Thirty-six of 51 New York City Council members shunned a 2002 event honoring Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, expressing concern with the leader’s despotic ways and worrying their attendance might be spun as an endorsement of his torturing of political rivals.
But not Democrat Bill de Blasio.
The New York Post reported the Democratic Party’s candidate for New York City mayor attended the event at City Hall — even though it was well known that Mr. Mugabe had been starving his nation, jailing political dissenters, pushing anti-gay rhetoric and policies, and grabbing land from white farmers. At the time of the ceremony, Mr. de Blasio was serving his first term as a City Council member.
The event, arranged by another council member, Councilman Charles Barron, included a closed-door lecture from the dictator, in council chambers, and then a formal reception, The New York Post said.
One council member who recalled the event but boycotted it said Mr. Mugabe was “thought of as a vicious despot who had no place being in New York’s City Hall.” The council member, Peter Vallone Jr. from Queens, also said in The New York Post: “Mugabe killed his opponents. He took away land from anyone who wasn’t black. He rigged elections. And Charles Barron welcomes him with open arms.”
Another politician, state Sen. Simcha Felder of Brooklyn — who in 2002 was a first-year council member — said he was shocked when he first heard of Mr. Mugabe’s visit.
“I asked around and found out what a madman Mugabe was,” Mr. Felder said, explaining his decision to boycott the event.
Mr. de Blasio attended, along with several others from the City Council’s Black, Hispanic and Asian Caucus, The New York Post said. In 2008, he finally reversed his view of Mr. Mugabe, saying during a time that he was mulling a run for another political office that honoring the president was “a mistake” and saying, “I feel ashamed of it.”
He also said then that “even based on the information we had six years ago, there was sufficient information to not have [Mr. Mugabe] in our chambers.”
The issue has cropped up again because Mr. de Blasio’s Republican counterpart, Joe Lhota, is reminding voters of all his political opponent’s affiliations with radicals — including his visits to Cuba and Nicaragua, when he rubbed shoulders with Marxists.
“Bill de Blasio needs to explain himself — and explain himself now — to the hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who escaped Marxist tyranny in Asia, Central America and from behind the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe,” Mr. Lhota said, as The New York Post reported. “De Blasio’s class-warfare strategy in New York City is directly out of the Marxist playbook. Now we know why.”