Government

Presidential candidate Bill de Blasio optimistic despite low traction in Iowa

Democratic presidential candidate returns to Cedar Rapids

New York mayor and 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful Bill de Blasio is interviewed Wednesday at The Gazette in Cedar Rapids. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
New York mayor and 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful Bill de Blasio is interviewed Wednesday at The Gazette in Cedar Rapids. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — New York mayor and Democratic presidential candidate Bill de Blasio holds what he calls “a very optimistic view.”

“I’m a half-glass-full kind of guy,” he said as he drank a glass of water about half full during an interview Wednesday at The Gazette in Cedar Rapids.

Such optimism has been a necessity for the mayor, who got off to a late start running as one of 24 Democratic candidates for the 2020 party nomination.

A poll released Monday by Suffolk University showed de Blasio at zero percent among 500 likely Iowa voters. A poll commissioned by Focus on Rural America put de Blasio at 1 percent support after the first televised Democratic debates, which included him on stage the first of the two-night pairings.

De Blasio attributes his lack of traction with Iowans so far to his late entrance in the race in mid-May. Thursday marks seven weeks since he made his announcement on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

“I’m playing some catch-up, obviously,” de Blasio said. “About six weeks into the race, about seven months to go” until Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses.

Many of his progressive ideas — a $15 minimum wage, paid sick leave, free prekindergarten, guaranteed health care and a “working people first” mantra — hardly differentiate him from other progressives in the field.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

But he’s hoping his executive experience and progressive reforms in New York City show voters he can accomplish “real things against tough odds.”

“I bring values that are very similar to those good colleagues of mine in the legislature (Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders) but with a proven track record as a chief executive,” de Blasio said.

He also pointed to his daily work to prevent terrorism as something different from what Warren or Sanders have encountered.

“Every day I have to work to keep my people safe,” he said. “That’s a different challenge than what a legislator faces.”

Mayors historically have not done well in the Democratic nomination process. No Democratic candidate has gone directly from mayor to president.

While many of his events have been centered in Iowa’s urban centers — Cedar Rapids, Des Moines, Ames and Waterloo — he said engaging rural voters is important in recreating an “urban-rural coalition.”

In Iowa, that often requires balancing climate change policies with pro-agriculture policies.

De Blasio said he intends to release a plan to “decorporatize” the agriculture industry to save family farms.

“Everyone’s caught in the grip of a very corporate-driven agricultural system,” de Blasio said. “So many people barely can make ends meet who live in rural areas. There are fewer and fewer family farms obviously, and young people who want to continue family farms are stressed by this corporate dynamic that’s working against them all the time.”

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

His plan also would give him an avenue to address climate change by promoting more sustainable agricultural practices and bringing jobs in renewable energy to rural areas. He described rural areas as having the chance to become the “focal point for a lot of our renewable energy.”

“First, we need to save the Earth, and second, people need to have a livelihood,” de Blasio said. “We cannot make big changes in our society and leave out working people. It’s just not acceptable.”

He admitted that could result in some higher food prices, but strong leadership would “keep the food prices stable.”

It’s one of many policy plans de Blasio has intentions of releasing, but he did not have a specific timetable of when those would be ready.

De Blasio was in Cedar Rapids to take part in the June 9 Democratic Hall of Fame celebration, which drew 19 hopefuls. He said he will be in Eastern Iowa for the Fourth of July. His schedule still was being finalized Wednesday.

De Blasio said he has yet to try any bagels or pizza — two New York staples — in Iowa but is aiming to try as many pork tenderloin sandwiches as he can.

“That’s my kind of food. I don’t know about Iowa bagels, but I do know about Iowa pork tenderloin sandwiches,” he said.

As he bites into his next pork tenderloin sandwich, it’s clear his half-glass-full attitude isn’t leaving soon. Despite his low polling numbers, he isn’t setting a hard line he needs to pass to stay in the race.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

“I don’t think anyone saw Bernie Sanders coming in 2016 and the impact he would have,” de Blasio said. “No one in the world thought I was going to become mayor of New York City, but I am.”

l Comments: john.steppe@thegazette.com

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.