Mayor Bill de Blasio (photo: @BilldeBlasio)
By January 1st, 2002 — the day of his inauguration as Mayor of New York City— Michael Bloomberg had been a billionaire for some time. It had been a decade since his information services titan, Bloomberg L.P., hit it big on Wall Street. As a campaign pledge, the diminutive Bostonian promised to take a city salary of only a $1 a year, but, throughout the duration of his twelve years in office, he'd ascend the Forbes list, defying economic woes to make even more billions. As of September 2013, his net worth was estimated at $30 billion.
Bloomberg's successor, Bill de Blasio, is a different story, of course. On January 1st, 2014 — the day of his inauguration as mayor — de Blasio was a middle-class, outer-borough homeowning husband and father of two teenagers. Sure, he had a fairly high-profile political career going, but de Blasio was living a modest New York lifestyle, without a lot of money coming in or accumulated.
Becoming Mayor of the City of New York changes everything. While de Blasio isn't popping up on the Forbes list any time soon, his profile and earning potential have skyrocketed as a result of his new position. He's just a year into what could easily be eight as mayor, but de Blasio is now a national, even international player, with a newly expanded list of lucrative and powerful options for the future.
Entering his mayoralty, the lanky Bostonian had pulled in $165,000 a year for his duties as Public Advocate, and $52,000 in rent from a second home he owns in Park Slope. Before that, he made $112,500 a year as a City Council Member — both salaries fractions of his predecessor's net worth and annual income. Not that de Blasio's income has been anything to sniff at for the common New Yorker, but the contrast between the two mayors' finances is symbolic of the income inequality that de Blasio ran on, in many ways casting himself as the anti-Bloomberg.
Mayor de Blasio has two children, one in college, another on the way there next year, and the Park Slope house with a mortgage that the family had been living with and recently rented for $4,975 per month (which is below the going neighborhood rate) while they live rent-free in Gracie Mansion. (You'll perhaps recall that Bloomberg shunned Gracie to stay in his Manhattan townhouse.)
Now in the Upper East Side mayoral residence with his wife Chirlane McCray and their son Dante, de Blasio has vowed a return to Brooklyn. The mayor is making $225,000 a year, while McCray makes no salary as Chair of The Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City.
As mayor of the biggest big city in the world, de Blasio is on a path to richer pastures - how rich, though, is far from clear. Through his highly-watched campaign, election, and inaugural year, de Blasio has become a household name to many in New York and elsewhere. And in America, a national profile is currency.
The minute he became Mayor de Blasio, a whole set of prospects appeared for the self-professed progressive, with newfound ability to cash in on a future book deal, speaking engagements, consulting, or, what is likely the prized gem of them all for de Blasio: a shot at higher office.
De Blasio finds himself another in the line of New York City mayors to experience this catapult — one that could potentially help pay off Dante's and daughter Chiara's college bills, the Park Slope mortgage, and whatever outstanding expenses the family of four may still have.
In terms of what ones does after City Hall, recent history shows the basic mayoral formula tends to deliver the politician, in most cases, back to his comfy prior career, with more money and fewer press conferences. But de Blasio doesn't have a Forbes 500 company to return to, nor, like Ed Koch and Rudy Giuliani, a private law firm at which to become a partner — or better yet, a figurehead.
De Blasio doesn't seem to have the pop culture chops to host "Mayor at the Movies" like Koch did, nor does he come off, unlike David Dinkins, as being professorial to the point of teaching at Columbia. If you re-examine de Blasio's public life since high school, his time with the Sandinistas, and beyond, the mayor has known one thing: politics.
"It's no doubt that de Blasio has a very good mind for it, but he doesn't have much of an intense interest for policy, nor governing itself," Wayne Barrett, the famous investigative reporter and Giuliani biographer, told Gotham Gazette. "He has a taste for public service. I'm just not sure if that'll last after 4 or 8 years in City Hall."
If it doesn't, Barrett argues that de Blasio is perfectly suited to enter the massive consultancy industry, using his past as a political organizer and operative to help elect like-minded progressive candidates in New York and beyond. These types of firms, which have interested big names like Bill Clinton, former Obama senior advisor David Axelrod, former NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly, and even McCray, de Blasio's wife, are moneymakers. In major national elections, top consulting firms can rake in millions.
And De Blasio clearly loves a good campaign. See UPK, his push for universal pre-kindergarten in New York City, or his ongoing pursuit of the 2016 Democratic National Convention - which, if it comes to Brooklyn as the mayor hopes, could be a major boon to his national profile. This would be especially true if tensions with the NYPD have settled and New York is thriving under his progressive policies by the convention.
