The Politics of Bill de Blasio’s Iran Watchlist

How the public advocate used foreign policy while readying his mayoral bid

Friday, October 11, 2013

After accepting the endorsement of Queens Democrats, mayoral hopeful Bill de Blasio described his activism in Nicaragua as part of his "life's work" to reduce inequality. (Anna Sale/WNYC)

As New York City’s Public Advocate, Bill de Blasio led organizing campaigns around a multitude of city issues – from stop and frisk to tenants’ rights. But in March 2012, de Blasio also made an unusual foray into foreign policy when he launched an online campaign targeting car companies that did business with Iran.

It was called the Iran Watchlist and it was the only foreign policy platform de Blasio took on as public advocate. It was also politically advantageous. The move bolstered de Blasio's support in a politically-active Jewish community, and it presented an opportunity to take on the Bloomberg Administration, a strategy that took off in his mayoral bid.

On the day de Blasio unveiled the watchlist, he appeared on NY1 where host Errol Louis posed the obvious question: “Tell us why a city official is getting involved with foreign policy.”

“The bottom-line is Iran is the state-sponsor of terrorism that is most active in the world and we sadly are the number one target,” de Blasio said. He explained that it wasn’t enough for the U.S. government to have sanctions against Iran. Consumers here in New York City could also make an impact by boycotting car companies that sell their vehicles in the Islamic Republic.

The campaign was a joint effort between the public advocate’s office and Iran 180, a coalition organized by the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York (JCRC), and United Against a Nuclear Iran (UANI), a nonprofit advocacy group aimed at preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Before de Blasio met with leaders from these organizations, he ran the idea past an old friend and political strategist with deep ties in the city’s Jewish community.

“This was sort part of an ongoing dialogue about some of the goals, some of his goals as public advocate and some of the things he wanted to achieve,” said Matthew Hiltzik, the founder of the strategic communications and consulting firm Hiltzik Strategies.

De Blasio and Hiltzik became friends 13 years ago while working together on Hillary Clinton’s first Senate campaign. Hiltzik oversaw outreach to Jewish voters while de Blasio was the campaign manager.

In a review of de Blasio's 2012 public schedule, when he met with Hiltzik in January 2012, the subject listed is simply “media.” But Hiltzik confirmed that the conversation was about the Iran Watchlist. After that meeting, de Blasio arranged calls with leaders of local Jewish organizations explicitly about the list.

Hindy Poupko with the JCRC and Iran 180 said the groups welcomed the support.

"There is a long-standing tradition of New York elected officials getting involved in both national and international issues," Poupko said. "We believe this is very consistent with that tradition."

Localizing the Iran Watchlist with the Taxi of Tomorrow

A week after launching the Iran Watchlist, de Blasio gave his global boycott a more local target. He and Assemblyman Dov Hikind stood outside the New York City Autoshow to protest the city’s selection of the Nissan NV-200 for the Taxi of Tomorrow, a 10-year contract worth an estimated $1 billion. Nissan is one of the car makers on the Iran Watchlist and it was set to unveil its design at the auto show. De Blasio tweeted this photo illustration of the now former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the front seat.



The future of the Taxi of Tomorrow is up in air now that a judge has struck down the city's plan. But De Blasio’s early opposition to the Nissan taxi has already paid off for him. Two major players from the taxi industry who also opposed the plan were among the biggest bundlers in de Blasio’s mayoral campaign. Jean Barrett, executive director of the Metro Taxi Board of Trade, raised $49,000 from 41 donors. Evgeny Freidman, president of the Taxi Club, raised $49,450 from 11 donors.

But Friedman says he backs de Blasio for more than his position on taxi issues.

"I think Bill de Blasio gets a lot of credit just as a man, as a politician for standing up for what he believes in," said Friedman. "I think that you have to respect the man."

A Mayor With A Foreign Policy?

De Blasio continued his tough talk against the Iranian regime outside the United Nations last month at a press conference organized by JCRC. Alongside other elected officials, de Blasio praised the effectiveness of U.S. sanctions arguing that it led to “a different message coming out of Iran.”

