- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 1, 2014

NEW YORK (AP) - Mayor Bill de Blasio’s relationship with New York City’s press since taking office at the beginning of the year was initially marked with several missteps, creating unflattering tabloid headlines and helping to drag down his approval ratings in the eyes of the public.

But in recent weeks, the mayor and his staff have changed tactics, embarking on an unusual campaign to improve relations with the reporters who cover him most closely.

De Blasio sat down for an informal discussion with reporters about the state budget Tuesday and invited the press corps to a reception at Gracie Mansion later in the week. And both invitations, unheard of in recent memory, follow his famous selfie with reporters last month.

“Relations with the press are absolutely key to the success of any person in political life, particularly for a person with an ambitious agenda,” said Karl Grossman, professor at the State University of New York College at Old Westbury. “He has to be likable and forthcoming.”

De Blasio, a Democrat, came into office after a landslide victory in November. But within weeks of taking office his relations with the press soured as he was routinely late to events and left a high-profile speech off his public schedule, which reporters depend on to help report on his daily activities to the public. He also occasionally chastised reporters for their questions and sometimes refused to answer any inquiries that were not on the topic that he wanted to discuss.

The tabloids, particularly the conservative-leaning The New York Post, pounced on his early blunders, such as the city’s shoddy snow removal after a storm and his call to the police after the arrest of a political ally.

After his NYPD motorcade was spotted committing several traffic violations, de Blasio stormed out of a City Hall news conference without taking questions, ignoring the shouted inquiries of reporters.

“It looks bad in terms of transparency and accountability,” said Grossman. “So much of the political process, for better or worse, involves a Q-score or the personality of politician. Some of his earlier problems were caused by the media. He’s trying to learn.”

In recent polls, his approval rating hovered around 45 percent.

De Blasio’s predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, was never particularly chummy with the press but routinely made himself available for questions, while Mayor Rudolph Giuliani was combative, frequently arguing with reporters from the podium. Ed Koch is considered to be the most media-friendly mayor in recent memory, known for dropping in on reporters in the City Hall press room near the time of their deadlines to answer any last-minute questions.

Though some of de Blasio’s allies have complained the press has focused too much on media issues that matter little to the public, members of the mayor’s inner circle have begun to interact more with reporters, candidly saying that they wanted to improve relations.

The mayor himself has joined them.

After going outside for a meeting with his counsel last month, de Blasio plopped down on the City Hall steps with the reporters gathered, making jokes and even taking a photo. At the Inner Circle dinner, an annual show in which the mayor and reporters perform skits teasing each other, de Blasio delivered a winning performance that gently poked fun at his own foibles.

On Tuesday, he did several TV and radio interviews about the recent state budget deal, and then followed that up with the round-table discussion with newspaper and other reporters, the type of informal encounter Bloomberg never did. Shedding his suit jacket and chatting amiably with the reporters, de Blasio touted how his administration secured state funds to pay for prekindergarten, the centerpiece of his administration’s first 100 days.

Later this week, he and his senior staff will host the city’s political reporters at Gracie Mansion for a reception, something that under previous mayors only happened at the end of the year.

“We’re always looking for new and creative opportunities for the mayor to engage the press corps, especially when it doesn’t involve a podium,” said mayoral spokeswoman Marti Adams.

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