Mayor Bill de Blasio made his first appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Monday, and the nation’s towering, tax-the-rich scourge of income inequality joked about the most basic of mayoral duties: clearing the streets of snow.
His inaugural appearance on the left-leaning, fake-news talk show took place just as a winter storm was dumping 8 inches of snow on city streets – and just a day after the Super Bowl kicked off in a dry and balmy 50 degrees. And with another storm expected to lay down additional layers of snow and ice from Tuesday night through Wednesday, the city’s sanitation plowmen will be racking up the overtime.
Just a month into his tenure, Mayor de Blasio, who proclaimed life in New York a “tale of two cities” before his historic 73 percent landslide win last fall, has seen snow become the most slippery political issue of his nascent term in office. Not exactly what liberals – who hoped he would focus on the plight of the poor and middle class and provide a national example of how a liberal chief executive can govern a city effectively – had in mind.
Two weeks ago, however, the people of the Upper East Side, home to some of Manhattan’s wealthiest residents, rose up with shovels in lieu of pitchforks when their streets were left neglected for much of the day during a Tuesday storm – even as the erstwhile long-suffering outer boroughs were timely cleared. It was a deliberate message to Manhattan’s rich, many claimed, though the mayor attributed the neighborhood’s snow snafus to unforeseen and accidental factors.
So in one Daily Show segment before de Blasio loped on stage, the mayor’s home borough of Brooklyn was depicted as a tropical paradise – even as city workers were bringing in truckloads of snow to bury the Upper East Side even more.
“I can’t move my legs, Jon," said comedian Aasif Mandvi, buried in snow during the fake news bit. "But, hey, that’s life in de Blasio’s New York. He’s hell-bent on making the city unlivable for the rich!”
Humor aside, de Blasio faces a looming progressive balancing act in the coming months as he deals with a range of serious issues, including union negotiations and a city budget. How he handles them could well determine the success of his celebrated landslide win, which he cites often as a clear mandate to pursue his liberal reshaping of the city.
But on Monday, the mayor took the jokes riffing on his his left-wing politics in stride. “Well, I’m feeling good,” the mayor told Mr. Stewart after asked how he was doing. “I just wish we had done a better job gettin’ that snow up to the Upper East Side.”
Indeed, the show’s comedic themes continued to play on de Blasio’s image as the nation’s new left-wing standard-bearer, the first Democrat to run New York City in 20 years.
“You come in, you put up all the posters of Lenin, Stalin, whatever you’ve got in the office,” wise-cracked Mr. Stewart.
“The Che Guevara posters are very popular,” the mayor shot back. “They really are.”
Stewart later returned to the plowing controversy, asking, “What else could we do to the Upper East Side?”
“We have an experimental effort to get locusts in up there,” the mayor replied.
Hours before his appearance on The Daily Show, however, a much more serious de Blasio gave a news conference about Monday’s storm and the city’s preparation for a week forecasting two more before it’s over.
“The response to the last storm obviously left something to be desired,” the mayor said at City Hall. “So we did a review of our efforts, and we’ve come up with some initial changes that we actually were able to implement right away."
But in the coming months, the mayor is set to face more than the vicissitudes of the weather and evaluations of his administration’s plowing. On Feb. 12, de Blasio will present his first budget, setting his administration’s priorities for the coming fiscal year.
And he faces a series of negotiations with the city’s municipal unions, 150 bargaining units representing some 300,000 city employees, most of whom have been working under expired contracts, some for five or six years.
Union negotiators have demanded $7 billion in retroactive pay – which would limit the mayor’s other priorities, including health care for poor neighborhoods and affordable housing.
“Mayor de Blasio and labor leaders must begin a robust collective bargaining process, and they need to do it now," said City Comptroller Scott Stringer in an address before the trustees of the Citizens Budget Committee last week. “We have more unsettled contracts than ever before.”
The mayor’s man-of-the-people image, meanwhile, has already taken a few New York broadsides. True, after the first three winter snow storms of his term, including Monday’s, the mayor has shoveled and salted the sidewalks of his Brooklyn home himself. But his populist bona fides took a hit last month when he ate pizza with a knife and fork – prompting Stewart and others to mock him mercilessly.
The mayor had also awkwardly defended his use of utensils at the time, saying this was the way people ate pizza in his “ancestral homeland” of Italy.
And, sure enough, as Stewart listed some of the important issues of the mayor’s first month in office – changing the stop-and-frisk policy, promoting universal pre-Kindergarten, ending the long tradition of horse-drawn carriages in New York – he highlighted the mayor’s pizza faux pas, bringing out a full pie from John’s, a famous Greenwich Village establishment.
“I would love a slice,” the mayor told Stewart. But de Blasio had his own self-deprecating joke up his sleeve, taking a knife and fork out of his jacket as The Daily Show comedian put a slice in front of him.
“As mayor of Napoli – I mean New York City – we are always ready for our pizza,” the mayor said, brandishing his silverware. He did eventually take up the piece with just his hands, however, as the studio audience erupted in cheers.