De Blasio’s Guevara Lesson: What He Says in New York Should Stay in New York – The New York Times

In his tenure as mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio has been known to adopt the patter of the proletariat, often calling out to union leaders and their followers as “brothers and sisters.”

He is also prone to repeating some of his remarks in Spanish, and peppering his speeches with Spanish phrases.

“Somos siempre Nueva York,” the mayor said in a November 2016 speech, not long after President Trump’s election. “I want you to say it with me — we are always New York. Somos siempre Nueva York.”

But as Mr. de Blasio travels the country pursuing his long-shot presidential hopes, he may find that those tendencies do not always translate outside the liberal bubble of New York City.

On Thursday, Mr. de Blasio quoted the Latin American revolutionary Che Guevara at a labor rally in Miami, offending the local anti-Castro Cuban community.

He later apologized and said that he did not know the Spanish phrase he used — “hasta la victoria siempre,” or “ever onward to victory” — was closely associated with Guevara, Fidel Castro’s close ally during the Cuban revolution in the 1950s.

The gaffe undermined the progress Mr. de Blasio had made Wednesday night, when he made a generally well-regarded showing in the first Democratic presidential debate.

On Friday, Mr. de Blasio returned home to his day job, to hold a news conference defending abortion rights in the face of Trump administration efforts to curb them.

He told reporters that he did not think that better preparation could have saved him from committing the faux pas in Miami.

“Of course I know about the history of Florida and the Cuban community there,” he said. “I just didn’t know the phrase was associated with Che Guevara, wouldn’t have used it if I knew that.

“But there’s no amount of briefing that could say, ‘Oh by the way, if you’re thinking of using this phrase, please don’t,’” he continued. “How is someone supposed to read my mind to know that that’s just a phrase that fit the moment, which I was telling these striking workers, ‘Keep fighting til you win.’”

Mr. de Blasio, who declared his candidacy just last month, still has a bare-bones campaign operation, and some observers wondered if that had made him more susceptible to tripping up.

“The issue of being aware of your surroundings and being aware of what you’re walking into is an important aspect of campaigning,” said Melissa Mark-Viverito, the former City Council speaker who was in Miami for the Democratic debates.

Ms. Mark-Viverito was a close ally of the mayor as speaker, but has been critical of his decision to run for president, saying that New Yorkers who voted for him expected him to dedicate his full attention to the job of mayor.

“These are two big tasks, running the largest city in the country, with all the complexities and challenges there, and running for president of the United States,” she said. “And if you don’t have a full campaign infrastructure that’s going to help you be effective in that work, he’s going to fall into traps, and that’s what happened here.”

At the news conference on Friday, held at the city-run Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan, it was sometimes hard to tell where the campaign trail ended and the job of mayor began.

Mr. de Blasio stood before a group of doctors in white coats; a large sign behind him read, “Protect Full Reproductive Care.” The mayor said that the timing of the event — coming after the debate, as he was trying to raise money for his campaign — had nothing to do with his presidential run, even though the topic was a hot-button one for Democratic primary voters, and even though he fielded a bevy of questions at the event about his presidential hopes.

“I have no problem seeing the line,” Mr. de Blasio said at the news conference, referring to the line between campaign events and city government activities. He argued, as he often has before, that his duties and experience as a busy executive qualify him to run for president.

“The demands on this nation right now are such that we’d be much better if we have a proven chief executive as president,” he said. “We’ve tried having an unproven chief executive and it hasn’t worked out so well.”

More than many of the other Democratic candidates, Mr. de Blasio may operate inside a liberal safe space, surrounded by supporters in the labor movement and on the left. But even at home, he has gotten into trouble for what could be seen as reflexive support for left-wing causes.

In 2017, he became caught up in a controversy when a Puerto Rican nationalist, Oscar López Rivera, was invited to march in the annual Puerto Rican Day Parade. Mr. López had been a leader of a radical group responsible for a campaign of bombings in the 1970s and 1980s that killed at least five people and injured scores, including several New York City police officers.

A close aide to the mayor was involved in organizing the parade and Mr. de Blasio initially said he would march — but ultimately only did so on the condition that Mr. López withdraw. (Ms. Mark-Viverito was a staunch supporter of Mr. López.)

But even here, Mr. de Blasio did not escape criticism for his Guevara reference.

“As a Cuban-American I find it offensive,” said Nicole Malliotakis, the Republican assemblywoman who ran against him for mayor in 2017, and whose mother was born in Cuba. “Che Guevara is someone who destroyed the lives of many Cuban-Americans and families like mine.”

Ms. Malliotakis, who is from Staten Island and is running for a congressional seat there, said that his remarks showed a general Democratic misperception of the Hispanic electorate, and she predicted that the left-leaning policies of the party’s candidates would not win converts there.

“What Democrats fail to understand is that many Latin Americans here in the United States fled socialist policies, and when they start trying to mimic these revolutionaries, it’s very scary.”

It turned out that it was not the first time the mayor had used the phrase; he uttered it at a 2013 mayoral candidates’ forum. It went largely unremarked upon.