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National Govt & Politics
NYC Mayor de Blasio announces candidacy, insults 'Con Don'
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NYC Mayor de Blasio announces candidacy, insults 'Con Don'

NYC Mayor de Blasio announces candidacy, insults 'Con Don'
Photo Credit: AP Photo/Craig Ruttle
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio arrives for the official dedication ceremony of the Statue of Liberty Museum on Liberty Island Thursday, May 16, 2019, in New York. De Blasio announced Thursday that he will seek the Democratic nomination for president, adding his name to an already long list of candidates itching for a chance to take on Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

NYC Mayor de Blasio announces candidacy, insults 'Con Don'

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Thursday that he will seek the Democratic nomination for president, adding his name to an already long list of candidates itching for a chance to take on Donald Trump.

The mayor announced his run with a video released by his campaign, then headed to the Statue of Liberty, where he said the country is in an "identity crisis" around immigration, which he called "the founding and unifying element of the American experience."

"We are figuring out who we are," he said. "There are American values we need to return to and fight for in order to achieve our greatest potential."

On his campaign's first day, he dove into an insult match with Trump.

During an appearance on "Good Morning America," de Blasio borrowed one of Trump's tactics by giving the president a disparaging nickname: Con Don.

"He's a con artist. I know his tricks. I know his playbook," the mayor said.

Trump tweeted that de Blasio was "considered the worst mayor in the U.S."

The president said, "He is a JOKE, but if you like high taxes & crime, he's your man. NYC HATES HIM!"

In announcing his candidacy, de Blasio, 58, seeks to claim a role on the national stage that has eluded him as mayor of the biggest U.S. city.

When he took office in 2014, de Blasio seemed briefly poised to become a leading voice for an emerging left wing of the Democratic Party. His central message then and now is fighting income inequality, a theme he hit in the video announcing his candidacy.

"There's plenty of money in this world. There's plenty of money in this country. It's just in the wrong hands," he said.

Liberal enthusiasm faded during his first term, partly because of political missteps at home and the emergence of bigger names elsewhere. He could face obstacles trying to distinguish himself in a crowded field.

After his appearance at the Statue of Liberty, for a ceremony opening a new museum, de Blasio planned to travel to Iowa to campaign Friday, then fly to South Carolina for events Saturday and early Sunday.

De Blasio has drawn small audiences so far in visits to early primary states including New Hampshire, where just six attendees showed up for a mental health discussion.

A recent Quinnipiac University poll found 76% of New York City voters say they believe he shouldn't run. And de Blasio's hometown press has, so far, delighted in disparaging his presidential hopes.

The New York Post on Thursday greeted his candidacy with a front-page photo of people laughing.

"De Blasio for President? 'Nah,'" read one recent New York Times headline.

"Who hasn't told Bill de Blasio that he shouldn't run for president?" asked New York Magazine.

Local criticism has focused less on his policies than his reputation for stumbles, like showing up late to a memorial for plane crash victims, getting into a feud with the state's Democratic governor and dropping a groundhog during a Groundhog Day celebration.

Earlier this week, de Blasio held a news conference in the lobby of Trump Tower to blame the skyscraper for contributing to air pollution, but the event turned comical as Trump supporters heckled the mayor, who had to shout to make himself heard.

De Blasio, though, has remained undaunted and says he has a message that can resonate with the American public.

"I think the key thing is that working people want to see change in this country. And I honestly believe that cuts across the regional realities, ethnic realities, even people's political identification," he said at an afternoon news conference. "One thing that truly unifies people is they want fairness. And a lot of Americans believe this is not a fair country right now."

Asked about the Quinnipiac poll, de Blasio laughed and pointed out that those same voters had elected him to office twice.

"You know, I got elected mayor with 73 percent of the vote originally, re-elected with 67 percent of the vote," he said. "I think you'd agree that the poll that actually matters is the election."

Even if de Blasio's candidacy doesn't catch fire, he'll be able to promote his policies and potentially angle for a job in a future Democratic administration. He is barred by term limits from running for mayor again.

"If he ran a strong and credible campaign, it could enhance his stature for gaining a major appointment or becoming a significant player, particularly if a Democrat is elected president," said Michael Malbin, a professor of political science at the University at Albany.

But Matthew Dallek, an associate professor of political management at George Washington University, said a losing White House campaign wouldn't come without risks.

"If his legacy is that a crisis happened and he was off campaigning in Iowa, that's significant," Dallek said. "So yeah, there are risks."

On the campaign trail, de Blasio will be able to cite accomplishments including expanding full-day prekindergarten and curtailing police tactics that critics say were discriminatory, while presiding over continued drops in crime rates, which are now at historic lows.

