Republican mayoral candidate Paul Massey sought to again relaunch his campaign, with a visit today to Kissena Farms Kosher Supermarket in Flushing billed as part of a five day series of visits to the five boroughs “formally launch[ing]” his campaign. His visit included his third press conference and a cameo by Queens Republican County Chairman Bob Turner, but omitted typical elements of a campaign launch such as cheering supporters, family or a symbolically important backdrop.
Massey arrived early and stood smiling and chatting with Turner as shoppers moved past them. A few asked what was going on, but the majority rolled past pushing their cart and getting their list out. Massey and the store manager then did a lap of the outer aisles, chatting about the products they passed, the grocery business and the upcoming holidays. Massey greeted a few shoppers, but he mostly walked past them seemingly absorbed in his conversation with the store manager.
Completing his lap, Massey returned to front of the store for just over 10 minutes with the press. His opening statement was more subdued than some past appearances, lacking much of his usual anti-de Blasio vitriol. Perhaps driven by this being a “campaign launch” his remarks focused on discussing his background and preparation to be mayor.
Massey is out of sync with much of his party on some large current national issues, and his answers frequently evince an effort to coexist with those holding contrary views. Today’s press Q&A covered several of those national issues. Notably, Massey was ultimately more direct in responding to those questions, however, than to some New York City-centric questions.
Asked whether New York should be a “sanctuary city”, Massey first responded with his standard answer; that a national policy is necessary and that he will be part of developing that policy as mayor of the country’s largest city. He ultimately got to the core of his answer, given before, that’s not so popular among Republicans; that he supports the City’s current policy limiting City actions on turning over undocumented immigrants to the federal government. He was more direct on criticizing the Trump “travel ban”, saying that we need to move away from it as fast as we possibly can while maintaining law and order. He offered a direct “yes” on whether a path to citizenship should exist for undocumented immigrants. When asked whether he wished that President Trump had retained Preet Bharara, Massey praised Bharara and said that he hoped his successor will “get to the bottom” of what Massey clearly views as City Hall misdeeds, but did not directly answer.
Massey didn’t really address any of the New York City questions posed. When asked to give some specifics/numbers on a proposed property tax cut Massey mentioned the size of the City’s budget and the percentage funded via property taxes, but no other numbers or amounts of a possible cut, only offering that he would like to change the City’s “dependency” on property taxes and that he would like to “look at assessment programs.” When asked to analyze Mayor de Blasio’s recent jobs plan Massey touted his own business background but offered only generalized criticism of de Blasio and without mentioning the de Blasio jobs plan at all. Massey declared that the mayor has no record of job creation and that unemployment is slightly up. That doesn’t really capture reality, however. According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, private sector employment in the city was 186,000 higher in January 2017 than in December 2013, the month before de Blasio took office. The City’s unemployment rate was 4.5% in January, the lowest its been in decades.
This last item illustrates a large challenge for Massey; his candidacy needs to convince voters he’ll meaningful improve on the incumbent, but its tough to do when the City is doing well in major ways. Crime and the economy are the two largest pieces in that challenge, and vexing to all of de Blasio’s challengers and prospective challengers. Massey has harsh critiques of the mayor, including in this answer about de Blasio’s jobs plan (which has received a fair amount of actual criticism) declaring broadly that the mayor has three years of doing nothing for businesses large and small, that he has no record of job creation and that unemployment is slightly up. While its entirely possible that Massey could do better than de Blasio on any or all of those items he hasn’t yet figured out how to make that pitch without the premise that New York City is in terrible shape, a hell-hole. He also appears unversed in the details involved and the combination has often left him adrift. He has some significant strengths and potential as a candidate, but these gaps are, at this early stage, muting his pitch.
One final item – a reporter asked why Massey had chosen this supermarket in Flushing for what was billed as his campaign launch. It seemed like a fine store, but offered no connection to the candidate or readily apparent symbolism. Massey offered vague praise for Flushing and Queens as the home of “hardworking earnest people” and meanderingly praised his own business success and experience in neighborhoods throughout the city. As the son of a Woodside native I appreciate his Queens praise but his choice of venue remains puzzling.
Here is Massey’s full press conference: