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Trump Ally Poised to Bring Populist Note to New York Mayoral Race

1 Jan 2017 12:00 pm
By Mike Vilensky 

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has already planned to frame his 2017 re-election campaign partly as a fight against a Donald Trump White House.

But with private eye Bo Dietl throwing his hat in the ring for mayor, Mr. de Blasio may get a taste of Trumpism in his own backyard.

One of five declared candidates for the Democratic nomination, including Mr. de Blasio, Mr. Dietl has no clear constituency in the primary as a Trump donor and ally in a city where the Republican president-elect lost four out of five boroughs.

But as a television personality focused on fighting crime, he is poised to inject the right-wing populism that upended 2016 into the 2017 mayor's race.

"It's impossible to see what the path is," said Jessica Proud, a Republican strategist who served as an aide to Joe Lhota's 2013 mayoral campaign against Mr. de Blasio. "That said...he might be the guy people are talking about in a bar."

A former New York City police detective, Mr. Dietl is perhaps best known for his conservative punditry defending cops against criticisms and championing surveillance of Muslim communities to fight terrorism.

He has also had a turn in commercials for Arby's and cameos in Martin Scorsese films including "Goodfellas." His security company, Beau Dietl & Associates, has done work for the Republican state party and actor Robert De Niro.

Mr. Dietl is framing himself as a friend to cops who will keep the city safe. "Maybe I don't have a college degree," he said, "but I have a doctorate of the streets."

His mayoral candidacy is finding enthusiasm outside the city. On Twitter, many of his 14,000 followers are vocal Trump supporters whose stated locations are in the president-elect's rust-belt base.

This is something of an irony because, in Mr. Dietl's view, "What's important to me is not what's going on in Florida. Do I care about L.A.? No! Miami? No! I care about New York City."

Some of the president-elect's closest allies are backing Mr. Dietl. Conservative commentator Sean Hannity compared him favorably to Ed Koch as a "quintessential New Yorker."

Anthony Scaramucci, the hedge-fund manager and Trump transition aide, said he may raise funds for Mr. Dietl soon. He added that while Mr. Trump ran as a Republican, Mr. Dietl is "running against the establishment" like Mr. Trump did.

Messrs. Hannity and Scaramucci said they aren't registered to vote in New York City.

In a recent photograph on Mr. Dietl's Twitter account, Mr. Scaramucci and actor Leonardo DiCaprio posed wearing "Bo for Mayor" pins.

A spokesman for Mr. de Blasio said: "Under Mayor de Blasio, crime just hit another all-time low...We are happy to match that record against anyone."

Mr. de Blasio has been positioning himself as a voice against some of Mr. Trump's policies, and recently gave a speech about protecting the city from the president-elect's initiatives. Mr. Trump has called Mr. de Blasio "incompetent."

Mr. Dietl may not get to run as a Democrat. After years of being registered as a Republican, he recently registered with both the Democratic and Independence parties, which is barred and, in effect, canceled both registrations. As a result, he wasn't registered as a Democrat by the October deadline for the 2017 primary, according to a spokeswoman for the city's elections board. A Dietl campaign adviser, attorney Howard Kleinhendler, said registering with the Independence Party was a mistake, and Mr. Dietl's team is fighting the city to get him on the Democratic ballot.

If the city doesn't agree, Mr. Dietl would need approval from Democratic county leaders to run in the party primary, and "he has a better chance of getting struck by lightning on a sunny day," said Frank Seddio, the leader of the Brooklyn Democrats.

On a recent afternoon at his office in Midtown, Mr. Dietl wore a gun holstered to his hip and said he feels like a liberal because he supports gay rights and abortion rights and is pushing to subsidize subway fares for low-income riders.

Raised in a blue-collar Queens neighborhood by Italian and German immigrants, he is now a Manhattan man-about-town who makes appearances at Harlem's exclusive restaurant Rao's and the Upper East Side mainstay Neary's. At 66, he says he can do 66 push-ups, but "I don't feel like doing them right now."

Mr. Dietl provided security for the General Motors building on Fifth Avenue when Mr. Trump owned it in the late 1990s. He is a member of Mr. Trump's Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Fla., and a note from Mr. Trump praising Mr. Dietl's security services is posted on the Dietl firm's website.

Mr. Dietl said he admires Hillary Clinton but that he decided during the presidential campaign, "I'm gonna bank on crazy Donald." He said a selling point for his candidacy is that he will have a good relationship with the president: "If I have to cry, I can cry to Donald." Mr. Trump didn't comment about Mr. Dietl's candidacy.

His liberal credentials haven't impressed Democratic leaders, given that he has, over the years, mocked Mrs. Clinton's looks, called President Barack Obama a "nutjob," and assailed the "Black Lives Matter" movement.

Mr. Dietl is trying to change that. He recently spotted Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo at a social event and proceeded to try to place a "Bo for Mayor" pin on the governor's suit jacket.

But Mr. Cuomo, Mr. Dietl said, asked him to put the pin in his hand instead, then put it in his pocket.

Write to Mike Vilensky at mike.vilensky@dowjones.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 01, 2017 07:00 ET (12:00 GMT)

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