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Bill de Blasio, the Democratic mayor of New York City, announced on Thursday that he was running for president, seeking to show that his brand of urban progressive leadership can be a model for the rest of the nation.
It will be a steep challenge: He becomes the 23rd Democrat to enter the presidential race, and he does so against the counsel of many of his trusted advisers, and in the face of two centuries of history.
No sitting mayor has been elected to the presidency, and if Mr. de Blasio is to be the first, he must overcome daunting deficits in polls and fund-raising.
His announcement, in a three-minute video titled “Working People First,” comes after months of groundwork that has included visits to early presidential primary states, a fund-raiser in Boston and a circuslike news conference this week in the lobby of Trump Tower.
In precampaign stops in Iowa, South Carolina and New Hampshire, Mr. de Blasio, 57, has said that the country is witnessing “the dawning of a new progressive era,” and said in interviews that his leadership in New York should be seen as a model for how “you can make profound progressive change and make it quickly.”
He is fond of citing his “pre-K for all” program as a prime example; it was one of Mr. de Blasio’s earliest initiatives, and it remains his largest success. He also highlights various measures to attempt to reduce income inequality in the city, and to end the policing practice of stop-question-and-frisk, which a federal judge ruled discriminated against black and Latino men.
“All of the things I’ve told you, they’re happening,” the mayor said last month at the National Action Network’s annual convention. “They’re not words, they’re deeds. They’re happening here. They can happen all over this country.”
Mr. de Blasio plans to fly to Iowa on Thursday night. He will campaign there on Friday and then visit South Carolina for campaign stops on Saturday and Sunday.
Mr. de Blasio often says that he has a “story to tell” about New York’s accomplishments, but his own narrative is also compelling. He was born Warren Wilhelm Jr. to a German-American father and an Italian-American mother; his father, a veteran who struggled with alcoholism, later killed himself. His relationship with his father was strained, and Mr. de Blasio eventually took his mother’s last name.
Raised in Massachusetts, Mr. de Blasio attended New York University, and became a leftist activist who admired Nicaragua’s ruling Sandinista party. He later ran campaigns for Hillary Clinton and Charles B. Rangel, and then ran for office himself, winning elections to become a New York City councilman, public advocate and mayor.
He is married to Chirlane McCray, who has spearheaded ThriveNYC, the city’s mental health initiative; they have two children and their biracial family’s prominence, particularly their son Dante’s Afro, played a large role in his 2013 campaign for mayor.
Some of Mr. de Blasio’s colleagues have scoffed at the idea of him becoming president, and have urged him to abandon his exploration of occupying the White House and instead focus on a bevy of nagging issues in New York City such as crumbling public housing, high levels of homelessness and problem-plagued subways. Mr. de Blasio said that many of the answers for what ails the city actually lies 200 miles beyond its borders in the nation’s capital.
“I am concerned that I think right now our federal government is not helping New York City in a whole host of ways and we’re being hurt all the time by bad policies in Washington,” Mr. de Blasio said at a news conference last month. He cited the lack of a national infrastructure plan and fractured health care policies. “So real changes are needed in our country,” he said. “If they don’t happen, New York City continues to suffer.”
The mayor will have to make up a huge fund-raising disadvantage as he builds out a campaign staff, and close a seemingly insurmountable gap in polls. In a Monmouth University poll last month, Mr. de Blasio had a net favorability of zero: 24 percent like him, 24 percent do not like him. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont is the only candidate with a higher unfavorability number, 26 percent, but his favorability rate was 67 percent.
Mr. de Blasio seemed undaunted, saying that if he had listened to the polls he would have never run for mayor or public advocate.
Mr. de Blasio joins a crowded field that already includes two other current mayors: Pete Buttigieg, of South Bend, Ind., and Wayne Messam of Miramar, Fla.
The mayor who came closest to the presidency was from New York City: DeWitt Clinton, who won his party’s endorsement but lost to James Madison in 1812. The last sitting mayor of New York who tried to run for president was John V. Lindsay in 1972; Rudolph W. Giuliani, who left City Hall in 2002, unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination in 2008.
In fact, it has been nearly a century since any New York City mayor went on to be elected to any office; the last was Ardolph Loges Kline, who was acting mayor in 1913, and served a term in the House of Representatives from 1921 to 1923.
Nonetheless, being mayor of America’s largest city does offer built-in visibility and stature, and Mr. de Blasio has used his platform to try to push the Democratic Party toward embracing his vision as it looks to dislodge President Trump from the White House in 2020.
But along the way, Mr. de Blasio has made missteps. He has faced investigations and criticism for his fund-raising tactics. State and federal prosecutors investigated his practices but declined to bring charges, although federal investigators found a pattern in which Mr. de Blasio or his associates solicited contributions from donors seeking favors from the city, and then contacted city agencies on their behalf.
In April, the mayor held a fund-raiser in Boston hosted by Suffolk Construction, a company that is aggressively trying to extend its footprint in the city.
He also angered some national Democratic Party leaders by withholding his endorsement of Mrs. Clinton for months, even though he had been her campaign manager during her successful first run for the United States Senate in New York in 2000.
He began to make clear indications of his own ambition earlier this year, appearing at the United States Conference of Mayors in Washington in January, embracing the underdog narrative that he rode to victory in 2013 when he became mayor.
“I have spent a lot of time in dead last in many a poll in many a race,” Mr. de Blasio said in an interview then. “It’s not where you start. It’s where you end.”
The following month, the mayor visited Iowa, his fourth trip to the state since he became mayor in 2014. That trip was to have followed a visit to New Hampshire, which was postponed after a New York Police Department detective was killed in the line of duty — demonstrating the difficulty of running for president while handling the responsibilities of a big-city mayor.
It was not long before Mr. de Blasio was on the road again, traveling to South Carolina and completing the planned trip to New Hampshire with his wife. He also visited Nevada and spoke to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in March, even as other Democratic hopefuls declined to do so.