- Associated Press - Thursday, July 17, 2014

NEW YORK (AP) - A screaming headline that reads “Good luck on that, I’m off to Italy.” A composite photo depicting his family in a gondola in Venice. Withering criticism from a former mayor.

Despite the increasingly bad political optics, Mayor Bill de Blasio remains set to depart Friday for a lengthy Italian vacation in the face of a potential strike at the nation’s largest commuter railroad.

If Long Island Rail Road workers walk off the job at 12:01 a.m. Sunday, it could paralyze portions of the city and lead to a public relations nightmare for de Blasio, with the city’s tabloids - which have been nipping at his heels since he took office - eager to juxtapose a photo of him gallivanting on an Italian beach with a shot of a city highway clogged by a nightmarish traffic jam.

De Blasio, a Democrat who took office in January, had said he would return from his trip if a crisis arose but signaled this week that he believed his team could manage without him. His spokesman confirmed Wednesday that the trip was proceeding as planned.

During a taping of “The Colbert Report” on Wednesday night, de Blasio was noncommittal on whether he’d cancel the trip, saying he was hopeful there would be a resolution avoiding a strike.

The mayor on Monday downplayed the impact of a potential strike.

“We benefit from the fact it’s July, and I think the amount of travel is reduced in July,” he said then. “We benefit from the fact that a lot of people now, because of technology, can work from home.”

Those comments appeared tone-deaf to some critics, who noted that the workers who can’t afford to take vacations or whose jobs don’t allow for telecommuting are the working- and middle-class people de Blasio pledged to support during his victorious mayoral campaign last year.

The Daily News has offered a sneak peek of what could be in store for de Blasio next week: Its story on Tuesday about the impending strike was accompanied by the sneering “Good luck” headline and a photo of the mayor appearing to enjoy a belly-laugh. Not to be outdone, the New York Post the next day accompanied a scathing column about the trip with the photo illustration of the carefree gondoliers.

The LIRR, which connects the city and Long Island and has 300,000 daily riders, is operated by a state agency, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, meaning the ultimate political responsibility lies with Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, but the impact in the city would be undeniable. Roads would clog, already crowded subway trains and buses would be even more packed and businesses with fewer customers or workers showing up could lose millions of dollars.

De Blasio’s team stressed that the mayor would stay in frequent contact with the heads of the city’s emergency response units, who will be in town, and that he could still postpone or cut his trip short, if needed. There is also a growing belief in New York political circles that Cuomo, who is up for re-election this fall, would likely try to step in at the 11th hour to prevent a strike and the damaging political hit.

De Blasio, his wife and their two teenage children are planning to visit his ancestral homeland, journeying to the towns his grandparents called home, meeting local officials and taking their first family vacation in years.

His predecessor, independent Michael Bloomberg, never took a full week off, though he did frequently use his personal plane to escape for long weekends in Bermuda or London. Republican Rudy Giuliani also rarely took time off and said in a radio interview Tuesday that, “The mayor has got to be present when an emergency takes place.”

But some political observers said they believe the criticism is unwarranted.

“He’s entitled to time off, and being away is not that big of a deal,” said Joseph Mercurio, an unaffiliated political consultant. “Modern technology lets him stay in touch. Bad media coverage would be unfair.”


Follow Jonathan Lemire on Twitter @JonLemire

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