Tevi Troy joins Brian Anderson to discuss outgoing New York mayor Bill de Blasio’s tenure, what Eric Adams might bring to the job, and the recent political trajectory of the Big Apple.

Audio Transcript

Brian Anderson: Welcome back to the 10 Blocks Podcast. This is Brian Anderson, the editor of City Journal. Joining me on today show is Tevi Troy. Tevi is a senior fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a former deputy secretary of Health and Human Services and a presidential historian. And somebody who's been writing about politics and policy for City Journal for some time now. His most recent book is called Fight House: Rivalries in the White House from Truman to Trump. And his latest contribution to City Journal, which just appeared online and in our brand new January released issue is called "The de Blasio Debacle." It appears in our forthcoming winter issue, as I mentioned, and it is available online. So Tevi, thanks very much for joining us. Good to talk with you as we kick off the new year.

Tevi Troy: Thanks for having me. And I will just say to the listeners while the piece is indeed available online, if you get the City Journal print edition, it has some great artwork that goes with it.

Brian Anderson: Yes, that's true. So your piece, it's an evaluation of Bill de Blasio's tenure, eight year tenure as mayor of New York City, which ended this past January 1st. So he has just left office. But you don't begin in the piece with de Blasio. Instead, you look at the predecessors of the mayor, Rudy Giuliani, and Michael Bloomberg, and trying to show the various ways that de Blasio undid the progress that happened under his predecessors. So why don't we start there too? What was the state of the city in 2014 when Bill de Blasio first took office? What had been its trajectory since the 90s?

Tevi Troy: Yeah, well, Brian, as you know I grew up in New York in Queens specifically. And I took the subway to Manhattan every day in high school. And that was in the mid to late 80s, which was a very rough time. There was a lot of crime, it was just not a safe place to be. And indeed, as I talk about in the piece, there was a year in I believe, 1990 when there were 2000 murders in New York City, which was an unfortunate record that they set. And then-

Brian Anderson: Yes, and every other crime off the chart at that time, too.

Tevi Troy: Right. It just wasn't a safe place to be. You didn't want to walk around Manhattan and you felt uncomfortable. And that's one of the reasons why David Dinkins lost in that 1993 elections, pretty rare for a Democrat to lose an election in New York City. Now even more so. And Rudy Giuliani, a very different Rudy Giuliani I must say, takes over. And he armed in part by the Manhattan Institute, has all these ideas for how to reform the police and how to push back on crime. And he and Mike Bloomberg, both I think successfully did so and each of them had multiple terms as mayor. And crime receded to the point where New York was one of the safest big cities in America by 2014, when de Blasio takes over. And New York was really back and it made me think that Ed Koch, who I've written about for City Journal and I was a fan of, who just really loved New York in a way de Blasio didn't. I would've been happy to see how New York had turned around in that period.

Brian Anderson: So on to de Blasio's tenure, specifically, you attribute in this essay much of the city's current woos on homelessness, crime, housing, education to the mayor's awful leadership, you call it. In each of these four areas, so let's look at crime, homelessness, housing, and education, how did de Blasio perform and what do you think went wrong? Certainly on crime, it was more his second term, right, than his first, because he had appointed Bill Bratton to a second term as police commissioner and crime stayed low for a while.

Tevi Troy: Yeah. And I think de Blasio, even though he was a police critic going in, recognized that he really couldn't get too far afield from the New York City Police, if he wanted to keep crime under control and he wanted to keep the city on board with him. And he indeed did get elected as mayor after one term he had. He served two terms. And I think that there was a recognition after that incident at the funerals of the slain cops, where all the police turned their backs on him. And that was early in his tenure, and I described it in detail in the piece, but early in his tenure when that happened. I think there was a recognition by de Blasio and there's even some written up discussions of this that he said I need to improve my relations with the police.

So crime did stay low for the first, I would say five, six years of his tenure, but then it did turn around late in his tenure, especially around when the COVID problem happened. And he certainly had less respect for the police. And then there was the defund the police movement, and he was early proponent of that kind of idea. So I think crime just got significantly worse in the last year. Still, not as bad as in the Dinkin era, I must say, but palpably so where people started to talk about crime in a serious way again. And one of the earlier pieces I wrote for you at City Journal, Brian was about the show, The Odd Couple, which is a favorite show of mine, where it seemed like in the 70s, every episode had something to do with crime because conversations were constantly about crime. And that was happening again in the city where people, when they would just get together in normal, polite conversations for coffee or over dinner, they would talk about how crime was a part of their lives again. And that's unfortunate.

Brian Anderson: So what about some of these other areas? Education is another area where you're very critical of de Blasio.

Tevi Troy: Yeah. And I am on two fronts. Number one is New York has these elite meritocratic schools like Stuyvesant and like Bronx Science, that admission is based strictly on a test. They don't care where you're from or your income level or your skin color. They just give you this test. And if you score well on that test, you get admission to this school. It is the most meritocratic way of determining whether someone gets into school. And de Blasio went hard after these schools to try and change that. And I think that the meritocratic test was threatened more than any other time in the history of the schools and in those tests. And I think ultimately they survived, but it was a real assault. And I know the Asian community that tends to get a lot of students into Stuyvesant and Bronx Science really saw it as an assault on them.

And as I talk in the piece that he seemed to have a very rough relations with the Asian community. And the second thing was enabling the teachers unions in their continuing quest to keep the schools closed under COVID, no matter what accommodations were made for the safety of the teachers and the students. And we saw a significant drop, I talk about it in the piece, a significant drop in the enrollment of students who were in New York City, public schools. And oh, and then I guess I should also mention the way he went after the charter schools, which again are public schools and he acted like they were some kind of private schools and he wanted to charge them extra rent. And so, I mean, he just had it in for anything that was not in the agenda of the New York City, public teachers union.

Brian Anderson: And two other areas where not just you, but City Journal has been very critical of de Blasio's administration, housing and homelessness. There really is an ongoing housing crisis in the city. So perhaps say a bit about that and on the homelessness front.

Tevi Troy: Well, I think there's just more of an accommodation of homelessness and a willingness to allow the streets to be filled with homeless people in a way that we really haven't seen since before the Giuliani days of the late, I guess, the early 90s. And de Blasio was just willing to allow it to happen and not use time proven strategies that can mitigate the homeless problem. And look, New York is not as bad as San Francisco or some of the West Coast cities, but we are seeing increases in homelessness and in a way that just not only has problems for, I guess, aesthetically in the city, but also for public safety. So he was willing to accommodate that. And then I think that was just part of his overall approach. He didn't really care, he didn't seem to care about the everyday lives of average New Yorkers.

Brian Anderson: And there is a, these things aren't exactly related, but there is a housing shortage in the city. The rents in the city are very high, not enough housing is being built. What is your view on that front?

Tevi Troy: Look, it's easy and obvious to understand what the issue is here. When you have rent control and when you have limitations on building, that squeezes the supply and so increase the demand. And so it makes these things more expensive. As I said, it's particularly a problem in some of these West Coast cities, but it's an instant issue in New York as well. If housing is too expensive, the answer is not to restrict the supply, which is what the de Blasio and other liberal policies tend to do.

Brian Anderson: So Bill de Blasio is very left wing politician. And I think it's fair to say that New York has seemed to move in a more leftward direction since the days of Giuliani and Bloomberg yet de Blasio leaves office as one of the most unpopular mayors in recent memory. And his successor, Eric Adams, who has just entered office, appears to have aspirations anyway, of being a tough on crime and has certainly been rhetorically friendlier to the business community. So what does this say about the kind of political culture of New York City? Did de Blasio scare off New Yorkers from of hard left governance? Or is there something unique about him that might've contributed to his unpopularity? After all, the city council in New York is very far left. So it's hard to see a big conservative shift in the city's politics.

Tevi Troy: Yeah. Look, Brian, despite City Journals and Manhattan Institute's best efforts, New York is a liberal city, and we acknowledge that and it has been for a long time and will continue to be so. But the thing about de Blasio was it wasn't just that he was liberal and had liberal policies, but he seemed not too like New York or New Yorkers, or as I say, in a bit of a jive at him, even New York sports teams, I mean, he was a Boston Red Sox fan in New York City. That doesn't make you ineligible to be mayor obviously, but it does speak to a larger issue with him. He didn't seem to care about the concerns of everyday New Yorkers. And remember, Ed Koch, I've already mentioned on this, but what was his famous phrase? He always said, how am I doing, how am I doing? He wanted to know how he was doing in the context of helping New York.

And that's why he was always asking. He was kind of checking in with the people and he had a, again, Ed Koch was not only liberal, but to the left of you or I, but he cared about the everyday concerns of New Yorkers. And what I would say overall is that New York is not an easy city to live in. You don't go to New York because you want to have a smooth pathway in everything. You recognize that there are some challenges of living in New York, but it also has some great, great glories that you can't get anywhere else. And de Blasio didn't celebrate the great aspects of New York. He just seemed to make it harder on the everyday lives of New York. And so I think that is what the New Yorkers had as a problem with him. It wasn't that he was just liberal, it's that he didn't celebrate New York and didn't care about the concerns of everyday New Yorkers.

Brian Anderson: And do you think about his chances? It looks like he might be running for governor.

Tevi Troy: Yeah. I don't think he's going to win as governor. I mean, we saw his presidential run. He didn't do very well at all in that. And there was that kind of arch quote I have from Isaac DeVeres book about how there were more people who had show up a protest de Blasio at any appearance then would show up for rallies for him in Iowa. He just, I don't think he has what it takes to win statewide in New York, or certainly not nationally as we saw in his disastrous run for president.

Brian Anderson: Yeah. It seems pretty far out. Well, let's talk a little bit about what you've seen of the incoming administration, the Adams administration. A number of appointments have been made, David Banks is schools chancellor, Keechant Sewell has come in as police commissioner from Nassau County. He's appointed a veteran New York politician, Brooklyn's Frank Carone as chief of staff. In some ways he looks a little bit like Adams, like an old school machine politician. I wonder what your take is on how he'll govern.

Tevi Troy: Yeah. Well, as you know, I'm not a machine guy, but I'm okay with old school, if it means making the city work. And that doesn't mean that everything has to be smooth sailing again, but you just have to have the basics of the city operating in a way that it wasn't happening under de Blasio. And I think I'm also comfortable in fact, encouraged by Adam's rhetoric on fighting crime and accommodating the business community and celebrating that there are businesses and they create the tax base. And the reason that people come to the city is to, the theaters a business, the stores are a business. I mean, he's willing to celebrate what New York has to offer. And so I'm good with that. And again, the key I think to being mayor of New York is loving the city. And I do get a sense that Eric Adams loves the city. And I think that in itself is a step up.

Brian Anderson: Thanks very much, Tevi. It's a terrific piece, a good summation of the de Blasio years, it's called "The de Blasio Debacle." It's available online and it is in our forthcoming winter issue. Don't forget to check out Tevi Troy's other work on the City Journal website. We'll link to his author page in the description. You'll find a number of wonderful essays, including the Ed Koch one we mentioned in this discussion. You can also find City Journal on Twitter @cityjournal and on Instagram @cityjournal_mi. And if you like what you've heard on today's show, please leave us a ratings on iTunes. And Tevi, good to talk with you and looking forward to working with you more this year.

Tevi Troy: Thanks for having me as always. Love the 10 Blocks podcast.

Photo by Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images

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