De Blasio was born Warren Wilhelm Jr. in 1961 but took his mother's family name in adulthood because, he said, his father was "largely absent from his life." The mayor has spoken about how his father, Warren Wilhelm, a veteran who lost part of his left leg in World War II, descended into alcoholism and killed himself when de Blasio was 18.

Born in New York City, de Blasio grew up in the Boston area and has provoked New York sports fans by rooting for the Boston Red Sox. He graduated from New York University and earned a master's degree from Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs.

De Blasio met his wife, Chirlane McCray, when they both worked for Democratic Mayor David Dinkins. They married in 1994 and have two children, Chiara and Dante.

With his candidacy, de Blasio becomes the latest in a line of New York City mayors who have run for president. None has ever won.

John Lindsay sought the office in 1972. Rudy Giuliani ran in 2008. Michael Bloomberg flirted with a run for years before ruling it out in both the 2016 and 2020 campaigns.

De Blasio said he was sure he'd do better.

"I intend to break the mold. I intend to make history. And I intend to win," he said.

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The Latest News Headlines

  • The Florida Department of Children and Families is working to suspend operations at a Westside preschool, after a baby girl was left in the facility’s van for five hours, and died. The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office says Ewing’s Love & Hope Preschool & Academy picks up some of their children, but this morning, an infant was left in a car seat in the back of the facility’s van. That was around 8 AM, and it wasn’t until around 1 PM that JSO says the baby was found unconscious and not breathing. She was taken to the hospital, but died. “Every day, parents entrust child care providers with their most precious gifts. Tragically, today a family has just been notified of the gut-wrenching loss of their precious baby girl,” says a statement from DCF Secretary Chad Poppell. Poppell says DCF has opened a joint child death and child care licensing investigation, as it also works with law enforcement. They have started the administrative process of getting an emergency suspension order to stop operations at the facility. DCF additionally says the preschool did not notify them that they were transporting children, so transportation standards were not being monitored. Some of those standards include maintaining a driver’s log of each child that includes verification that each has left the vehicle, conducting a physical inspection of the vehicle to ensure no child is left behind, and having a second staff member perform similar verifications. The most recent inspection of this preschool took place last month, and there were no violations, according to online records. Overall, since the preschool was licensed in 2016, they have not had any Class I violations- which are the most serious- two Class II violations, and 13 Class III violations. At this time, no arrests have been made in connection to the baby’s death today. JSO says they’re working with the State Attorney’s Office to determine what charges are appropriate in this case and if any charges will be filed.
  • John Walker Lindh, the American, who as a teenager, joined the Taliban in Afghanistan in the run-up to the 911 terror attacks, is scheduled to leave a federal prison in Indiana Thursday after serving 17 years on charges of providing support to the Islamic fundamentalist group. >> Read more trending news   Lindh, who is now 38, said he converted to Islam after seeing the film “Malcolm X as a teenager. He left the United States to go to Yemen to study Arabic and the Quran. Then when he was 21 he traveled to Pakistan to join the Taliban. He was with the group on Sept. 11, 2001, when hijackers flew planes into the Twin Towers in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. and a crashed a fourth plane into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. A little more than two months after the attacks, Lindh was captured when the United States attacked Afghanistan after the country’s leaders refused to turn over 911 mastermind Osama bin Laden. Lindh was taken to the Qala-i-Jangi fortress which was being used as a prison for captured Taliban soldiers. While there, he was interrogated by American intelligence officers. A violent uprising by the prisoners at Qala-i-Jangi on Nov. 25, 2001, resulted in the death of CIA officer Micheal Spann along with more than 400 Taliban soldiers and supporters. Spann’s family opposes Lindh’s scheduled release. Lindh is said to have known of the planned uprising at Qala-i-jangi, though he did not directly take part in the attack. Neither did he let American interrogators know about the planned uprising, according to American prosecutors. Here are seven things to know about Lindh before he is released: Lindh went by the name Sulayman al-Faris during his time in Afghanistan. He became known as the “American Taliban” after his capture in 2001. Lindh was the first American detainee to be brought to the United States for trial on during the War on Terror. He was first charged with conspiring with al-Qaeda, but was not charged with Spann’s death. He was indicted on 10 charges on Feb. 5, 2002. He was in a Taliban training camp and said he met bin Laden there.  Lindh said he never intended to fight against Americans, even though he stayed with the Taliban after 9-11 and knew bin Laden had planned the attacks. Lindh’s defense attorneys entered into a plea bargain in July 2002. Lindh pleaded guilty to two charges – supplying services to the Taliban and carrying an explosive during the commission of a felony – and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. One condition of the plea deal was that he had to consent to a gag order keeping him from making any public statement. LIndh contended that he was tortured by U.S. military personnel after his capture. As part of the plea deal, he had to drop the claims of mistreatment.
