New York Mayor Bill de Blasio jumped into the crowded White House race Thursday, defying hostile media and dismal polling numbers to cast himself as the Democrats’ best chance of unseating “con artist” Donald Trump in 2020.
The 23rd prospective Democratic challenger to Trump, de Blasio kicked off with a frontal attack on the Republican president, dubbing him “Con Don” for claiming he is on the side of working Americans.
“Donald Trump must be stopped,” he declared in a video announcing his candidacy. “I know how to take him on.”
De Blasio doubled down at a press conference. “He’s a con man, and we New Yorkers know a con man when we see one,” he said, adding: “we’re going to go right at him.”
The campaign “is about putting working people first,” the mayor said, highlighting his record in America’s most populous and diverse city.
Trump responded to the announcement by tweeting a video apparently shot on Air Force One in which he said a De Blasio win would “never happen.”
“I wish him luck, but really it would be better off if you got back to New York City and did your job for the little time you have left.”
Trump, who is visiting his hometown New York for the first time in months, had earlier in the day skewered De Blasio as “the worst mayor in the US.”
“He is a JOKE, but if you like high taxes & crime, he’s your man. NYC HATES HIM!” he wrote on Twitter.
De Blasio had been exploring a possible run for months, travelling to early voting states Iowa and South Carolina, both of which he said he would return to in the near future.
His campaign has so far been met with widespread derision, with polls giving former vice president Joe Biden a commanding lead among Democratic contenders, followed by liberal Senator Bernie Sanders.
Democratic polling for de Blasio has been particularly humbling at home.
An eye-popping 76 percent of New York City voters said de Blasio should not enter the 2020 race, according to a Quinnipiac University poll last month.
Local papers have taunted him for a lack of charisma and Thursday’s front page of the New York Post tabloid was particularly scathing: a photo montage of people laughing hysterically above the headline “De Blasio runs for president.”
De Blasio himself touts a string of accomplishments as mayor: he has introduced free universal pre-kindergarten and paid sick leave, and early this year he rolled out a plan to guarantee health care for all New Yorkers.
“What I bring is absolute total focus on putting people first. I have done it here,” said the 58-year-old, who was first elected in 2013 and was comfortably re-elected two years ago.
Yet despite the truism that the job of New York mayor is the second toughest in America after that of president, de Blasio — sometimes nicknamed “Big Bird” for his lanky, 6-foot, 5-inch (1.97-meter) frame — is one of the few people openly confident of his presidential chances.
Asked about the numbers during an ABC television interview early Thursday, de Blasio replied: “I think you’ll agree that the poll that actually matters is the election.”
Several protesters gathered outside the studio during that interview, and New York’s Police Benevolent Association released a scathing statement about de Blasio.
“It is laughable that a mayor who has shown no interest in running New York City for six years now says he wants to mismanage the entire country,” association president Patrick Lynch said.
De Blasio succeeded billionaire Michael Bloomberg on the promise of reducing the city’s glaring inequalities.
Since Trump came to power, de Blasio has denounced the president’s hardening of immigration policy and his decision to pull the United States out of the Paris climate accord.
“We must deal with global warming now,” de Blasio told ABC’s “Good Morning America,” pledging support for the Green New Deal, a proposal offered by progressive Democrats that would dramatically shift the United States away from fossil fuels toward renewable energy.
De Blasio is married to Chirlane McCray, an African-American woman who for decades identified as a lesbian.
He remains popular in the black community, but Hispanics are divided and whites mostly view him unfavorably.
Several current and former aides have spoken out in unusually harsh terms about his White House bid.
But the mayor, who likes to cast himself as a perpetual underdog, appears to have brushed off the criticism, confiding recently that the only advice that matters is his wife’s.