New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has had his fair share of gaffes since he took office two years ago, but they may pale in comparison to his latest public faux pas.
During an appearance alongside “Hamilton” cast member Leslie Odom Jr. and Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton at a black tie event with influential journalists and politicos in the Big Apple this past Saturday, the mayor was teased for taking his sweet time to endorse the former New York senator.
“Thanks for the endorsement, Bill,” Clinton quipped. “Took you long enough.”
To which de Blasio replied: “Sorry, Hillary, I was running on C.P. time.” An audience member can be heard shouting – “No!” – after the line was delivered and was met with only a smattering of chuckles. The term “C.P. time” refers to the racially insensitive term “colored people’s time,” which has perpetuated the stereotype that African-Americans are lazy, unreliable and often late to appointments.
According to the New York Times’ account, Odom Jr., who appeared to be in on the bit said, “That’s not — I don’t like jokes like that, Bill.” And Clinton added: “Cautious politician time. I’ve been there.”
The mayor’s use of the phrase could be considered ironic, since his wife, Chirlane McCray, is black.
“It was clearly a staged show. It was a scripted show. The whole idea was to do the counter-intuitive by saying cautious politician time. Every actor thought it was a joke on a different convention. That was the whole idea,” he later told CNN on Monday. “I think people are missing the point here.”
A statement released later from de Blasio’s office added: ”In an evening of satire, the only person this was meant to mock was the mayor himself, period. Certainly no one intended to offend anyone.”
The event, which is known as the Inner Circle dinner, is a long NYC tradition and has featured mayors engaging in outrageous humor in the past. Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani infamously appeared there in drag, one time Michael Bloomberg donned a superhero costume and was suspended over the stage and ex-mayor David Dinkins once arrived at the dinner riding a donkey named “The Burro of Manhattan.”
The exchange may have played well in the room but the local media were quick to condemn the racially-tinged humor. The New York Daily News, which has been on a hot streak of unapologetically blunt cover headlines, labeled the episode “Skit for Brains”:
And while others called the joke “awkward” and “cringe-worthy,” some Bernie Sanders supporters argued that it was evidence of a double standard. Previously, the Democratic presidential candidate had been widely criticized for implying that only black people know what it’s like to live ”in the ghetto.”
The controversy couldn’t come at a more inauspicious time for Clinton. Her husband, former President Bill Clinton, has been in the hot seat this past week for public, racially-charged clashes with Black Lives Matter protesters. Both Clintons have been increasingly under fire for the past vociferous support for a 1994 crime bill which has not been faulted for sky high incarceration rates, which has disproportionately impacted African-Americans.
Clinton has overwhelmingly won the black vote so far in the Democratic primary race – and should she win the nomination it will largely be due to Sen. Sanders’ inability to crack that demographic of voters. Next Tuesday when New Yorkers vote in this year’s crucial primary contest, the results will show whether the former secretary of state’s scandals as of late made a dent in her black support.
When asked to comment on criticism of the joke in an interview with Cosmopolitan.com, Clinton said: “Well, look, it was Mayor de Blasio’s skit. He has addressed it, and I will really defer to him because it is something that he’s already talked about.”
The latest NBC News/Wall St Journal poll shows Clinton maintaining a double digit lead over Sanders in the Empire State.