There was the mayor, in the wake of a tough 2014 Election Day for his party, both in New York State and nationally, penning an article in the Huffington Post with diagnosis of what went wrong for Democrats around the country: not putting forward a strong enough progressive message; and looking ahead to 2016, which he has forecast as a promising year, especially - or perhaps only - if his allies follow his "blueprint to revitalize the Democratic Party."
Or maybe de Blasio will focus on fundraising, bringing in money for himself and others. On the national landscape of PACs and political donations, only people like the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson can really rival Bloomberg, who had morphed into a powerful political donor long before even leaving office and continues to position himself as a major source of funds in certain congressional and other races.
The Kochs, Adelson, and Bloomberg spend lots of their own money, of course, not something de Blasio will be poised to do. As Mayor of New York City, though, de Blasio has already become extremely powerful and well-connected, building relationships that he may very well be able to leverage for future clients.
De Blasio has a net worth, not including future earning potential, in the low six figures — a rarity for someone in his position. The mayor has defined his fiery progressive brand on not having much; on relating to everyday New Yorkers, especially outer-borough middle and working class folks. As he campaigned, de Blasio was the anti-Bloomberg, the non-billionaire. He called for a tax increase for those making over $250,000 a year - a bracket he didn't even fall into.
So he may not have the personal fortune to back him up, but, should the next few years go well, he could become a major fundraiser for progressives across the country. But will de Blasio himself, like those who have come before him, swim in the more lucrative waters that a post-mayoralty has to offer?
According to Ken Sherrill, a Professor Emeritus of political science at Hunter College, not having the same network of wealth as, say, Giuliani may doom de Blasio's chances of a common post-political gig: the speakers' circuit, which recently ensnared Ray Kelly and has paid Giuliani $100,000 a speech in the past. "Unlike Giuliani, his audience is not the people who would pay that kind of money to see him," Sherrill said.
"I don't think I can see him joining a corporate board," Sherrill continued. "The one question is whether or not de Blasio has the affluent patrons that Giuliani and Koch had. Bloomberg just has himself. But these kinds of people who pay exorbitant money to Giuliani wouldn't spend that on de Blasio."
But that doesn't mean there won't be a market for de Blasio speeches, it just may not be as green as it can be for others. Nor does it mean de Blasio won't get paid for a memoir, or an administration post-mortem; both of which can be highly profitable, even if they don't sell well. Take, for example, Andrew Cuomo: his new memoir All Things Possible: Setbacks and Success in Politics and Life sold very tepidly its first few weeks in circulation, yet the politician had already landed a $700,000-plus check from HarperCollins in advance. Though the lack of success of Cuomo's book could contribute to a market correction.
However, in terms of mayors, Giuliani banked hundreds of thousands of dollars from his widely popular, 9/11-themed memoir, Leadership. Koch wrote a library's worth of books, both for adults and children, after he left office. Dinkins has last year's A Mayor's Life: Governing New York's Gorgeous Mosaic, and, before he even took office, Bloomberg by Bloomberg was on shelves everywhere, recounting the tale of how the Wall Street maven made his Forbes fortune.
That said, de Blasio is basically forced to write a book of some sort, just to keep up with his predecessors. Not to say that he won't relish the opportunity to explain how he fixed all that was wrong with Bloomberg's New York if his liberal experiment does indeed go according to plan. We can almost guarantee that "tale of two cities," "progressive," or both will appear on the cover. Luckily for de Blasio, he won't have to go too far for help: as reported back in June, First Lady Chirlane McCray has taken to the memoir business early. Agent and advance unknown, but certain to be fairly large (and helpful to the family's finances as she works without compensation).
But then again, as Barrett says, de Blasio has ambition, and politics is driven by the motivated. Plus, de Blasio's young enough to remain in the political arena as an elected official himself even if he does serve out eight years as mayor.
Barrett says he wouldn't be surprised if de Blasio sought a higher office, particularly the governorship, as former public advocate and mayoral candidate Mark Green predicted to the Post. However, unlike in Mark Green's comparison to Zephyr Teachout's challenge from Cuomo's left, Barrett argues that de Blasio would never run for office against the governor if Andrew Cuomo runs for a third term, like his father did, in 2018. Cuomo or no Cuomo, a 2018 gubernatorial run for de Blasio would also likely require his doing so at the start of a second mayoral term (assuming his winning re-election in 2017) and is thus unlikely. But, there's always 2022.
