He called longtime political allies and associates he had not spoken to for years. He told people that he was not interested in small donations from casual supporters. What he needed — to help him qualify for the next round of Democratic debates — was big money, fast.
He asked for maximum contributions of $2,800, according to three people who were directly solicited from the mayor.
To some, he sounded hopeful and determined, to others, dejected and pained.
“We both knew that this was a Don Quixote mission,” said Ravi Batra, a supporter of de Blasio’s, relating a five- to 10-minute call from the mayor in mid-September, roughly a week before the mayor exited the race.
Batra had already given the maximum contribution to the mayor’s presidential run, as had his wife. But the mayor still called, hoping he could raise money from others.
And so Batra, a politically connected lawyer, asked his son, Neal, also a lawyer, to give. And he did: $2,800 recorded in federal campaign filings on Sept. 16, four days before the mayor dropped out.
The roster of those who gave to de Blasio in the campaign’s final days mirrors those who had donated before. In several cases, the campaign went back to the same supporters, imploring them to help find others to give. Friends. Co-workers. Family.
And de Blasio, as he has throughout his mayoralty, took an active role in fundraising. He has long carved out time from his official schedule for “call time” so he can phone donors and finance his political ambition — an aggressive strategy that led to overlapping state and federal investigations, but ultimately no criminal charges.
His need for more money grew more acute as his dim presidential hopes faded. Large contributions continued to come in, from lobbyists and lawyers, real estate developers and the family that owns the New York Mets.
But de Blasio had burned through $1 million in the third quarter of this year as he crisscrossed the country in search of a galvanizing moment to propel his campaign. At the same time, he struggled to raise money, gathering about a third of that amount.
Yet even in September, de Blasio did not talk as if the end was near in his telephone pitch. He still held out hope of qualifying for the October debate — which came and went without him last Tuesday.
Bruce Berg, chief executive of a real estate development company, gave money two days before de Blasio dropped out, according to federal filings.
“I did it as a favor to somebody,” Berg said in a brief phone interview. “I don’t want to talk about it at all, sorry.”
Another developer who works with Berg and gave that day, Peter Palazzo, said he decided to give a maximum contribution out of genuine political preference. “Sanders didn’t seem to be an appealing candidate. Warren didn’t seem appealing either,” he said.
“I didn’t realize — obviously — that he was throwing in the towel a few days later,” added Palazzo.
For his federal campaign, de Blasio said he would go further than the required rules and refuse donations from people who are listed in the city’s “doing business” database. But that did not stop him from calling those people and asking them for help.
David Weinraub, an Albany-based lobbyist on the list, said he got a call from the mayor last month.
“I hadn’t talked to him in a long time,” Weinraub said. “I said, ‘What do you need, a zillion smaller donors?’ And he said no, I got that,’” he recalled the mayor saying confidently. (De Blasio was relying on an endorsement by the city’s hotel union, which provided him with thousands of low-dollar contributions to his campaign.)
“The goal then was that he was going to try to get into the October debate,” Weinraub recalled, “and he said he actually needed some big donors.”
Weinraub asked his son, Frederick, an employee of the lobbying firm, if he would be willing to give his own money. He did so.
A spokesman for the mayor’s presidential campaign, Jon Paul Lupo, said in a statement that “the mayor has not accepted money from any person on New York City’s ‘doing business list,’” adding that “many factors” went into de Blasio’s decision to end the campaign.
Another donor, who requested anonymity to discuss the conversation with the mayor, said de Blasio called one evening last month after a long day.
“I said hello. He said, ‘This is Bill de Blasio,’” the donor recalled. “He said, ‘I’m doing very well but I didn’t make the September debate’ and — his voice was literally breaking as he said that — he said that more than anything he felt that it was important that he reach his goal of making the October debate.”
The mayor was again looking for a maximum contribution — which the donor ultimately provided.
“I just felt sorry for him. He was in pain. I felt sorry for his pain, not so much for him. I heard a person who was in pain,” the donor said. “As a lifelong New Yorker, I said I would be happy to contribute to that effort.”
Others were less forthcoming with their reasons for helping a mayor whose campaign was slowly coming apart.
“I’d rather not comment. There’s no benefit, no upside,” said Albert Laboz, a real estate developer who made a maximum contribution about a week before de Blasio dropped out. “No comment, see you later,” he added, before hanging up.
In the end, the mayor fell far short of what he needed. Just $43,000 in campaign cash remained in the bank, federal filings show, when the doors closed on his operation Sept. 20.
“Even though it was a campaign coming to an end, campaigns should come to an end gracefully and not owe money,” Batra said. (His son did not respond to a request for comment.)
The very last donors to de Blasio’s presidential campaign were executives in Sterling Equities, including Richard Wilpon, whose family owns the New York Mets, and Saul Katz, the team’s president, and several people connected to them.
They also received a personal solicitation from the mayor, according to a person with knowledge of the discussion.
But while filings showed a total of $5,400 given via two separate entities on Sept. 19, the mayoral request came back in April. They simply did not get around to formally giving contributions until September. If they had waited one more day, they might have saved their money.
Of course, the Mets management is not known for timing the market.
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