Bill de Blasio: The man who dared to go on holiday

Out of America: New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir

Share

Can't an American politician have a holiday in peace – or, for that matter, can he have a holiday at all? Such are the thoughts prompted by the hullabaloo, in the New York media at least, over last week's family vacation of the city's mayor, Bill de Blasio, in Italy, the land of his maternal grandparents.

The trip lasted a mere eight days, but has provided some wonderful copy. "Hizzonor" appears to have been made an honorary citizen of various small towns and villages in the south of the country whence his forebears came, in what were billed to the trailing reporters from New York as "ancestral homeland events".

No detail has been left uncovered, from the "political" side of the De Blasio holiday, including a meeting with his opposite number in Rome, to the menu he enjoyed in Sant'Agata de' Goti, birthplace of his grandfather (black pork, ricotta cheese and pear cake according to The New York Times), at a lunch that lasted three hours, a concept unimaginable in the US. The mayor was clearly having a splendid time. But that merely fuelled the carping.

Back home, he was criticised for being observed eating pizza with a fork, apparently the ultimate sin in the Big Apple. He was chastised for visiting Capri: what is a self-proclaimed champion of the poor and underprivileged doing in the opulent, decadent haunt of celebrities, from the emperor Tiberius to Jackie Onassis? And, come to think of it, what's De Blasio doing taking a holiday in the first place?

New York mayors and holidays have always had an uneasy relationship. His predecessor, the zillionaire Michael Bloomberg, would get into trouble when he slipped off on his private jet to one of his various mansions scattered about the planet. Rudy Giuliani, the mayor before that, never seemed to be away – though he spent an unconscionable amount of time attending New York Yankees games.

True to form, the Republican Giuliani lost no time in getting the knife into Democrat De Blasio about his foreign jaunt, which might have coincided with a strike by workers on the Long Island Rail Road. "He shouldn't be going with the threat of a commuter rail strike looming," Giuliani complained. In the event, the dispute was settled, thanks to the good offices of the state governor, Andrew Cuomo. You have to wonder: has no one heard of delegation or of De Gaulle's dictum, that graveyards are full of indispensable people?

However, if the De Blasio "holiday" is a big deal, consider the presidential vacation. In Europe, no problem. Harold Wilson used to potter off to the Scillies, Margaret Thatcher went to the Austrian Alps and Tony Blair sojourned in Tuscany and the Caribbean – and apart from some tut-tutting over the last named's free-loading off wealthy friends, they were pretty much left to get on with it. Not so the occupants of the White House.

Take Obama, "doing a Blair" and planning a summer break at a villa outside Florence. The very notion is unthinkable. "Isn't there anywhere in the US good enough for you?" his critics would instantly ask, practically accusing him of treason. At a more humdrum level, such a presidential stay would tie up swathes of Tuscany for weeks, what with advance trips by the Secret Service, motorcades, no-fly zones and, of course, the obligatory White House press corps, scouring the land for the tiniest scraps of news to justify their presence.

Needless to say, presidential holidays cannot be divorced from political image-making. They are delicately calibrated affairs: you must be seen as a "regular guy", but not strain credulity in the process. It's fine for George W Bush to clear brush at his Texas ranch, or for Obama to take down time in Hawaii. Both could be portrayed as going home, reverting to their roots, doing what comes naturally.

Others are less successful. I remember a Bill Clinton family holiday in the Rockies during his first term. Few were fooled by the gregarious, compulsively involved Clinton seeking inner peace by hiking in the mountains. Soon he reverted to a more natural habitat – the chic Massachusetts island of Martha's Vineyard, favoured summer refuge of the liberal chattering classes.

In a way, though, America's politicians are fortunate. They get paid vacations. Astonishingly, a quarter of their fellow citizens still do not, even though they are working harder than ever. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average employee in the US now works 160 hours, or the equivalent of four weeks, more than he or she did in 1976.

Here, there is no statutory obligation for companies to offer paid holiday time. Last year, the Florida Congressman Alan Grayson introduced a Paid Vacation Act, requiring employers to provide one week of paid holiday. When last heard of, the measure had been referred to the Subcommittee on Workforce Protections and there, presumably, it gently rots.

The partisan gridlock on Capitol Hill doubtless partly explains failure to act. But other factors, one suspects, are at work: the country's deep-rooted and persisting Puritan ethic, dating back to the Founding Fathers, as well as the historical mismatch between capital and labour in America, reflected today by ever-growing disparities of wealth and ever-weakening unions.

For most of the 20th century (aka the "American Century"), this did not much matter. The US could disdainfully look down on effete, nanny-state Europe, land of obstreperous unions and the three-hour lunch, and bask in its own superiority. These days, that is not so easy. How is it that Germany, where six weeks' paid holiday is the norm and workers and bosses actually co-operate, far outperforms not just most of Europe, but the US as well?

Today, Bill de Blasio returns to the great city of New York, which, by all accounts, has survived in his absence. The trip, he told The Wall Street Journal, "will send me back really energised…. It's really worked out beautifully". If only every American could say the same.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: how to spell BBQ and other linguistic irregularities

Guy Keleny
 

South Africa's race problem is less between black and white than between poor blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa

John Carlin
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own