The early political careers of President Obama and Gotham’s likely next mayor, Bill de Blasio, have followed similar trajectories. Both Obama and de Blasio emerged from the radical activist wings of their respective big-city Democratic parties. Both achieved broad political success despite their leftist backgrounds, winning big electoral victories against the odds. Both have attractive, mixed-race families that have added to their political allure.
Each candidate also has had to deal with potentially damaging revelations about past involvement with violent anti-American radicals. Obama had personal and political ties to the ex-Weather Underground domestic terrorist William Ayers and the virulently anti-American and anti-white Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Earlier this week, the New York Times reported that, when he was 26, de Blasio went on a political pilgrimage to Nicaragua—then ruled by the Marxist-Leninist Sandinistas—and came back to the United States a dedicated “Sandalista” (as leftist American supporters of the Sandinistas were then called). Several years later, de Blasio and his wife illegally honeymooned in Communist Cuba.
This is where the similarities end. Barack Obama ducked and weaved about Bill Ayers, saying he recalled his bomb-throwing friend as just a “guy in the neighborhood,” who he “thought” was an English professor. (In fact, Obama knew Ayers was a radical education professor who taught future K–12 teachers how to use their classrooms for leftist indoctrination.) And the future president claimed not to have been listening in the pews when his pastor Jeremiah Wright launched into hate-filled sermons against the United States. Obama managed to get away with these fibs because the reverential liberal media refused to pursue either story seriously. He got even luckier when his 2008 Republican presidential opponent, Senator John McCain, declined to press him on his associations for fear of being labeled (by the same pro-Obama media) as a McCarthyite.
By contrast, Bill de Blasio was outed by the New York Times and then proudly stood his ground, politically and ideologically. Showing no contrition about his youthful revolutionary enthusiasms, he said that his visit to Nicaragua “was very affecting for me. [The Sandinistas] were in their own humble way, in this small country, trying to figure out what would work better.” According to the Times, de Blasio also “made it clear that seeing the efforts of the Sandinistas up close strengthened his view that government should protect and enhance the lives of the poor.”
De Blasio’s untroubled response to the Times’s revelations speaks volumes about New York’s rapidly changing political culture. It’s not that the next mayor will try to establish socialism or bring Sandinista ideas about the class struggle to government agencies. But de Blasio’s ascendency, perhaps even more than Obama’s, marks another step in the evolution of the Democratic party and big-city liberalism toward a twenty-first-century version of the old Popular Front. De Blasio’s City Hall will be open for business to each element of a self-styled “progressive” coalition of “inclusion.” No group or individual will be deemed too far to the left as long as they jump on the de Blasio bandwagon. Lining up to receive their fair share of the spoils will be the old Acorn organization, now renamed New York Communities for Change; the far-left Working Families Party; the United Federation of Teachers and other municipal unions; the radical Service Employees International Union, including the former Communist-led health-care workers’ union Local 1199; the civil liberties and homeless lobbies; and, of course, the onetime racial arsonist Al Sharpton, now posing as a wise elder and political power broker. To varying degrees, each will have a place at the municipal trough. Meanwhile, at the other end of City Hall—thanks to the successful efforts of the Working Families Party in many local races this year—the newly elected city council will tilt further left and will dole out even more cash to radical and activist community groups.
To his credit, Republican candidate Joe Lhota seized on the Sandinista revelations to attack de Blasio for his indifference to the evils of leftist totalitarianism. Lhota should keep raising the issue throughout the campaign, including in the three mayoral debates. He shouldn’t be intimidated by accusations from the New York Times editorial board or other liberal groups that he is engaging in McCarthyism. Calling a liberal a red is McCarthyism. Calling someone who proclaims his solidarity with reds a red is candor.
Win or lose, Lhota must prove the worth of his candidacy by showing New Yorkers who care about their city’s future what government by de Blasio’s popular front will look like. He should not hesitate to describe the radicalism behind the Democrat’s campaign rhetoric, whether describing New York as a “Tale of Two Cities” or pledging to “enhance the lives of the poor.” Lhota made a mistake when he paid a much-publicized, conciliatory visit to Sharpton at his National Action Network headquarters after the primary election. Presumably trying to show independence from his old boss, Rudy Giuliani, Lhota wound up bestowing more undeserved legitimacy on the old race hustler. In the campaign’s remaining weeks, Lhota should remind voters of how many illegitimate characters will have a say in a de Blasio administration. Emulating John McCain’s politeness will gain him nothing.