Mayor Bill de Blasio has been talking to his inner circle and union allies about running for governor, and sources say he is growing increasingly confident he can win.
“I fell out of my chair laughing — he is honestly thinking about it,” said a former senior adviser. “Because of all this Cuomo s–t, he is feeling bold.”
Hizzoner played coy all week when asked if he was eyeing his embattled rival’s job. “The future will take care of itself,” he said, grinning, when a reporter posed the question on Thursday.
The public comments are not only intended to rile Gov. Cuomo — but behind closed doors, de Blasio is openly talking with advisers about running against him in a 2022 Democratic primary, multiple insiders said. De Blasio is term-limited and leaves office at the end of this year, while Cuomo can seek re-election to a fourth term in November 2022.
The discussions come as Cuomo faces two widening probes — a state Attorney General inquiry into sexual harassment allegations from at least three women, and a federal investigation into his administration’s alleged cover-up of COVID-related nursing home deaths.
With Cuomo’s blood in the water, the mayor’s team has reached out to the big labor unions to gauge support, including District Council 37, which represents public employees; the Local 1199 SEIU healthcare workers union; and the 32BJ Local SEIU, which reps building workers, sources said.
“He’s calling his labor friends,” said one operative. “He’s interested. I think that no matter what – even if the governor runs for a fourth term — de Blasio will primary him.”
De Blasio believes his own image is rebounding from its low point last year, when he played bumbling foil to Cuomo as the governor’s popularity peaked during the early stages of the pandemic.
“The more he talks about it, the more he’s like, ‘Maybe this isn’t such a crazy idea … maybe I have a shot,’” the former senior adviser said about a gubernatorial run. “The way it’s been described to me is, he is like talking himself into it.”
A longtime Albany insider said “de Blasio for governor” talk is gaining steam.
“I’ve heard it raised in more than a joking manner,” the source said. “It doesn’t shock me. This is a guy with a huge ego, an inflated sense of self importance. He’s someone who ran for president even though it was clear he was never going to gain traction.”
A current City Hall official said they fully expect de Blasio to run.
“He ran for president. It fits a pattern of delusion of grandeur,” the source said. “Sure he’d love to be a political commentator, but if there’s a route to run for elected office, he will pursue it.”
The bid would be as much of a longshot as his failed 2020 presidential run, Democratic strategists said.
“It’s surprising that after all this time, he would think he could be elected in New York,” said Karen Hinton, a former press secretary to both de Blasio and Cuomo. “I’m not trying to take away anything from his accomplishments — I think he has had many — but New Yorkers writ large don’t particularly like him, and I find it hard to imagine that he could reform himself and be elected. That’s harsh, but I just think that’s obvious.”
Hinton said she foresees him transitioning to a nonprofit, or teaching, or commentary.
A second former adviser agreed: “I thought he would take some significant time off and regroup and think about what he wants to do next … I sort of imagined he would do some political punditry and teach a college course or two. But he said publicly recently he is not going to go to the private sector, so who knows.”
Sources said de Blasio could face a stronger foe than than Cuomo if he seeks the governor’s mansion.
If Attorney General Letitia James “decides to run, she will have the support of the Brooklyn Democrats,” said a party source, who noted James got her start in New York politics as a Brooklyn councilwoman.
It’s also unlikely de Blasio would gain support of the Democratic Party’s powerful progressive wing over James.
“She’s African American, she’s female, all those pull in her favor. The left really likes her,” the Albany insider said.
A third former de Blasio operative said his ex-boss “has a shot” against “a weakened Cuomo … but if he’s running in an open field against Letitia James, [Long Island Rep.] Kathleen Rice and others, he probably has no chance.”
De Blasio’s former press secretary, Eric Phillips, said he has not had any recent discussions with the mayor about gubernatorial aspirations, but defended his former boss’ record.
“There’s no doubt that it was fashionable to dislike Bill de Blasio in July, but when you look back at the result, his report card is going to be quite good,” Phillips said.
“I don’t think the mayor is good at theater. He never has been … Andrew Cuomo is tremendous at theater.”
In July, de Blasio’s approval rating hovered at 40 percent, while Cuomo enjoyed 73-percent popularity, according to a Manhattan Institute poll.
The governor’s standing has since plummeted. A new survey from Quinnipiac University found that 45 percent of New Yorkers approve of the job that Cuomo is doing, while 46 percent disapprove.
But a strategist warned those betting against a Cuomo fourth term.
“Don’t underestimate Andrew Cuomo,” he said. “I don’t think he’s as finished as some people say he is. He still has a chance to redeem himself.”