Bill de Blasio, the Democratic candidate in the New York City mayoral race, is way ahead in the polls, despite his allegedly radical credentials. Earlier this week, the New York Times ran a story on his support for the Sandinista revolution in the 1980s and a trip he made to Nicaragua in 1988.
De Blasio was a relatively late arrival on the scene. I went on the first solidarity tour from the UK in 1984, by which time the trail south from the US was well established. De Blasio’s ten-day visit included the city where I now live, Masaya, where he went to a health clinic supported by the Quixote Center, the Catholic social justice organisation he was working for at the time. In a speech at the end of last year, he made a comparison between the Sandinistas’ wish to bring healthcare to everyone, despite a chronic lack of resources, and the current difficulty of doing that in a city as rich as New York.
The New York Times spiced up this fairly innocuous story with the claim that Reagan’s Treasury Department investigated the Quixote Center for gun smuggling, although ‘the claim was never substantiated’. The Times didn’t say that the centre earned this attention because of its efforts to counter Reagan’s support for the Contras: its ‘Quest for Peace’ aimed to raise as much in humanitarian aid for Nicaragua as the US government was spending on trying to topple the Sandinista government.
According to the Times, de Blasio returned from his ten days in Nicaragua with a ‘vision of the possibilities of an unfettered leftist government’, but ‘omitted’ details of his early activism from his campaign website. The paper also dug up a 23-year-old quote in which he advocated ‘democratic socialism’.
The next day, the Times reported that de Blasio ‘came under attack’ from his rivals after the first article. The Republican candidate, Joseph Lhota, criticised de Blasio for supporting the Sandinistas during the ‘cold war’, when the Nicaraguans ‘were fighting Americans as well as capitalism’. The Republican right has piled in too, trying to link de Blasio’s support for Nicaragua with anti-Semitism and, extending the fantasy further, to his supposed quiescence in attacks on Manhattan synagogues by Muslim extremists. The Independent candidate Adolfo Carrión Jr said de Blasio was ‘propping up a brutal dictatorship’. The Times would never use such language itself, though in the original piece it observed: ‘Communists, traitors, radicals: many epithets were levelled against the American supporters of the revolutionary Nicaraguan government.’
Ten days ago, the Times reported that the Democrat had a ‘huge lead’ in the polls, with support from 65 per cent of likely voters. Perhaps the paper felt a need to level the playing field.