News & Politics

The Newest Player in DC Politics: Bill de Blasio

De Blasio is considering hiring District Planning Director Harriet Tregoning, and DC's mayoral candidates can't stop comparing themselves to the newly minted mayor of New York City.

Bill de Blasio might be the most important figure in local DC politics right now. Photograph by Flickr user Kevin Case.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio failed to woo DC Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson to run his city’s schools, but apparently, he is not done attempting to raid the District government. DC Director of Planning Harriet Tregoning is reportedly at the top of de Blasio’s short list for the same job in New York.

De Blasio’s overtures toward Tregoning, first reported by Crain’s New York Business, are only preliminary, says an official in Mayor Vince Gray’s administration. Tregoning has been approached by de Blasio’s aides, but has not spoken with the mayor himself, as Henderson did before deciding to stay in DC.

But while de Blasio looks to the District’s government as a talent bench, DC politicians are looking at him as a model. The latest talking point in the mayoral race seems to be to compare one’s preferred candidate to the newly minted New York mayor, who is received as a progressive darling after 20 years of center-right mayors in the nation’s biggest city.

De Blasio, says one supporter of DC Mayor Vince Gray, “resonates more locally because he uses the ‘One City’ line,” just as Gray has in his campaigns and since taking office. De Blasio ran on the slogan “One New York” and in his inaugural remarks said that the 12 years under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg had presented a “tale of two cities.” The Gray backer also noted similarities between the DC mayor’s agenda and de Blasio’s, including affordable housing and early-childhood education.

But Gray is not the first DC mayoral candidate to be cast alongside New York’s mayor. Council member Tommy Wells got the de Blasio treatment in December when he embarked on a week-long exercise of restricting his personal spending to that of someone earning the minimum wage. “I’m pretty sure de Blasio and some other folks have done it,” Wells said at the time. De Blasio, in fact, carried out a similar stunt last July.

Not to be outdone, supporters of Busboys and Poets owner Andy Shallal are jumping on the de Blasio bandwagon, too.

“What’s interesting is that he’s the de Blasio of DC with the focus on inequality,” Shallal supporter Leila McDowell said at the restaurateur’s Adams Morgan home on Saturday headlined by the actor Danny Glover. “De Blasio came from behind and now he’s mayor.”

For a city tired of hearing how its neighborhoods are becoming increasingly like the New York City of the Bloomberg era—particularly Brooklyn, home of de Blasio—there doesn’t seem to be any hesitation to draw comparisons to the Big Apple’s new mayor. While de Blasio rifles through the DC cabinet, the people hoping to run this city might all end up running as the “new de Blasio.”

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.