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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

De Blasio hasn't shed his councilman ways

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio holds

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio holds a press conference in an elementary school gym on February 25, 2014 in New York City. Credit: Getty Images / John Moore

After nearly two months, Bill de Blasio's personal transition to the role of powerful mayor from lower-ranking elected official seems far from complete.

It's as if he still follows the habits and reflexes of a City Council member from Brooklyn, or perhaps, functions as the city's councilman-in-charge.

When a minister friend was arrested on outstanding warrants in Brooklyn, de Blasio, by official accounts, "inquired" about his status with the office of the deputy commissioner for public information at the NYPD.

One ex-police official, who declined to be identified, found it strange the city's top executive would follow the same course of inquiry as might, well, any of 51 council members outside the administration. Relevantly, that's the job de Blasio held from 2002 to 2010 -- before his four-year turn as public advocate, a role with citywide scope but little more power.

Personal involvement can have its upside. When a snowstorm led to complaints about lack of plowing on the Upper East Side, he stood by his Sanitation Department before taking off hours later, unannounced, to talk with residents, whom he decided were right.

The mayor took the unusual step of involving himself in the council speaker's race for the eventual winner, Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Manhattan). De Blasio knows about such competitions; he lost one. And he famously took on the last speaker, Christine Quinn, for mayor.

Last week, de Blasio's city car, driven by his NYPD security detail, sped and rolled past stop signs. CBS 2 News caught it on camera. Other mayors' vehicles did the same -- but de Blasio had just vowed new traffic safety enforcement. As if to compound the public-relations error, he jaywalked.

Few would care if a council member does that. But in the mayoral fishbowl, such actions instantly send an impolitic "Do as I say, not as I do" message.

On Monday, Democrat de Blasio seemed in his comfort zone meeting on Staten Island with Republican Borough President James Oddo, an ex-council colleague, and other officials, to discuss delayed Sandy aid. "A lot of us have worked together for many years, and I think that helps to create an atmosphere of cooperation," de Blasio said.

Asked moments later by CNN about being "hammered in the press" so early in his term, he said it "comes with the territory" He added that "too much of the time, the debate veers away into sideshows. But I'm not shocked by that."

Mayor Michael Bloomberg's tenure brought an awkward shift from private entrepreneur to public official needing to negotiate his goals. De Blasio's demeanor sounds lighter on data and heavier on empathy.

Signs of chafing with the news media are surfacing. De Blasio, politely, chided a reporter who prefaced a query with the observation that many think his office flouts its own safe-driving policies.

"Let me just respectfully say: I'm not interested in the construct of what you as an individual think many New Yorkers think," he replied. "I say that with absolute respect. I talk to New Yorkers all the time. My colleagues talk to New Yorkers all the time. Let's not get into this concept of any of us will speak for all the people."

"Not interested," and "let's not get into this." Now that sounds like a mayoral news conference.


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