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September 23, 2013 8:24 AM The Bloom Is Off the Rose

By Martin Longman

On the one hand, Javier Hernandez’s piece on Bill de Blasio in the New York Times appears to be factual. On the other hand, it reads like a real hatchet job. Sometimes, I guess, the truth hurts. Or, at least, the truth has the potential to hurt. Is New York City ready for a mayor who was such an admirer of Nicaragua’s Sandinista party that he raised money for them and subscribed to their newsletter? A mayor who was as likely to quote Karl Marx or Bob Marley as he was to quote FDR?

Bill de Blasio studied Latin America at Columbia University, and when he graduated he took a job paying $12,000/yr at the Quixote Center in Maryland.

The center, founded by Catholic leaders, officially did not take sides in the Nicaraguan dispute, though much of its aid went to help families sympathetic to the Sandinistas. And its work was intensely political. One of the center’s leaders once likened American efforts in Nicaragua to a “policy of terrorism,” and its harshest critics accused it of hewing to a Marxist agenda. In the mid-1980s, the Treasury Department investigated whether the center had helped smuggle guns, but the claim was never substantiated, and the group’s leaders said the inquiry was politically motivated.

I’m beginning to better understand why the bankers are terrified of a de Blasio mayorship. The Times article is only going to add to their sense of dread. Mr. Hernandez helpfully reminds us that “the Sandinistas…received weapons from the Soviet Union and supplies from Cuba” and that American leaders feared that their revolution would spread to the rest of Latin America. Hernandez repeats the allegation that the Sandanistas’ supporters were more interested in undermining President Reagan’s presidency than they were in helping the poor and notes they were often called “Communists, traitors, radicals.”

From the first paragraph, you can tell the piece isn’t overly interested in being nice to Mr. de Blasio. Mr. Hernandez calls him a “scruffy young man” who “was tall and sometimes goofy, known for his ability to mimic a goose’s honk.” Later on, he notes that “his colleagues likened him to “Big Bird with a beard””. These details are probably unnecessary, and they aren’t balanced out with any positive anecdotes. Mr. Hernandez makes sure to tell us that Mr. de Blasio and his wife honeymooned in Cuba, despite a State Department travel ban. The article describes de Blasio as being part of a “ragtag team of peace activists, Democrats, Marxists and anarchists.”

Even the end of the article strikes a nasty note. In 1990, Mr. de Blasio took a job as a low-level aide in Mayor David Dinkins’ administration.

Over time, he became more focused on his city job, and using the tools of government to effect change. The answering machine messages stopped changing. He no longer attended meetings about Nicaragua.
His friends in the solidarity movement were puzzled. At a meeting early in 1992, Mr. de Blasio was marked absent. A member scribbled a note next to his name: “Must be running for office.”

For those of us old enough to remember the Cold War, this article is filled with charged words: Soviets, Cubans, communists, liberation theology, Sandanistas, Contras, radicals, Marxists, Karl Marx, anarchists, peace activists, social democrats…

For those too young to be stung by such language, they are reminded that in 1991 de Blasio “spoke of a need to understand and build alliances with Islam, predicting it would soon be a dominant force in politics.”

For a while, it seemed like the Gray Lady had a crush on Bill de Blasio. With this piece today, I think we can agree that the bloom is off the rose.

I don’t think the country, or the New York City electorate, is ready to re-litigate America’s Cold War policies in Latin America. When the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union subsequently collapsed, we forgot about the rigorous debate we were having. Poppy Bush pardoned the worst Iran-Contra offenders on Christmas Eve in 1992, and we haven’t looked back.

But, for those of us who lived through the last decade of the Cold War, seeing New York shift from Mayor Bloomberg to Mayor de Blasio is enough to give us whiplash.

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