  • A former Somali army colonel accused of war crimes was found guilty of torture Tuesday in Virginia, where he’s lived for decades and, up until earlier this month, worked as a driver for both Uber and Lyft.  A federal civil jury ordered Yusuf Abdi Ali, of Fairfax, to pay $500,000 to Farhan Mohamoud Tani Warfaa, who said he was tortured for four months as a teen in 1987 before being shot multiple times and left for dead. The jury unanimously found Ali guilty and awarded Warfaa, now 49, $400,000 in compensatory damages and $100,000 in punitive damages, federal court records show.  Jurors found Ali liable for the torture Warfaa suffered but found he was not liable for the attempted killing of the teen, the verdict form shows.  “We’re thrilled that the jury came back and found that our client had in fact been tortured,” Warfaa’s attorney, Kathy Roberts, of the Center for Justice and Accountability, or CJA, told The Washington Post. “It’s a good verdict; it stands for the principle that no one above the law. Our client is very happy.” >> Read more trending news No criminal charges have ever been brought against Ali related to the his military service. Warfaa, who traveled for the trial from his home in northern Somalia, also now known as Somaliland, said in a statement through the CJA that he hopes Tuesday’s verdict can contribute to the continued healing of those who suffered at the hands of Ali, who was purportedly a high-ranking commander in former Somali President Jaalle Mohamed Siad Barre’s regime.  Ali was known as Col. “Tukeh,” or “Crow,” during his time in Siad Barre’s command, the Post reported.  “It has been a long journey, seeking justice for what happened to me and to my community,” Warfaa said in the statement. “Today’s verdict was a vindication not only for me, but also for many others in Somaliland who suffered under Col. Tukeh’s command.” The torture Warfaa was subjected to as a 17-year-old farmer stemmed from a missing water tanker.  “Over the course of a three-day trial, the jury heard evidence that early one morning in 1987, Mr. Warfaa was rounded up with other men from his village and taken to the military headquarters of the Fifth Brigade of the Somali National Army, where Col. Tukeh held command,” CJA attorneys said in a news release. “Mr. Warfaa testified that Col. Tukeh’s soldiers tortured and interrogated him, and that Col. Tukeh himself shot Mr. Warfaa multiple times at point blank range, leaving him for dead.  “Miraculously, he survived.” See a 2016 Canadian Broadcasting Corp. report about Yusuf Abdi Ali below. Warfaa said in his lawsuit that he survived only because the men Ali assigned as his gravediggers saw he was alive and solicited a bribe from his family to let him live.  Ali’s attorney, Joseph Peter Drennan, told reporters the jury’s split decision suggested his client was found guilty of torture simply because of his position in the Somali army.  “Yusuf Abdi Ali was held liable because he was a commander in an army that served under a regime that had a poor human rights record,” Drennan said, according to CNN. “But aside from the plaintiff's testimony, there was virtually no evidence that Ali tortured anyone.” Drennan argued that his client cannot afford to pay the damages ordered by the jury, pointing out that Ali recently lost his job as a ride-share driver. He was considering an appeal of the verdict. Watch CNN’s report below on Yusuf Abdi Ali, who drove for Uber even as his federal civil case began last week. It was CNN that sent undercover reporters earlier this month to find Ali, who was working full-time as an Uber driver even as his civil trial for Warfaa’s torture and shooting was set to begin. At the time the reporters caught a ride with Ali, he was listed as an “Uber Pro Diamond” driver who had been working for the company for 18 months.  “I do this full-time,” Ali, who worked in suburban Virginia, told the reporters, saying he preferred working weekends because “that’s where the money is.” During the car ride, which the reporters surreptitiously caught on video, Ali said applying for the job had been easy.  “They just want your background check, that's it,” Ali said. “If you apply tonight, maybe after two days, it will come, you know, everything.” Ali passed the background check despite his name turning up in documents and news accounts of his alleged war crimes that are easily found in a Google search, CNN reported. The alleged atrocities under his command have also been detailed in a documentary by the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. Witnesses who participated in the CBC documentary recounted murders they allege Ali committed during his command. During the civil trial in the federal courtroom in Alexandria, former soldiers who served under Ali and witnesses in Warfaa’s village testified on the plaintiff’s behalf. Ali has denied the claims against him, the Post reported.  Watch the entire 1992 CBC documentary about Ali, Crimes Against Humanity, below. “I did nothing to anybody,” he said in a deposition, according to the newspaper. “They’re just lying.” CNN reported that, following its questions about Ali, Uber suspended his access to the app. Lyft, which he had stopped working for in September, permanently banned him from working for the company.  