[What you need to know to start the day: Get New York Today in your inbox.]
On a recent midmorning, Mayor Bill de Blasio emerged from his leisurely workout routine at the Prospect Park Y.M.C.A. in Brooklyn, only to be greeted by the sight of two men bounding toward him from across the street.
“Don’t do it!” they shouted. Shielded by his security detail, Mr. de Blasio ignored the men and stepped into a waiting black minivan that raced away.
The two men are behind fliers placed around the Y.M.C.A. urging Mr. de Blasio not to do something that he has been publicly mulling since January — run for president. “By entering these premises you agree not to run for President of the United States in 2020 or in any future presidential race,” one flier read.
Mr. de Blasio has held multiple fund-raisers for his political action committee, traveled to four early presidential primary states and conducted polling in Iowa. He said he would decide this month, after consulting with his family, whether or not to join more than 20 other candidates in seeking the Democratic nomination for president.
Mr. de Blasio has said his work in New York City, from universal prekindergarten to paid sick leave and an increase in the minimum wage, can serve as a model for the nation.
“I have never run for anything without intending to win” he said at an unrelated news conference last week. “And you can look at my track record. I was an underdog in everything I’ve ever been near. I’m not saying that with any hubris.”
Whether the mayor can make his case to a national audience is uncertain; polls in early primary states suggest that the task may be monumentally difficult. What seems clearer is where New Yorkers stand on his chances.
An April poll from Quinnipiac University found that 76 percent of New York City voters– believed that Mr. de Blasio should not run for president; 47 percent of voters said it would be bad for New York City should he decide to run.
“Nah, he should run the city,” said John Mays, 78, a retired warehouse worker who was out near Mr. de Blasio’s favorite Y.M.C.A., shopping for a Mother’s Day gift for his wife. “He’s a good guy, though. He’s good for mayor, and that’s about it.”
Victoria Braxton, 42, a teacher, was waiting for a bus not far from Mr. de Blasio’s regular coffee shop, Colson Patisserie. Mr. de Blasio should be focusing on things such as class-size reduction and affordable housing, she said.
“It’s a distraction from running the city,” Ms. Braxton said about Mr. de Blasio’s presidential aspirations before climbing onto the B61 bus. “It’s going to be a tough election. If he doesn’t have the support in New York, what’s going to happen in other states?”
William T. Cunningham, who served as communications director for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, pointed out that New York City mayors have not had much success extrapolating their local popularity to higher office.
“In this case, the mayor’s contemplating running and everybody’s like, ‘Please don’t,’” said Mr. Cunningham, who has worked on several presidential campaigns, including for Jimmy Carter, John Anderson and Bill Bradley. “You would think the New Yorkers who don’t really like him would say, ‘Please do,’ but even they say, ‘Please don’t.’ It’s like, ‘We don’t need them thinking even worse about New York than they already do.’”
The anticipation of a de Blasio 2020 campaign is not much higher outside New York City. The mayor polled at 1 percent in two polls in March, two-thirds of what he would need to qualify for the first Democratic debate in June. But Mr. de Blasio polls at zero percent in many polls, and his name is not listed in others.
Taylor Blair, who was until recently the president of the Iowa State University College Democrats, was among those who received a polling call from Mr. de Blasio’s potential campaign in May.
He was asked 25 specific questions seeking to find which parts of the mayor’s record might engender support. Beyond the paid poll, Mr. Blair said, he has heard little discussion of Mr. de Blasio.
“No one is out here talking like, ‘Oh, I hope Bill de Blasio runs. He’d be my guy,’” he said.
Even the advisers who helped Mr. de Blasio win City Hall are not backing a presidential run.
Mike Casca, who formerly worked on Senator Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign and in his office, was hired to be Mr. de Blasio’s communications director. After volunteering for several months for Fairness PAC, the political action committee that the mayor is using to fund his trips, Mr. Casca left his City Hall job to work directly for the PAC last month — only to leave that job last week.
A person familiar with discussions around the PAC said Mr. Casca had originally told Mr. de Blasio that he would help get the committee off the ground, but he came to the conclusion that the mayor should not run for president and told him that he would not stay around for a possible campaign.
Emma Wolfe, Mr. de Blasio’s chief of staff, is not involved in his exploratory efforts. Neither are most of the political consultants Mr. de Blasio named as agents of the city, advisers whose advice was so valued that the mayor argued his communications with them should be shielded from public view.
Various city politicians, including three who would like to succeed Mr. de Blasio, share in New Yorkers’ skepticism.
Asked if there was a New Yorker who he thought should run for president, Corey Johnson, the speaker of the City Council who is exploring a run for mayor in 2021, said, “I love Lady Gaga.”
The city has “really big, outstanding issues that require tremendous attention,” Mr. Johnson added.
Scott M. Stringer, the city comptroller, said that Mr. de Blasio had a “right to political ambition,” but that New Yorkers deserved more than an absentee mayor.
“People know that at any given moment in New York City, something could happen,” said Mr. Stringer, who will run for mayor in 2021. “Our town is the center of the universe. You can’t be in the cornfields of Iowa. You have to be on the streets.”
And Eric L. Adams, the Brooklyn borough president who is running for mayor, called the job “a training ground for high pressure jobs. And being president is a high pressure job.” But was he endorsing Mr. de Blasio’s potential campaign?
“I am endorsing his right to run,” Mr. Adams said.
Mr. de Blasio’s monthslong will-he-or-won’t-he act is reminiscent of the musings over a possible presidential run by Mario M. Cuomo, who was New York’s governor from 1983 to 1994, for which he became known as Hamlet on the Hudson.
William O’Shaughnessy, a radio station owner and Republican who was a longtime friend of Mr. Cuomo, said the governor told him that he hesitated in part because he was not able to persuade himself that he was the best possible person to become president. Mr. de Blasio, by contrast, has suggested that if Americans got to know him, they would see how highly qualified he was for the job.
“Mario’s indecision and reluctance was genuine, was real and came out of his magnificent soul,” Mr. O’Shaughnessy said. “I’ve never seen that from de Blasio.” He added, “I’m not saying he’s not struggling.”
Shane Goldmacher contributed reporting.