Nearly six years after starring in a popular mayoral campaign ad, Dante de Blasio is back — playing an unofficial supporting role in his father’s long-shot presidential campaign.
The 21-year-old published an op-ed in USA Today Monday about “the talk” his father and two cousins gave him in Atlanta about interacting with police as a black teenager, and his own encounter with cops in San Francisco.
Last week, in preparation for the first 2020 Democratic presidential debate, Mayor Bill de Blasio posted screenshots of a WhatsApp conversation in which the recent Yale graduate offered his father advice on establishing “credibility, especially among skeptical young voters.”
During the debate, the elder de Blasio noted he was the only candidate onstage “raising a black son in America.” He brought up the “very, very serious talks” with Dante “about how to protect himself in the streets of our city.”
“Including how to deal with the fact that he has to take special caution because there have been too many tragedies between our young men and our police,” the mayor added.
Dante’s sudden reemergence — which includes a new Twitter account — follows a hiatus from the de Blasio children’s involvement in their father’s political life. Dante and his older sister, Chiara, weren’t included in the mayor’s May 16 campaign video announcing his presidential bid.
On the de Blasio 2020 campaign website, the tab titled “The de Blasios” has sections introducing Bill de Blasio and his wife, Chirlane McCray — but none for their children, although they are mentioned twice.
Asked by THE CITY whether Dante will be working or volunteering on his father’s presidential campaign, campaign spokeswoman Olivia Lapeyrolerie said the young man is “still figuring out his next steps.” Dante recently returned from a tour of Asia with friends, she added.
A Memorable Ad
Many New Yorkers were first introduced to Dante in the August 2013 ad in which the then-15-year-old ticked off a series of proposals Bill de Blasio would enact if elected mayor.
“He’s the only one who will end a stop-and-frisk era that unfairly targets people of color. Bill de Blasio will be a mayor for every New Yorker no matter where they live or what they look like,” Dante says, before revealing he’s de Blasio’s son.
The 30-second spot was credited with helping de Blasio, then seen as a longshot candidate, win the Democratic primary and subsequently, the mayoralty.
Now, the secret weapon is apparently is being deployed again.
“He’s speaking to a national audience. We saw him six years ago, he spoke to voters citywide about his own experiences and now he’s speaking to a national audience,” said Rebecca Katz, a Democratic strategist and former de Blasio adviser.
But George Arzt, a longtime New York political strategist, doubted whether Dante’s involvement in his father’s presidential campaign would be nearly as much influential as it was in the 2013 Democratic primary for mayor.
“I don’t think it works here. It may work to get [Bill de Blasio] some more donations or higher polling numbers to get into the next round of debates. But it’s doubtful that there would be near the same impact,” Arzt told THE CITY.
An Encounter with Police
In his op-ed, Dante de Blasio describes frantically trying to figure out how to get into his friend’s apartment in an “affluent neighborhood” in San Francisco at 1 a.m. when a police cruiser arrived.
The only mention of New York in the op-ed is in a reference to Eric Garner, whose chokehold death at the hands of a Staten Island police officer captured on video set off protests around the country.
After a grand jury declined to indicict officer Daniel Pantaleo in December 2014, Bill de Blasio publicly said he discussed with Dante how he should act around police. The Police Benevolent Association— the union that represents NYPD cops — accused the mayor of fostering anti-police rhetoric.
The union did not immediately respond to request for comment on Dante de Blasio’s op-ed. Pantaleo, whose NYPD administrative trial ended last month, faces possible firing.
De Blasio has declined to say whether he’ll sack Pantaleo if Police Commissioner James O’Neill doesn’t.
Meanwhile, the mayor is steering into a debate he has shied away from at home since the police union backlash.
“It’s a very different dynamic when Dante himself can point to his own experience with police and situations that have happened that much more than rationalize the conversation,” said Neal Kwatra, a Democratic operative with previous ties to de Blasio.
Dante recounting his experience could help his father win over black voters, and his age could draw young voters, several political operatives told THE CITY.
“People have always considered Dante’s appeal far too narrowly. He offers a unique window into a wide swath of his dad’s values,” said Eric Phillips, de Blasio’s former press secretary. “His effect extends far beyond appealing only to black voters or millennials, or to the conversation over policing people of color. He’s super sharp, likable and knows his dad as well as anyone. His appeal goes far beyond a tradition constituency surrogate.”
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