De Blasio climate drives away talent: No inspiration from the top

Climate change policy took center stage in the latest misadventure commonly known as de Blasio for President. The candidate actively touted two signature policy accomplishments — divesting $5 billion in city pension funds from fossil fuels and doubling city investments in climate solutions. The problem is, neither policy has actually ever happened. Yes, de Blasio has proposed both ideas, but that’s all they are: ideas.

De Blasio critics — of which I’m one — are chalking up the latest mishap to the mayor’s tendency to lie whenever convenient. That may be the case, but it’s also possible that the explanation for constant screwups on the campaign trail is a lot simpler: you can’t run anything well when you can’t attract talent. Knowing this mayor and his approach to hiring, management and workplace culture, it’s entirely possible that his campaign team truly didn’t think to verify statements before making them. In other words, you can’t run a functional campaign — or a high functioning city — when you can’t hire good people to do the work. That’s true for politics and it’s true for government.

If you made a list of the top 100 things Mike Bloomberg did as mayor (disclosure: I worked for Mayor Bloomberg at City Hall and ran his 2009 campaign), I’m not sure that Mike personally thought of any of them. But by spending so much of his time hiring the best people possible for every job completely independent of politics, requiring them to do the same when staffing their agencies, and then creating a culture of support for big ideas — even if some of those ideas failed — allowed all hundred accomplishments (and hundreds more) to happen.

Running the City of New York, just like running a legitimate presidential campaign, isn’t the result of the herculean efforts of one ultra-talented leader. It happens because the leader is able to recruit and retain thousands of talented people who see their jobs as more than just a paycheck and political payback for whatever favors they did for the candidate. If all hires are based on political connections, if the boss constantly throws his staff under the bus, if there’s not a culture of innovation and hard work, what do you think happens? No one wants to stay on a sinking ship, let alone choose to board one.

As the candidates for mayor in 2021 start to emerge, there’s a lot they can learn from the failures of this administration:

First: If you don’t love the job, no one supremely talented will want to work for you. De Blasio hates being mayor and that makes it virtually impossible to attract good candidates.

Second: With de Blasio’s approval ratings falling in the latest Siena College poll even among his longtime base of support — African American voters — the candidate who appears the least like de Blasio in 2021 will have a tremendous advantage. The more voters perceive you as hard-working, ethical, dedicated and focused, the more they’ll turn your way.

Third, but most importantly, if you want to actually be a good mayor, you have to focus on talent. You have to actively recruit the best candidates for each job in the administration regardless of their politics or their party. You have to demand your commissioners do the same. You have to demonstrate that your administration is an exciting, rewarding place to work. You have to demonstrate loyalty to your team and you have to inspire them to come up with big ideas and work 70 hours a week even if they’re only being paid to work 35.

Sure, de Blasio’s campaign team probably knew they were lying when they started claiming credit for climate change policies that never happened. But when you can’t attract or keep talent, you put yourself in an impossible position, every time. Some mistakes are sins of omission. Some are sins of commission. But either way, the only outcome is failure.

Basil Apostolo