Uber permanently removed Ali’s access following Tuesday’s verdict, CNN said.  The news network said that background checks for both Uber and Lyft are mainly done by a third party company called Checkr, which checks for red flags in sex offender databases, federal and local court records, as well as databases used to flag suspected terrorists.  A Checkr spokesperson told CNN its background checks “rely on public criminal records that have been adjudicated in a court of law rather than unverified sources like Google search results.” “Similarly, most employers don’t request background checks that include pending civil litigation due to its subjective nature,” the spokesperson said.  The lawsuit against Ali was first filed in 2005, when Warfaa learned the former military commander was living in the area of Alexandria, Virginia. According to the complaint, Ali served as commander of the Somali army’s Fifth Brigade from 1984 to 1989 before seeking asylum in Canada in 1990, as the tide turned against dictator Siad Barre. Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991, plunging the country into decades of civil war.  “Col. Tukeh fled to Canada after the Barre regime was overthrown and eventually became a permanent resident of the United States, where he has been living since 1996,” the CJA said in its background of the case.  Warfaa’s civil suit says Ali was deported from Canada in 1992 for “having committed gross human rights abuses in Somalia,” at which time he came to the U.S. When deportation proceedings were initiated against him here, he voluntarily left the country.  He returned in 1996, reportedly on a visa obtained through his Somali wife, who had become a U.S. citizen, CNN reported. Ali’s wife was found guilty in 2006 of naturalization fraud for claiming she was a refugee from the country’s Isaaq clan -- the same clan that Ali has been accused of brutalizing during the civil war.  Warfaa’s lawsuit claims he was targeted because he is a member of the Isaaq clan, members of which established an opposition force called the Somali National Movement during the war.  “The Somali National Army committed widespread human rights abuses in its violent campaign to eliminate the SNM and any perceived supporters,” the civil complaint states. “It killed and looted livestock, blew up water reservoirs, burned homes, and tortured and detained alleged SNM supporters.” Read the entire amended complaint against Yusuf Abdi Ali below. Warning: The details of the alleged acts against Farhan Warfaa may be disturbing to some readers. The court document states that when the water tanker, which had been used to provide water to Ethiopian refugees, was stolen, Ali went to Warfaa’s village, Jifo Uray, with his men and threatened to execute everyone there unless the tanker was returned.  It was a few nights later that Warfaa and others from the village were rounded up and imprisoned by Ali’s men, the lawsuit states.  CNN’s report earlier this month was not the first time the network tracked Ali down in the United States. Reporters found him in 2016 working as a security guard at Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C. He was fired from that job a short time after the story aired, the network said. 
  • A one-time IB program teacher at Terry Parker High School has now pleaded guilty to distributing child pornography online. Jordan Schemmel changed his plea in federal court today, and now faces a mandatory minimum of five years in prison. He will also be required to register as a sex offender, and he may have a life term of supervised release. Schemmel was first arrested in October, and he initially pleaded not guilty to the charge. The criminal complaint says Schemmel had used Kik and seen things that were illegal, but said he removed himself from those groups. He also allegedly admitted to using Grindr, but said he would report any user he didn’t believe was over 18-years-old. The criminal complaint says Schemmel did ultimately admit to sending a video to someone on Kik- who was actually an undercover agent. He also allegedly told investigators he had other images and videos of child porn on his phone. The US Attorney’s Office says a total of 106 images and 28 videos showing the sexual abuse of a young child were found on Schemmel’s phone and thumbdrive. The court records show Schemmel said he knew child pornography was wrong, and he had tried unsuccessfully to stop himself, but he believed it was an addiction. The criminal complaint says Schemmel previously taught in both Duval and St. Johns counties. At the time of his arrest, the Duval County Public School District said they would remove Schemmel from any contact with students pending the outcome of an internal investigation, if he were to be released from prison. DCPS says Schemmel resigned his position in January, pending disciplinary action. Schemmel’s sentencing date is not immediately available.
  • The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office is crediting multiple witnesses for helping their investigation of a double shooting in March, which has now led to an arrest. 19-year-old Cashmere Bland is accused of a robbery and shooting that happened on Atlantic Blvd. on March 16th. Police say Bland walked up to a vehicle with two people he knew inside, robbed the driver, and then opened fire. The driver was killed and the passenger was shot, but survived. Bland has been arrested for murder, attempted murder, armed robbery, and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. 

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