New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio Thursday announced a two-part plan to inject the issue of income inequality into the 2016 presidential race — and specifically called on Hillary Clinton to address the issue as part of her likely campaign.
"If she becomes a candidate I absolutely believe she needs to address this issue," he said when asked if this effort was an attempt to pressure Clinton to take on the issue. "We as a group will come out with a template in the next month — it has got to be on the front burner as an issue."
De Blasio, who gathered national progressive leaders Thursday at his residence, Gracie Mansion, is among the Democrats wrestling with the question of how to pull their party to the left without the mechanism that traditionally keeps politicians faithful to their bases: The competitive primary. The nation's most prominent progressive, Elizabeth Warren, has said repeatedly she won't run for president. And so progressive leaders hope they can make her engage with their ideas — even if none of them will challenge her for the nomination.
De Blasio said Tuesday income inequality is not a partisan issue and will invite all the declared presidential candidates to a presidential forum they will sponsor.
"One of the things that unites us all is a belief that the issue of income inequality is a profound threat to this country and its future, we are experiencing growing divisions that must be addressed and must be addressed in our national discussions," he said.
"We intend to bring together at first dozens and then hundreds of leaders who agree we must address income inequality, then we will say to the candidates, 'It's time to respond."
Flanking the mayor were several progressive leaders, including Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy, Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, Van Jones, Rep. Raul Grijalva of the progressive and Hispanic caucuses, and former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland. De Blasio said a much larger group of progressives leaders will convene in Washington DC in May to sign a document outlining their stance on how to address income inequality, which he framed as similar to the Republicans 1994 Contract With America.
The mayor said Republicans like Mitt Romney, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio have been right to increasingly engage on the issue of income inequality, but he said he doesn't take them seriously when he doesn't see policy prescriptions to go along with the talk. And while it might seem unlikely that group of liberals will be able to get any traction from Republicans on an issue on their terms, de Blasio said he believes that America is going through a transformative time on the issue.
"The day we meet, McDonalds decides to raise the minimum wage," he said. "Something is happening on the ground, and the political leadership better do something, because it's already happening."
Malloy framed the effort as pro-poor, not anti-rich.
"I don't resent the rich getting richer," he said. "But I don't want to live in a society where the poor get poorer and the middle class is out of reach."
At the press conference, de Blasio was asked what he would say to New Yorkers who may wonder why he is focusing on national issues instead of local ones and whether he is eyeing higher office.
"I intend to run for reelection as mayor of New York City. But if we don't change national policies we can not serve our people the way we should," he said, noting that affordable housing, mass transit and infrastructure issues are areas where the federal government can take the lead.