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Opinion

Bill de Blasio, America’s worst mayor

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After the 9/11 terrorist attack, Rudy Giuliani’s calm presence was an inspiration to the entire nation. Today, New York is a different kind of ground zero, and it has a very different kind of leadership — which is to say, the weak and woefully inadequate kind.

To say that Mayor Bill de Blasio has done a poor job under pressure is to understate the case. In the simpler times of 2014, New Yorkers had the luxury of chuckling at his weak leadership, as when he killed a defenseless groundhog at a public event. But that he has proven himself such a clown amid a grave crisis, even while vigorously casting blame at everyone else, makes for a grim sort of humor that the city’s self-quarantined residents can ill-afford at the moment.

Had the mayor merely downplayed the risk early on, it would be unfair to single him out. So many others did. So many carelessly denounced travel restrictions as racism or xenophobia. So many tried to claim, wrongly, that the coronavirus was less of a threat than the flu. Nearly everyone underestimated or underrepresented the gravity of this plague, including key leaders such as President Trump. Few leaders anticipated in February just how badly out of control things could get.

But de Blasio stands out for a number of reasons that are probably not wholly unconnected to his city’s current sufferings.

For one thing, he set an appalling personal example for all New Yorkers when, on March 16, he snuck out to his local YMCA to get in one last workout before all the gyms in the city were required to close. It is precisely this sort of “beat the quarantine” behavior that has spread the virus so widely in the first place. Indeed, this sort of behavior in New York at least briefly inspired other states’ attempts to detect and isolate refugees from New York City. After the fact, de Blasio couldn’t understand why people were upset about this.

De Blasio was certainly not alone in being wrong about the disease, but he might have been alone in disseminating such consistently incorrect and oddly specific public health advice. He claimed in late January that one could only catch the coronavirus through “prolonged exposure” to someone infected, not from “a single contact.” On Feb. 2, he announced that the virus could not be contracted “from a surface” or “from glancing or very temporary contact.” These claims never had any scientific basis, and it is still puzzling why he made them. As advice to individuals navigating a plague, these personal tips are precisely the sort of things that can create dangerous complacency — far more dangerous than any sort of mere overoptimism about the disease’s eventual nationwide or worldwide progression.

De Blasio was not alone in telling people during February that the disease “should not stop you from going about your life.” But the thing is, he was still doing that as late as March 11. The day Trump addressed the nation to encourage “school closures, social distancing, and reducing large gatherings,” de Blasio told New Yorkers the exact opposite — “to not avoid restaurants, not avoid normal things that people do. … If you’re not sick, you should be going about your life.”

Even then, de Blasio somehow had the gall to accuse Trump of “minimizing what has now become a global pandemic.” But de Blasio still waited until that weekend (March 15) before finally closing New York City schools.

It was always inevitable that a global plague would reach a global city such as New York, no matter who was mayor. It was also inevitable that a place with such unusual population density would face extra risk from a highly contagious disease. But these probabilities only reinforce the city’s need for better leadership than what it has now. It is telling that, despite the flaws in Trump’s performance on coronavirus, de Blasio still would have done less badly had he merely taken all of his cues from the White House.

On Friday, de Blasio stared at the camera of MSNBC’s Morning Joe and complained that “over a week ago,” he had demanded from the White House and the Pentagon “1,000 nurses, 150 doctors, 300 respiratory therapists. For the nation’s largest city … you’d think in a country this big, this strong, that would be an easy request to fill. And I’m still waiting.”

Of course, the city did just get a 1,000-bed hospital boat to supply its noncoronavirus medical needs amid the crisis. But beyond that, sure — there are probably dozens of doctors just sitting around in the Pentagon basement, waiting to be deployed.

Meanwhile, days earlier, with his city’s healthcare system at risk of being overrun by the virus, de Blasio had time to virtue-signal, carefully and publicly looking down his nose at the evangelical Christian charity that set up a desperately needed makeshift hospital in Central Park.

Even now, America’s worst mayor isn’t taking any of this seriously.

Washington Examiner

Political news and commentary about Congress, the president and the federal government from the Washington Examiner.

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