On a recent weekday morning in Brooklyn, Greg Floyd pulled his black Lincoln Navigator curbside and immediately apologized for his casual clothing. He was wearing a purple Lacoste shirt and blue work pants and was under the mistaken impression that a photographer would be coming to take pictures. The interview was one of the first, tentative steps in Mr. Floyd’s nascent, long-shot campaign to become the leader of the country’s largest metropolis and Mr. Floyd wanted to take The Observer around to the Brooklyn and Queens of his childhood.
Such an exercise in nostalgia was necessary because Mr. Floyd, who since 2007 has served as local leader of the Teamsters union, couldn’t exactly take us around to the New York City of his present, since he, like many New Yorkers, decamped to Valley Stream, just over the Queens border on Long Island, when he couldn’t afford a home in the borough of his birth.
So he drove us to his boyhood home in Crown Heights, where a woman sitting on his former stoop asked first if he was a detective, then if he knew Sydney Poitier. We stopped by the deli where he worked after high school and where, at age 19, he picked up a copy of the union newspaper The Chief, and saw an ad that led to his joining his father as a member of the city’s public-hospital police force. And we visited the well-kept home his mother still keeps in Queens Village. On the walls were pictures of Mr. Floyd meeting Barack Obama and family portraits of Mr. Floyd with his father and two brothers, all in their dress blues.
Mr. Floyd has never run for, or served in, public office—and was elected head of the Teamsters in 2009 only after being appointed interim head when the scandal-scarred former president was pushed out in 2007. But he was inspired to seek the mayorality after watching some of the backlash earlier this year in Wisconsin and elsewhere to the rollback of collective-bargaining rights of public-sector workers. (Nationwide, the Teamsters are mostly long-haul truckers and construction workers, but in New York, Local 237 is a public-sector union of Housing Authority staff, school safety agents, hospital police and the like.)
“The mayor of New York City is the second most powerful position in this country. You know what the job of the governor of New York is? It’s to look in the papers every morning and see what the mayor of New York is doing,” Mr. Floyd said. “People will pay attention, if nothing else. I saw a man named Jimmy McMillan get national spotlight with one line: ‘The Rent Is too Damn High.’ And you know what? That is a silly message but people understood it. People heard it. We might laugh at the man but he got his point across.”
He continued, “People are running for office saying the most outlandish things. I said, ‘Greg, you’ve got a lot of things to say but no one wants to listen to you. What can you do? Well, you’ve got to run. You’ve got to run for something and at least try to get your message across.’”
That message? “That working men and women are in desperate need of help and if we don’t hear their cry there is going to be a revolution in this country. There will be bloodshed.”
Mr. Floyd compares the current economic situation in the country to Spider-Man, in which Peter Parker’s beloved Uncle Ben is murdered by a burglar whom Spidey had earlier failed to apprehend. “That is a lesson. You should have stopped the person and then your uncle would still be alive. Because you didn’t see the need to assist, it hurt you in the long run. So Wall Street does need to help somebody because I’m afraid there is going to be bloodshed in this country.”
So Mr. Floyd’s place in the field of 2013 mayoral contenders is clear, right? He’ll be the voice of working people, pulling the narrative to the left, defending the rights and perogatives of labor unions. Except the 2013 field is already filled with candidates tripping over themselves to be the candidate of the city’s powerful labor unions. Even Greg Floyd seems to think so.
Pressed on the other candidates in the race, Mr. Floyd mostly stuck to his opponents’ biographies.
“I think [Christine Quinn] is the front-runner. She has been a very good speaker of the City Council. She has been historic. First woman. I can see a lot of things she has done that are good.”
“[City Comptroller] John Liu is a very hard working individual. He has accomplished a lot. He is the first Asian-American elected official in the city and John has a bright future.
“Bill de Blasio is a very smart individual. Worked for the Clinton administration. Currently lives in Brooklyn.Another New Yorker.
“Scott Stringer. Former assemblyman. Borough of Manhattan president. Seems to be at every community meeting.
“Did I leave any out? Bill Thompson. Came very close to winning his last race. Was City Comptroller for eight years. His father is a judge. Grew up in Brooklyn. Now lives in Harlem.”