Mayors look for opening in Democratic White House field
At least three big city mayors are seen as possible candidates for president in what is shaping up as a wide-open Democratic primary in 2020.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio are all seen as plausible candidates in a crowded primary field that is likely to reach double digits.
Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., is also said to be considering a run.
All four would start out in the primary as underdogs, but Democrats say it would be foolish to count anyone out.
“Why shouldn’t [mayors] explore running?” said Robert Zimmerman, a Democratic National Committee member. “It’s an open field and it says something about how wide open this process is.”
No one has ever made a direct jump to the White House from city hall, though there have been a few serious candidates — most recently former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
After the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., Giuliani became known as “America’s mayor” and was briefly the favorite to win the GOP’s nomination.
Nearly 30 years earlier, another New York City mayor was also seen as a serious candidate: John Lindsay, who switched from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party and ran for president in 1972. Like Giuliani, a poor showing in Florida was the end of his campaign.
The lack of success by mayors who have sought the White House might suggest that seeking the Oval Office from a foundation of city politics is a fool’s errand.
But Donald Trump’s success in winning the GOP nomination and then the White House with no government experience is leading both parties to reexamine paths to the White House.
Democrats say the party should be trying to find the best candidate from all levels of government — and definitely not just the more obvious and traditional Beltway choices.
Stephanie Miner, who served as mayor of Syracuse, N.Y., until January, said it’s a new era for the Democratic Party.
“What Donald Trump showed is that people crave authenticity,” Miner said. “In the past the party had candidates that checked the boxes but they didn’t have real resonance because they weren’t authentic.”
“The place where Dems have been able to survive and do well, it’s in cities,” Miner added. “Mayors are pragmatic. They’re problem-solvers. It’s the one place where there’s a level of trust. You have to look them in the eye when they ask ‘Are the roads being plowed? Is my garbage being picked up?’”
Former Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.), who served as a surrogate to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, said one reason the mayors may have some success is because, like governors, they’re not wedded to Washington’s perceived “dysfunction.”
They can run on the successes they’ve engineered in their own cities — and win respect.
“I think elected officials out of Washington, such as mayors and governors, will be at a premium in 2020,” Tauscher said. “Anyone in D.C. will be tainted by the muck of Trump and the complete failure of Congress to get anything done and hold Trump accountable.”
Landrieu, 57, appears to be seriously testing the waters of a possible campaign, though when he has been asked about a White House run he has predictably demurred.
The former New Orleans mayor has been making the rounds to tout his book, “In the Shadow of Statues.” It was announced last week that he will be awarded the 2018 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award for his efforts in removing four Confederate statues in New Orleans, the subject of his book.
Landrieu’s actions were seen as a portrait of courage given the political danger of taking down statues of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, P.G.T. Beauregard and a monument dedicated to opponents of Reconstruction. Landrieu also won acclaim for a speech he gave last year about the need to remove the statues.
De Blasio made headlines of his own when he visited Iowa in December. But he quickly shot down speculation: “No. I’m not running for president,” he told The Washington Post.
Garcetti has also privately expressed interest in running for the White House and has quietly raised the matter with confidants, according to a source. Some in the donor community say they believe he’s trying to lay the foundation for a potential run down the road.
Any mayor running for the White House would face a number of challenges.
Better known candidates such as former Vice President Joe Biden and Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) would have a huge edge in terms of name recognition.
Mayors would also face questions about their readiness to handle national issues.
Landrieu could be seen as too much of a centrist in a Democratic field likely to include a number of candidates running to the left — though it is possible that could also provide an opening.
De Blaisio might be seen as too far to the left by some voters.
“There are a lot of things that make it tough for mayors to emerge as presidential candidates and I think its because of the fact that their records are always going to be impeachable, and the constituencies that they tend to represent have a harder time being seen around the rest of the country,” said Grant Reeher, the director of the Campbell Public Affairs Institute at Syracuse University.
At the same time, Reeher added, mayors like Landrieu, Garcetti and de Blasio have “demonstrated that they are strong national candidates.”
“They’re obvious representatives and spokespeople for the kinds of things the Democratic Party wants,” he said.
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