There's certainly the question of whether de Blasio's liberal brand could work in more conservative areas of the state like Rochester or Buffalo - in any year, 2018, 2022, or beyond. "He's a better New York City candidate than he is a New York State candidate," Barrett added definitively.
Not to mention that going from Mayor of New York City to Governor of New York State actually comes with a pay cut: the governor makes $179,000 a year. The presidency, on the other hand, pays better.
And speaking of the presidency, making much of this moot could be fallout from what panels full of talking heads seem to see in their dreams each night: a Hillary Clinton victory in 2016. A Hillary win could have serious implications for Cuomo in D.C. As the former HUD Secretary under Bill Clinton, Cuomo is no stranger to the Cabinet, and a possible departure could leave an open seat in Albany for de Blasio.
But, Barrett thinks Hillary could find something for her old Senate campaign manager (de Blasio) to do in the White House or Capitol. And it's no secret that de Blasio has been building a national and international profile in just his first year as mayor. With his leadership of the Mayoral Task Force to Tackle Inequality, his security trip to the Situation Room in Washington, his handling of New York City's Ebola case and protocols, and his speech to the Labour Party in London, de Blasio has been busy on larger stages.
De Blasio made another D.C. trip in mid-November and soon after President Obama's executive action on immigration, de Blasio announced that he would be conveing "a first-ever summit on December 8th with at least twenty mayors from cities across the country to discuss and lay out a step-by-step implementation plan of an executive order on immigration," which he did. Then, another D.C. jaunt on December 1 to discuss police-community relations with President Obama and others.
With the New Left gaining momentum behind figures like Elizabeth Warren, who is to rule out that de Blasio doesn't stand a chance in D.C.?
"I can see de Blasio leading a Presidential Office on Income Inequality," Barrett said. "He does his time in New York, and then moves to Washington with the family."
Some have said de Blasio is more senatorial than mayoral, and a run to replace either New York senator seems at least somewhat plausible were a Schumer retirement or a Gillibrand vice-presidency, presidency, or cabinet appointment to occur.
To Doug Muzzio, a professor of politics at CUNY and city expert, all of these far-reaching aspirations hinge on 2017: the next mayoral election year. "A one-term mayor is different than a two-term mayor," he explained. "It all depends on getting a second term. If he wins, he can run for governor; if he loses, that becomes much more unlikely."
For now, of course, de Blasio must focus on repairing rifts with the NYPD and ensuring his agenda is successful. Whether the mayor likes it or not, though, Muzzio argues that de Blasio's future is binded to Andrew Cuomo. "The bottom line is that this is an ambitious guy who will undoubtedly run for [another] office, but it depends on what Cuomo does," Muzzio told Gotham Gazette of de Blasio. "He ain't gonna run against Cuomo — that's just not in the cards."
Still, Muzzio repeatedly admitted: "So many things can happen. I plead ignorance."
But, if you look at the history here, as is often instructive, a post-mayoral life is all too often marked by monetary and reputational gains, not political ones. Because if there's one thing City Hall doesn't seem to be any good at, it's guaranteeing any future success in elected office.
"What have modern NYC mayors gone on and done?" Gene Russianoff, the chief spokesperson for the Straphangers Campaign of NYPIRG, asked rhetorically. "Let's see: stayed insanely wealthy; tried to become insanely wealthy; joined a law firm; become a film reviewer; failed on the national political scene...And so it goes."
Bloomberg, of course, flirted with running for President - and Giuliani went a little further than that. With a rising national profile, demographic trends what they are, and the zeal with which many seem to embrace Elizabeth Warren's populism, de Blasio may already be dreaming of stepping onto the biggest stage, history be darned.
"The only thing I know is that the mayoralty is a stepping stone to nothing, politically speaking," Russianoff added. Just look at Ed Koch or Rudy Giuliani.
After asking "How'm I doing?" to New Yorkers for 8 years, Koch became a restaurant and movie critic, a professor, a political commentator, a children's book author, a judge on The People's Court, a radio show host, and a sought-after endorser in future races, until his death in 2013 at the age of 88.
"I used to say, 'He would never die if he had a camera on him,'" Barrett said. "He became such a public personality — it basically doesn't exist anymore. In terms of Koch's private success, too, it's amazing." That's why, in Barrett's opinion, Koch had the most exemplary post-mayoralty career in modern times.
And it's also why, in the end, de Blasio has a lot to accomplish - and think about.
John Surico is a freelance journalist. His reporting can be seen in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Village Voice, and elsewhere. He lives in Brooklyn.