Last Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio officially announced that he would not be participating in this year’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade. This announcement came on the heels of his appearance in a Queens parade organized by St. Pat’s For All, which advocates for greater representation of gender and sexual minority groups in the larger Fifth Avenue parade. Citing the Manhattan parade organizers’ failure to include enough LGBTQ representation in the parade, de Blasio’s motivation behind his non-participation is clear — he is using his presence as political leverage in a way that few other city mayors can.
New York City has a long history of exceptionally outspoken mayors. Fiorello LaGuardia, the mayor of New York City from 1934 to 1945, made his voice heard far beyond the city limits. Whether backing New Deal legislation in Congress or publicly denouncing the ascendancy of Adolf Hitler, LaGuardia’s role on the national and international stages was just as important as his more local efforts. His radio broadcasts, much in the vein of President Franklin Delanor Roosevelt’s fireside chats, brought LaGuardia’s politics directly into the home of the average New Yorker, making distant affairs seem much closer.
De Blasio is trying to bring back some of that old campaigning spirit. He made headlines last December when he stood with the Eric Garner protestors, much to the chagrin of the police. Now, with his refusal to participate in the St. Patrick’s Day parade, de Blasio has highlighted the inequalities inherent in a longstanding local tradition. No matter how divisive, in every opportunity he looks to make his positions known — an admirable stance compared to the question-dodging that plagues national politics.
It is hard to say what effect this conviction has had on New York voters. His approval rating as of January was around 49 percent, with a clear racial divide between white voters who mostly disapprove of him, and black and Hispanic voters mostly approving. New York City voter turnout has consistently been lower than the statewide average, with just 21 percent participation in the 2014 midterm elections, as opposed to 31 percent statewide. These low turnouts are reflective of larger nationwide trends — Americans, as a whole, are just becoming less interested
But the fruits of de Blasio’s style of combative politicking have yet to truly be seen. His stance in the Eric Garner case has earned him some attention that may follow him into the next election cycle. With the St. Patrick’s Day parade, De Blasio has found a new arena in which to shake some hands and change some minds. New York City, long seen as a beacon for American modernity, is lucky to have a mayor so willing to confront the problems of the day. In this day of political disaffection, we need him now more than ever.
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A version of this article appeared in the Monday, March 9 print edition. Email Richard Shu at [email protected]