Bill de Blasio: Clinton can be progressive standard bearer

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio gestures during an interview with Politico's Chief White House Correspondent Mike Allen, on Nov. 19, 2014, in Washington.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio gestures during an interview with Politico's Chief White House Correspondent Mike Allen, on Nov. 19, 2014, in Washington.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has a message for Hillary Clinton: Be a bold progressive.

As Democrats lick their wounds following this year’s devastating midterm elections for the party, de Blasio said Wednesday that the likely presidential candidate can -- and should -- be her party's standard bearer on economic inequality issues in 2016. 

The mayor, a former aide to Clinton who managed her 2000 Senate campaign, said the Democratic presidential nominee -- whoever it his -- must address the “crisis of inequality.” And despite progressive criticism that she's too cozy with Wall Street and the elite, de Blasio said he thinks Clinton can be that candidate. “I think she should [talk about inequality], I think it’s necessary. I think a lot about her history and her origins suggests it’s natural for her,” de Blasio said at a breakfast with reporters organized by Politico in Washington Wednesday. He pointed to Clinton’s history working for the Children’s Defense Fund after law school, and her past as a champion for women and girls.

The mayor recalled helping Clinton campaign in Ohio in 2008, after she shook up her team following a devastating loss in the Iowa Caucus. “She was speaking to these core economic issues pretty powerfully,” he said. Clinton went bowling with workers and and threw back shots, and spoke about leveling the playing field for blue-collar Americans.

To critics of Clinton on the left, de Blasio said they should be patient. Politics have changed since the Great Recession, he explaine, but Clinton has been out of electoral politics since then. “I don’t think we’ve seen her in this new reality,” he explained.

In general, the mayor called for Democrats to resist the temptation to moderate their pitch to voters or play it safe. “The Democratic Party has to look in the mirror and bluntly realize that if we repeat 2014, we’re clearly doomed. We cannot win an election if our own people are not motivated,” de Blasio said. “The safe approach has been proven to fail so consistently, why would you not try a bolder approach?”

The mayor, who in 2013 distinguished himself in a competitive Democratic primary field with a stridently populist and progressive message, won his election by the largest margin of any mayor in the city’s history. His race should be a model for other Democrats, he said.

De Blasio, a former progressive activist, wrote an op-ed in The Huffington Post after this year's election with similar advice for Democrats. Some in the party dismissed the essay as unsolicited advice from an out-of-touch New York liberal. But de Blasio’s view is the consensus among progressive activists on the left, who essentially argue that the Democratic Party lost in 2014 because it wasn’t liberal enough.

RELATED: NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio: Dems lost sight of core principles

As the mayor sees it, Democrats need to “stick to their guns,” stop being “mealy mouthed” and “stiffen [their] backbone.”

Calling economic inequality the “fundamentally defining issue of our time,” de Blasio said Wednesday that he is disappointed more Democrats aren’t focusing on it. “I think they’re scared of powerful interests."

De Blasio explained that when political campaigns are as expensive as they are today, politicians fear “alienating those with resources.” But they will have to get over it if Democrats would like to win another election, the mayor warned, otherwise Democratic voters will “[stay] home uninspired, unmoved. “

RELATED: City officials woo Democrats in 2016 convention bids

The mayor called Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren “an indispensable voice,” but he refused to speculate about her running for president.

On the Republican side, deBlasio said he was impressed by Sen. Rand Paul’s ability to “evince a certain authenticity that any Democrat should worry about.”