Hillary Clinton is not saying no.
She is also not saying yes to pleas to consider running for mayor of New York.
There’s no shortage of disgust with current Mayor Bill de Blasio among top New York Democrats, accentuated by bitterness among Clintonites toward the man was her 2000 Senate campaign manager and then made a false start against her in his own quest for the national progressive spotlight.
But people who have talked with her — both former staffers and notable members of the Clinton orbit — say there’s mostly been a lot of coping with her presidential defeat, rather than planning for another run. She is almost certain not to run for mayor, they say, but there’s a legitimate interest in finding some way to stay involved, aware that there’s no place for her in national politics anymore and that many Democrats don’t want to hear from her after losing to Donald Trump.
Among her allies, there’s a despondency about how aimless she seems, the photo of her sitting by herself at a restaurant alone checking her email, the thought of her sitting up on the riser for Donald Trump’s inauguration next week, with cameras cutting to her constantly for grim reaction shots.
There’s also a growing sense of the absurdity of the discussion — and frustration even among some confidants that she and her team are letting the rumor sit out there, noticeably not shooting it down, letting it linger.
“Everybody in politics knows why they are doing it. It’s very high school,” said Karen Hinton, a former Bill Clinton administration aide who was de Blasio’s press secretary at City Hall until last summer and believes this is just score-settling from Clinton’s orbit. “It’s obvious she is not going to run, so why aren’t people just saying that?”
Yet Clinton is still taking the calls.
Mostly, she’s being polite. But she’s listening to the pitches. She’s hearing them out.
Why would she knock it down, people who know her ask. She still wants to be relevant, and there’s nothing wrong with speculation. The idea that people want to draft her is flattering, particularly after an embarrassing loss, they say. Plus the reality: If she ran, she’d probably be so immediately dominant that de Blasio might have to just step aside rather than get crushed on the way to her victory.
One prominent Democrat who knows Clinton and de Blasio said there was “zero chance” Clinton would get in the race. But this person said the Clinton people harbored bad feelings toward de Blasio, and “no one seems in any hurry to really knock the rumor down.”
This person also added that Clinton’s top aides and advisers remain “incredibly depressed” about the election, and they are tired of people thinking Clinton’s just spending her days wandering through the woods in Chappaqua.
“Part of it is coping, part of it is she is surrounded by people who are used to being in the mix and are probably having a hard time not being in the mix,” said one former Clinton aide. “And there’s no real benefit to them in ending the speculation.”
Some admit to the fantasy of Clinton’s being mayor of the city Trump calls home, of driving him crazy just by being there but also getting up in his face the way de Blasio’s been trying to in the hopes of scoring his own political points. Or the irony of winning an office that was once the dream job of Anthony Weiner, whose sexting broke up the marriage of her closest aide and gave FBI Director Jim Comey the confiscated computer that let him write that letter to Congress.
“Don’t know why she’d want to do it, but she can do it if she wants and she’d win,” said a person who worked on her 2016 campaign.
Several key people who have spoken with Clinton in recent days — almost no one close to her or even de Blasio would agree to go on the record — start by insisting that they haven’t heard anything, then when pressed, go dark, and stop returning phone calls and emails.
“This is ridiculous and the folks around team Clinton should shoot down this nonsense as soon as possible,” said a Democratic operative in New York who’s not involved but watching the race closely. “The healing doesn’t help by picking the scab.”
Nick Merrill, a spokesman who shifted from her presidential campaign to her personal office, didn’t return a request for comment. A spokesman for de Blasio declined to comment.
One person close to de Blasio said that they’ve asked around to make sure there was no validity to the Clinton rumors and were assured there was not. “Totally silly,” another adviser said.
But there don’t appear to be any qualms about letting de Blasio twist in the wind, after he infuriated Clinton loyalists over the course of the campaign. He heads into his reelection race without any clear Democratic opponent — despite middling poll numbers and at least seven federal or state investigations which have insiders openly betting about who’s going to be indicted, and when.
All he’s drawn is a little-known Republican challenger in a city that tilts heavily Democratic. That’s only increased the spite toward Clinton, especially among de Blasio backers who think she should be in hiding after losing to Trump rather than teasing a pretend return.
The speculation is tantalizing, even among the people who remain skeptical at best that it’ll ever go anywhere. Bradley Tusk, a Mike Bloomberg alum who’s led the de Blasio haters, laid out a 5-point plan for what Clinton would need to do to make her campaign real right away: an online fundraising appeal, a call for a ban on outside money, immediate collection of signatures to get on the ballot, a listening tour around the five boroughs, and leaning heavily into scooping up endorsements.
Of course, somewhere along the way, she’d have to move out of Westchester and actually into New York City.
The last public Clinton sighting was much different from a random hiking selfie. She and former President Bill Clinton and their daughter, Chelsea, attended the final performance of “The Color Purple” on Broadway over the weekend, to a few standing ovations as they entered and another when they were called out by the cast during the curtain call.
Brian Fallon, Clinton’s press secretary on the campaign tweeted a New York Times article about the way she was received, complete with a video of her swarmed by the crowd, flashing the thumbs up.
“#HillarysNewYork,” he wrote, a seeming reference to #DeBlasiosNewYork, a popular hashtag about the city under the current mayor.