Metropolis

The Spring of Bill

Why New York’s mayor is acting so … weird.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 01: Empire State Building Hosts New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio As Part Of A Special 90th Anniversary Lighting on May 01, 2021 in New York City.
“Look at me, I’m on the Empire State Building!” Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

Something is up with Bill de Blasio.

On Tuesday, in a flat-brim Nets cap and a James Harden jersey beneath his open blue button-down, he told New Yorkers they could win playoff tickets in exchange for getting vaccinated.

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At a press conference last week promoting a different vaccine incentive, he ate Shake Shack for breakfast. “Mm, vaccination,” he mumbled through a mouthful of beef, “I’m getting a very good feeling about vaccination right this moment.”

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A very good feeling indeed. Last month, the New York Times’ Emma Fitzsimmons observed that the city’s doleful chief executive was finally having fun. He’d even ridden the Cyclone, the wooden roller coaster in Coney Island. Even if his mayoral comedy isn’t in-your-face, like Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s skits during the early months of the pandemic, de Blasio is definitely acting lighthearted and weird. His press secretary Bill Neidhardt called it the “Spring of Bill.”

And the spring has only gotten warmer since.

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Neidhardt’s coinage is a reference to a Seinfeld episode, “The Summer of George,” in which the prickly George Constanza loses his job and decides to have the summer his way (but winds up falling down the stairs).

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De Blasio, too, is preparing to leave his post, and the vibe is a little like seeing your high school science teacher giddy in the last week of class. You thought you were thrilled to be rid of him, but he’s just as happy to be rid of you!

There’s some logic behind this bout of senioritis. With the scene-stealing Andrew Cuomo laying low (more on him in a moment), the opening ceremony of post-pandemic New York has fallen solely to the gangly two-term Democrat. That’s given the typically stern mayor an opportunity to talk up the city’s charms and hawk various perks (french fries, basketball tickets) to juice vaccine turnout. It’s exactly the kind of theatrical civic boosterism de Blasio has always spurned—one reason, pundits reason, that Andrew Yang’s gung-ho New York pride seems like such a breath of fresh air. For the first time in three years, hizzoner hopped on a Citi Bike, cranked the seat post up as high as it would go—and rode for 80 minutes!

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Generally speaking, mayors have struggled through a year of sickness, pain, and fracture. A “lost year,” as Thomas McGee, the mayor of Lynn, Massachusetts, who is stepping down, told Ellen Barry. Two-term Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto got primaried from the right and the left, and lost on Tuesday to the more left-wing candidate. Earlier this month, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms—a rising star in Democratic politics—sounded exhausted in her announcement that she would not run for a second term. “There was last summer. There was a pandemic. There was a social justice movement. There was a madman in the White House,” she said at a news conference. “It is abundantly clear to me today that it is time to pass the baton on to someone else.”

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It was not all wine and roses for de Blasio, either. As the pandemic threatened his city, his instinct to shut it all down was overruled by Cuomo—and then as the pandemic subsided, he had to watch as the governor of the hardest-hit state won an Emmy and raked in $5 million for a (premature) victory lap of a book. Last summer, de Blasio infuriated New Yorkers by turning a blind eye as police beat protesters in the streets.

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How things have changed! The pandemic is in remission on his turf. The governor is under investigation for covering up nursing home deaths, putting staffers to work on his book, and behaving inappropriately with female subordinates. Even if it’s not quite the upper hand, de Blasio has at least captured the moral high ground in the men’s long-running feud. (Public opinion surveys are another matter: Cuomo has dropped like a stone, but it’s not clear he’s hit the de Blasio line yet.)

And then there is the current mayoral race, where none of the top eight candidates is taking more than 20 percent of the vote, according to an Emerson College poll released this week. The big winner? The “undecided” category, which encompasses about a quarter of voters. As we step into the uncertain, post-pandemic future, it is natural to yearn for the comfort of the familiar. A commute to the office. A trip to the ballpark. And … the moralizing style of Bill de Blasio? Truly, it is the Spring of Bill.

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