“As everyone has said, rightfully, we won’t be fooled by pretty words until we see fundamental changes in policy, until we see Iran move decisively from the acquisition of nuclear weapons,” said de Blasio.

Later that same day, when asked whether a mayor should have a foreign policy, de Blasio gave a more measured response, referencing his days as a community organizer in the Dinkins Administration.

“As you know I spent four years working in the mayor’s office, I’m very familiar with that fact that we are one of the centers of this world and therefore a lot of issues come up in New York City that have international ramifications,” explained de Blasio, adding, “but our focus is on the people and the neighborhood’s of this city and that’s where we have a lot of work to do.”


Julianne Welby


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Comments [5]

Augustbrhm from Jamaica

America has without doubt is the cradle of jackass politicans not any knows the world outside their country such a decrepied coterie of fools of unimaginable proportions

Oct. 12 2013 08:30 PM
Ray Santos from New Jersey

Bill de Blasio is another Israeli firster just like our representative from N.J. Menendez or Linsey Graham who are opportunisics and sell their sole for a buck. May I remind everyone that of 21 hijaackers in 9-11, 19 were from Saudi Arabia (which we purchase 8 million barrel of Oil every day) and 2 from Eygpt which we provide $2billion of aid each year. By the way, the Israeli's were dancing and cheering during building collapes (see youtube videos) and also Israel is currently training and funding Al Queda in Syria and Iraq. The same Al Queda that was killing American soldiers in Iraq up to 2011 and no killing civilians and inoncent people. The two organizations listed in this article (Jewish Community Relations Council of New York (JCRC), and United Against a Nuclear Iran (UANI) are part of greater organizations that spy on Americans and are involved in Mis information and terror fundings. They should be investigated. As for Nissan (Japanese company) selling taxi will only benefit America and nothing more. This is again a disinformation campaign for the benefit of Israel and not America.

Oct. 12 2013 08:23 PM
new yorker from nyc

9-11-2001 was an attack on the city of new york

Perpetrated by SUNNI TERRORIST!


but at the moment the policy of israel is to back sunni terrorist to fight their shia enemies.

so your politicians will exploit your tragedy lie about who was behind it all the while providing material, money and weapons to actual al qaeda.

if you don't like iran you should'nt have spent the past ten years installing iran in power in iraq.

scum of the earth.

Oct. 12 2013 07:57 AM
chuck from UWS

lets hope he can improve on Mikes B incredeile record of 1/3 yes 1/3 of school kids at or above their reading and math skills statewide

Not closing any more red crosses like he did on west 74th rezone it mike the knife

got rid of our Library right next door thanks Mike

Got rid of St Vincents and 19 other hospital.. You want a tea Party shutdown? look no further Mike and Me are living the dream

covered up and lied about 9/11 and great recserrion

NYPD spent millions on demographics and special CIA chief.. couldn't catch one bad guy..and spied on millions

Mike B and his 100 million dollar penthouse guiness book of NY records
making NY affordabelee for middle class oh and lets not forget 1 millon dollar price tags for gheeto apartments in Bushwick..

murder and not guilty of police shootings verdict in all cases

killing the minimum wage and convininving New Yorkers that a third term was necessary for what

Blowing off all my FOIL requests.. and ofcourse illegally stalking me for 10 years and profiling me slandering me

The biggest legacy we have is the bending of law to fit his vision looking for loopholes and like letting coops work at nighclubs procuring ussy because they technically work for a contractor not the night club

Mike B also raised many years the number of medallions in manhattan and we all see the horrible traffic jams it produces.

Rezoned 1/3 of manhattan with Amanda burden and seth pinsky for his friends at ABNY

Brooklyn Bridge 1 housing complex

Next time they want to rezone let the rest of us get something out of it m
suggestrion . Willets point housing complex for new immegarnstf from former soviet union and some other immegrants everything this mayor does is to fool people he isn't thew meanest most horrible snob in the world and to help his rich UES friends

Oct. 12 2013 05:26 AM
Sandra Pezzulli from Manhattan

Taking photos in a museum is definitely crass, distracting, and interferes with the simple pleasure of others who are there to look at pictures.

Oct. 11 2013 08:40 AM

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