As New York City's mayoral race shuffles around the entrance of former Congressman Anthony Weiner, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio is hanging on to his position at the left end of the Democratic primary field.
Though Weiner was, for a national moment, an MSNBC darling and a leading spokesman for single-payer health care, he spent much of his time in New York as a more conservative Democrat in the tradition of Ed Koch, and de Blasio told BuzzFeed in an interview Thursday that there's not much to Weiner's progressive credentials.
"I don't think these are the things he focused on when he was in public life," de Blasio said of causes he has long backed, like shifting the tax burden toward the rich. "We'll see what he says now."
The mayoral contest threatens to turn into a months' long pun-off about former Congressman Anthony Weiner, who resigned in 2011 after sending sexual images to women he met online, but de Blasio and other Democrats are trying to resist that narrative.
"I don't know how he's going to set up on local issues," de Blasio said. "He hasn't weighed in on local issues in a long time."
"I'm not a big Weiner pundit," he added.
The city's 6'5" public advocate touts himself as the true progressive candidate in the race, someone who will break the Michael Bloomberg mold that's shaped the city since 2001.
"I think the Bloomberg years, honestly, had a chilling effect on public debate and a chilling effect on the media," he said.
Though he wouldn't talk much about the opposing candidates, de Blasio had no shortage of things to say about the causes he supports. He has come out against the city's use of its stop-and-frisk policy, claiming that an inspector general should serve as a watchdog for the NYPD. With proper training and oversight, he said, the policy could be constitutional, while under current practices it's sometimes not.
But de Blasio was supportive of the NYPD's decision to spy on Muslims in the city and surrounding areas. He said he spoke with Police Commissioner Ray Kelly after reports about the surveillance came out and was satisfied that the department had complied with the law. De Blasio argued that listening in on someone's conversation and physically stopping someone with no reference to a specific crime are "very different."
De Blasio had kind words for Kelly, praising his efforts to successfully avoid another major terrorist attack in the city — but the ripple effects from stop-and-frisk proved too divisive for him to keep Kelly on as commissioner.
"He's done a lot of great work for this city," de Blasio said. "He is the author of the overuse of stop-and-frisk. He deserves credit for his achievement but it's time for someone very different."
The decline of the middle class is an overarching theme of de Blasio's ideas, in what he calls "a tale of two cities." He's hammered away at his mayoral rival, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, over the paid sick leave deal, which will now ensure paid sick days for about 925,000 of the 1.3 million workers without it by 2015. Quinn described the agreement as a success — proof of her leadership and ability to compromise. But de Blasio said everyone should have equal opportunity.
"This is not a city that was meant to be exclusive," he said.
De Blasio lambasted Congress's latest failure to support an amendment for same sex couples to be treated equally as opposite-sex couples for immigration purposes.
"It's absolutely wrong," he said. "That doesn't have to be sacrificed."
He'll continue to stake out his position on the far left of the mayoral race until the primaries come up in September, a place he thinks will secure him a spot on the ballot in November.
"I think this is a dawning of an extraordinarily progressive era," he said.
"I'm the most progressive person in this race," he added.
Jacob Fischler is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, D.C.
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