NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio entered the crowded 2020 presidential race on Thursday, arguing that his record of progressive accomplishments in the country’s biggest city positioned him as the perfect foil to President Donald Trump.
De Blasio, 58, launched his candidacy with the central campaign message, “Working People First,” becoming the 24th Democrat seeking to take on Trump in next year’s election.
In a video released on Thursday, de Blasio returned to the theme of income inequality that had animated his first mayoral campaign in 2013, when he emerged as a leading voice for the burgeoning left wing that has since reshaped his party.
“People in every part of this country feel stuck or even like they’re going backwards,” he said in the video. “But the rich got richer.”
The mayor, who is barred from seeking a third four-year term in 2021, has struggled to build a national profile, eclipsed in the national consciousness by progressive U.S. senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, now his rivals for the presidency.
He will campaign this weekend in Iowa and South Carolina, which host key early nominating contests.
De Blasio emphasized a list of progressive wins under his leadership, including universal pre-kindergarten, the end of the policing practice known as stop-and-frisk and paid sick leave, all in a city that has a bigger population, more than 8 million, than most U.S. states.
“We are the safest big city in America,” he told reporters at a news conference on Thursday. “We have the most jobs we’ve ever had. We have the highest graduation rates from our schools that we’ve ever had...these are not words, these are deeds.”
He promised to stand up to Trump, a fellow New Yorker, calling him a “bully” and a “con artist.”
“I’m going to keep calling him ‘Con Don,’ because that’s what he deserves to be called,” de Blasio said.
In typical fashion, Trump hit back on Twitter, calling de Blasio “the worst mayor in the U.S.”
“He is a JOKE, but if you like high taxes & crime, he’s your man,” Trump said in a tweet. “NYC HATES HIM!”
De Blasio is the third New York City mayor in a row to flirt with a presidential bid.
Former Republican Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who left office in 2001 and is Trump’s personal lawyer and close confidant, ran unsuccessfully for president in 2008.
Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg has seriously considered running several times, both as an independent and a Democrat. In March, the billionaire announced he would not seek the White House.
Most New Yorkers appear unenthusiastic about de Blasio’s presidential aspirations. A Quinnipiac University poll in April found more than three-quarters of New Yorkers did not feel he should make a White House bid.
De Blasio faces an uphill battle to stand out in a crowded field that includes former Vice President Joe Biden and a long list of experienced politicians. A Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Wednesday found 1 percent of Americans supporting de Blasio for president.
“It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish,” he said when asked about his poll numbers.
(For more on the candidates running for the Democratic nomination, see: tmsnrt.rs/2LeoO8z)
Like Biden, de Blasio is a white heterosexual man running in a party that values diversity.
But he has consistently polled well among African-Americans in New York and he is married to a black woman, Chirlane McCray, a poet and activist who describes her sexual orientation as fluid.
His popularity took a hit after a federal investigation found the mayor made inquiries to city agencies on behalf of donors, though it cleared him of criminal wrongdoing. De Blasio has denied any misconduct.
De Blasio has sharply criticized Trump on issues like climate change, immigration and policing. On Monday, he held a news conference inside Trump Tower to call on the Trump Organization to meet newly enacted emissions standards in their skyscrapers, or face significant fines.
The event drew insults on Twitter from Trump’s two oldest sons, Eric and Donald Jr., who run the family company.
Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Scott Malone, Bernadette Baum and Lisa Shumaker