It is not uncommon for leaders to be defined by crises. In New York City, however, mayors have a habit of being resurrected by them. Rudy Giuliani was widely loathed in his hometown before his display of stoicism on September 11, 2001, made him a national figure. His time in office dwindling, Michael Bloomberg used the 2008 financial crisis to force a rewriting of local law so that he could capture a third term and rank among the most consequential chiefs in the city’s history.
Now Bill de Blasio—besieged by investigations, at war with the press, hobbled by rival politicians, scarred by management mistakes that have overshadowed his significant accomplishments—seems to have been rescued by the least likely of lifeguards: the terrifying reality of a Donald Trump presidency.
The mayor, to some extent, saw it coming. When he sat down with The Nation five days before the 2016 election, de Blasio certainly expected and hoped for a Clinton victory. But he detected a turning point—and an opportunity—in the contours of the national campaign. “This will sound heretical, but almost regardless of the result of the presidential election, I do believe this is the beginning of a new progressive era,” he told us. “My sense is that I cannot recognize this dynamic in anything I’ve experienced in the preceding 36 years, going back to the election of Ronald Reagan…. There’s so much consistent and effective progressive activity, and it’s happening in so many places—including a lot of counterintuitive places. We’re kind of staring something in the face that has not been fully accounted for.”
The November 8 results indicate that he was more right than he knew. Since Election Day, de Blasio has taken on a role as a leader of the official resistance to the coming Trump regime. The mayor has pledged to use his power to create a safe space in the city for some of the progressive ideals that the next president has vowed to countermand. He met face to face with the president-elect to argue his point of view, e-mailed supporters to rail against Trump’s plans, and delivered a major speech—in the historic setting of Cooper Union—in which he pledged to defend the city’s values of tolerance and inclusion.
De Blasio’s efforts have been noticed. NYC Mayor Teaches Democrats How to Fight Trump, proclaimed a headline on Daily Kos, while Politico announced: Bill de Blasio Finds His Mojo as the Anti-Trump. Indeed, the fight against Trumpism has animated the first few weeks of de Blasio’s 2017 reelection campaign.
This is more than mere posturing. The beliefs are genuine and the stakes incredibly high—especially in a city where hundreds of thousands of immigrants are threatened by the policies that the president-elect has promised to adopt. At the very least, de Blasio is creating a node of resistance to Trumpism, a bunker in which progressives can hunker down against the new administration—and against those Democrats who will accommodate it. In these days of little hope, de Blasio has offered at least a ray of it.