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Democratic candidates juggle presidential race with day jobs

Democratic presidential candidate and New York City Mayor

Democratic presidential candidate and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio outside a detention center for migrant children on June 27 in Homestead, Fla. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Joe Raedle

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio was in Waterloo, Iowa, stumping for president Saturday evening when a power outage in Manhattan plunged tens of thousands of his constituents into darkness.

He was forced to leave the campaign trail, drive four hours to Chicago and wait for a Sunday morning flight. By then, the power had been restored and other officials had stepped up, on the scene and on Twitter, to keep New Yorkers reassured.

“Everyone has the right to run for higher office, including the mayor of New York City," Public Advocate Jumaane Williams said. "The blackout highlighted what everyone already knows: There are stresses in doing both.”

De Blasio has spent 22 days on the trail since launching his bid eight weeks ago, his schedule showed.

But he isn’t the only Democratic presidential candidate juggling a day job as a sitting elected official. Among the top 24 contenders, there are seven U.S. senators, three U.S. House members, two governors and two other mayors.

For the members of Congress, there are missed votes on Capitol Hill, and for the state and local executives, there are any number of pressing issues or emergencies at home.

South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg has faced questions over who’s minding the store while he’s away. Last month, he was one of the few candidates to skip Democratic Rep. James Clyburn’s annual “World Famous Fish Fry” in South Carolina. He had been called home, where tensions were high after a white police officer fatally shot a black man.

“Most people who run for president have complicated day jobs and have to figure out how to balance two things at once,” Buttigieg campaign press secretary Chris Meagher said, adding that the mayor tees up decisions before he leaves and stays in regular contact with his team when he's on the road.

De Blasio said Sunday that he has administration officials in place when he is gone and was in constant touch with them during the blackout.

"You have to take charge wherever you are, and I did that," he said.

The mayor has based his presidential campaign on his experience running the country’s largest city, but his time away has given his critics reason to charge he’s neglecting his responsibility.

“It’s not just about managing crises, it’s about managing and preparing the city for the future,” City Comptroller Scott Stringer said. “And it’s hard to do that from the cornfields of Iowa.”

De Blasio’s press secretary last week ticked off the mayor's work for the city since he announced his candidacy.

“He continues to deliver for New Yorkers every single day,” Freddi Goldstein said, citing his launch of a probe into the taxi industry, overhaul of school disciplinary procedures and restrictions on for-hire vehicles cruising without passengers.  

In February, before he formally launched his campaign, de Blasio canceled a trip to New Hampshire after an NYPD detective was fatally shot by a fellow officer.

On a Monday last month, he had just returned from Iowa when a helicopter crashed into a midtown Manhattan building, leaving the pilot dead. He was immediately briefed and rushed to the scene.

Earlier in June, he skipped the city's National Puerto Rican Day Parade in favor of the Iowa Democratic Party's 2019 Hall of Fame event.

“Every elected politician who runs for higher office inevitably faces criticism for missing work,” Republican operative Alex Conant said.

“If you miss a critical vote or if there’s a disaster in your city or state while you’re gone, that could become an issue,” said Conant, who worked on Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidential bid. “But for the most part, voters understand that if you’re running for higher office, you’re going to have to delegate parts of your day job.”

According to a Newsday tally, of the seven senators in the race, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) had missed the most roll-call votes this year. He was recorded as “not voting” for 77 of the 203 votes, or 38 percent, as of Friday. 

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) was second with 64 missed votes, and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) was third with 60 .

Gillibrand senior adviser Glen Caplin said she and her office “continue to effectively work hard every day for New Yorkers” and cited as one of several recent examples the bipartisan Blue Water Navy Veterans bill that she championed and that President Donald Trump signed into law.

Booker and Harris’ representatives did not respond to requests for comment.

Last month, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), compromising with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), held a vote relating to military action on Iran open longer than usual to accommodate presidential candidates returning from the Democratic debates in Miami.

Jesse Ferguson, a Democratic strategist, said it can be as advantageous for a White House hopeful to hold office as it is for them to be out of office, like former vice president and front-runner Joe Biden.

“Full-time candidates can spend every day pushing their message and pressing the flesh," said Ferguson, who worked on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential bid. "But candidates with another job have a built-in platform that makes them relevant every day."

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