beset with ethical challenges, he answered by inexplicably alluding to "massive conflicts of interest going on every day in this country that go fully unexamined." He also took obligatory swings at "the tabloids."

De Blasio has portrayed himself as a leader of the anti-Trump resistance, which he apparently hopes will position him for a 2020 presidential run. But the more he does so, the more clear those similarities become. Trump likes to think of himself as one of the nation's greatest president, an equal of Ronald Reagan if not Teddy Roosevelt. Not to be outdone, de Blasio has declared himself a latter-day Gandhi.

Both men seem to believe that romantic rhetoric (about steel mills churning on the banks of the Allegheny, a progressive utopia taking root on the banks of the Hudson) is itself the endpoint of governing. And they're dismissive of anyone questioning that approach, whether a sitting U.S. Senator or some regular guy from the Bronx.

In the spring of 2017, while de Blasio was on air with WNYC radio host Brian Lehrer, a caller wondered why the mayor, who preaches about environmentalism and scolds Trump for this anti-green policies, takes a lengthy SUV trip to Brooklyn each morning to work out at his old gym. There are plenty of places to exercise on the Upper East Side near his official residence, the caller pointed out.

"I understand the emotional appeal of what you're saying, but I'm just not going to take the bait, my friend," de Blasio said with his customary irritation. "I'm going to keep going to the gym—I'm proud to say we have a hybrid and it's a good car, it's very fuel efficient."

This is the politics of contempt, no different than what Trump displays near-daily on Twitter. Critics are dismissed as haters, enemies of the people who lack courage and imagination. This is the politician trolling the very public that elected him, however narrowly (some 70,000 in the Upper Midwest for Trump) or unenthusiastically (8.5 percent of all New Yorkers voted for de Blasio).

And for all their talk of revolution, these guys aren't exactly busting a sweat on behalf of the common man. Trump golfs. De Blasio naps. Trump berates underlings over Twitter; de Blasio, at least, has the courtesy to do so over email. Both fuel nostalgia for their respective predecessors, Barack Obama and Michael Bloomberg, who governed with cool, data-driven rationality.

Thing is, technocracy can be boring. Trump and de Blasio, while claiming credit for their predecessors' success—and blaming them for current problems—like to see themselves as messianic figures singularly equipped to bring about some glorious new political vision from which all traces of incrementalism would be banished.

Judging by Trump's historically low popularity, the American public has already tired of his approach — and seems increasingly unlikely to hand him a second term, with a Democratic wave potentially on the way in November. De Blasio has been luckier, in that he was able to win re-election last year in a predominantly Democratic city without facing a significant challenger. That has given him a false confidence, leading him to think he has a viable path to the presidency. Spoiler alert: He does not. The last thing we need is a mirror image of Trump, with only marginally better hair.