The New York City press corps enjoys a running joke. It has to do with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s habit of casting himself in the role of the self-deprecating dad. The Wall Street Journal has praised his “hammy brand of humor,” calling it “genial, corny, goofy and silly.” Recently, he starred in a promotional video for the annual Inner Circle show, a benefit dinner/roast hosted by City Hall reporters, and boasted, dad-like, of having written “some knock-knock jokes that really stick it to the New York Post.” The gag has served de Blasio well. Despite a rocky first year, he holds a roughly 50 percent approval rating. But the square-dad routine may be more than an act. De Blasio may really think of himself as New York’s Daddy.
The mayor has eagerly instituted paternalistic policies. By easing welfare restrictions and inviting a dramatic increase in the number of New Yorkers receiving cash assistance, the mayor imagines he’s putting spending money in city residents’ pockets. By pledging $8.2 billion to build or maintain 200,000 affordable-housing units, de Blasio sees himself putting a roof over New Yorkers’ heads. By calling on business leaders to boost the minimum hourly wage from $8.25 to $13, de Blasio can claim to be giving his constituents a raise.
If you’re going to live in Mayor Dad’s house, you have to play by his rules. That means no foam-packing peanuts, no Styrofoam coffee cups, no horse-carriage rides, and no large sugary drinks. It also means that you better have your municipal ID card and your cell phone with you at all times—even at school. Don’t mistake Mayor Dad for a fuddy-duddy, though. In that Inner Circle video, he also poked fun at rumors of his marijuana use.
But the biggest daddy move of all is de Blasio’s taxpayer-funded, universal pre-kindergarten program, in which the city hopes to enroll 70,000 kids this year, up from last year’s 50,000. De Blasio has fondly recalled sending his own children off to pre-K: “Those were magical days. Those were transcendent days for our family.” Bundled within this fatherly reflection is the assumption that state-provided day care liberates women from the drudgery of childrearing and housework. Mayor Dad gives Mom the freedom to go back to work—where she belongs. As for the kids, recently announced regulations force licensed city day-care centers to limit children’s consumption of juice to just four ounces per day and require kids to sit for no more than 30 minutes at a time. Mayor Dad doesn’t want any couch potatoes in the family.
Mayor Dad is not only the city’s provider but also its protector—but with a progressive twist on the governmental obligation to ensure public safety. De Blasio promises to protect you not from the bad guys, but from the NYPD. He got himself into hot water last year by repeatedly implying that the city’s minority communities should fear the cops more than neighborhood criminals. The NYPD is the mayor’s prodigal child, with whom he plays the disappointed father. His recent public statements have tended toward the “I’m only this hard on you because I care” variety. “We deeply respect our police. We need our police to protect us,” he told Comedy Central’s Larry Wilmore. But, he added, there are “some things that we still haven’t worked out. That’s the reality.” Like any father of a wayward child, de Blasio just knows that the city’s cops will come around in time.
Mayor Dad does all the things you’d expect a liberal true-believer to do, but none of what you’d expect of a real father—like teach self-reliance and preach personal responsibility.