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Do NYC mayors ever become president? Why Bill de Blasio has his work cut out for him

Do NYC mayors ever become president? Why Bill de Blasio has his work cut out for him
[Photo: Flickr user Bill de Blasio]

After months of teasing, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio entered the 2020 presidential race today, answering the call of history despite a recent poll in which only 18% of New Yorkers said he should.

In doing so, the 58-year-old Democrat adds his name to a relatively short list of New York City mayors who have ever made a bid for the highest office in the land. Perhaps that’s because history has not been too kind to those who try—no mayor, from any city, has ever gone directly from City Hall to the White House. Then again, after Donald Trump’s surprise victory in 2016, it’s hard to sit here and cite historical precedent with a straight face.

Nevertheless, history still counts for something, and to the extent that it’s instructive in this case, Bill de Blasio will have an uphill climb. Here’s a brief history of New York City mayors and their failed presidential aspirations:

  • DeWitt Clinton: As CityLab reported, the New York City mayor earned his party’s nomination for president in the election of 1812, making him the last sitting mayor to do so. Clinton challenged incumbent James Madison and lost.
  • John Lindsay: While he was still mayor of New York City, Lindsay left the Republican party and sought the White House in 1972 as a Democrat, but didn’t make it very far. After not placing well in the Florida primary (and being accused of neglecting ’70s-era New York), he dropped out.
  • Rudy Giuliani: Still riding some of that post-9/11 goodwill as “America’s Mayor,” Giuliani sought the nomination as a Republican in 2008. He eventually realized that wasn’t going to happen and endorsed John McCain instead.
  • Michael Bloomberg: As far back as 2006, the business tycoon-turned-New York City mayor began flirting with the idea of a presidential run. After he left office in 2013, those rumors began to circulate again, and after Trump’s victory in 2016, Bloomberg was all but thought to be a viable candidate for 2020, which may have manifested as a third-party bid. Bloomberg released a statement in January saying that he had spent $100 million of his own money studying the issue only to determine that a centrist like him had no clear path to victory.
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