New York Mayor Bill de Blasio had it all planned out — a stunt inside Trump Tower on Monday, an announcement on ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Thursday and, from there, outings in Iowa and South Carolina to begin making his case that he should be elected president.
But a high school junior in St. Louis had other plans, which were set into motion on Wednesday.
Gabe Fleisher, the 17-year-old whose “Wake Up To Politics” newsletter reaches 50,000 people each weekday, was scrolling through a politics blog after school — “I did my homework, too,” he maintained — when a small item caught his eye. He paused. It was an announcement from a local wing of the Democratic Party in Sioux City, Iowa, inviting members to see de Blasio on Friday at the mayor’s “first stop on his Presidential announcement tour.”
The finding threw an elaborately choreographed launch into disarray. The Democrat had been scheduled to lift the curtain on his candidacy on the morning talk show, fending off the press until then.
Gabe posted an image of the notice on Twitter, and, with that, “the cat was out of the bag,” he said in an interview Wednesday night, as he finalized an outline for his Thursday morning newsletter. The high school student rises each day at 5:55 a.m. to flesh out the bulletin, whose slogan affirms, “Politics doesn’t have to be confusing.”
He presses send by 7:30 a.m., before he heads to school.
“I’m Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom,” the newsletter begins. It then notes the number of days before Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses and Election Day 2020. Each edition features a major news item or two, such as the standoff between House Democrats and Attorney General William P. Barr, followed by a rundown of other noteworthy headlines. Schedules for the White House, Congress, the Supreme Court and the 2020 campaigns round out the report.
Thursday’s newsletter, Gabe said, would not revolve around de Blasio, who is joining a field of nearly two dozen Democrats vying for the White House.
“There’s not a huge groundswell of people that seem too energized about a de Blasio campaign,” he said bluntly. “But it’s still early.”
Still, his tweet, posted with an eyes emoji at 5:18 p.m. on Wednesday, was of considerable interest to media in New York and nationally. Major outlets scrambled; the New York Daily News alerted readers on social media about 15 minutes later and NBC News followed 10 minutes after that. A Facebook notice from the Woodbury County Democratic Party divulging details of de Blasio’s plans — and misspelling his last name in the process — was erased, but the genie couldn’t be put back in the bottle.
Meanwhile, Gabe dutifully reached out to both de Blasio’s team and the county Democrats. An aide in Manhattan confirmed to the 17-year-old that the two-term mayor was headed to Iowa this week, but would not say whether he was announcing a presidential campaign.
“But then they chose to break the embargo, and the news was everywhere,” Gabe said.
As for his own role, he was proud to have shaped how the story unfolded, especially given how much his newsletter typically relies on reporting from other outlets.
“It was exciting to watch it instantly get attention and trigger discussion,” said the student, who spent his morning taking a four-hour AP English language and composition test and his evening exchanging emails with aides to the mayor of the nation’s largest city.
The scoop marked a milestone for the politics junkie and journalism wunderkind whose newsletter began nearly a decade ago with exactly one reader: his mother.
The floppy-haired teenager first grew interested in politics during the 2008 election, when he was 6 or 7 years old. His father, a rabbi, piled Gabe and his older sister into the car in January 2009 and drove 13 hours to see Barack Obama’s first inauguration. Photos of the event rest alongside busts of past presidents, campaign bumper stickers, American flags and a bevy of books in Gabe’s bedroom in University City, Mo., a suburb of St. Louis.
As he began to seek out more information about politics and the presidency, he turned to his mother, who works in sales, to share what he had learned. But he always caught her at the wrong time — right when she was leaving the house.
“She said, ‘Put it in an email,’” Gabe recalled. “So I did.”
He was 9 at the time, and his mother began forwarding his dispatches to others. Soon, they reached a reporter at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and Gabe landed on the front page of his hometown newspaper on Super Tuesday in 2012.
Over the course of the next five years, his following grew to about 2,000 subscribers, including a number of high-profile figures in media and politics, such as Major Garrett, chief Washington correspondent for CBS News, and Jim VandeHei, an architect of Axios and, before that, Politico. A New York Times profile in 2017 significantly expanded Gabe’s readership, raising his count of “subscribers in high places,” as he put it. Other opportunities arose, from participating in Princeton University’s “Politics & Polls” podcast to appearing on “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee.”
Gabe’s subscribers will have one fewer email in their inboxes once the school year ends in two weeks and the teenager begins work as a camp counselor in Minnesota.
“I take a break in the summer and try to unplug,” he said.
He’ll return fresh in the fall, ready to gear up for a challenging campaign. The size of the Democratic field, he said, makes it difficult to give all candidates their due. His solution, which he said other political reporters might seek to emulate, is to “try to go where the news is, to try to cover the candidates when they are making news and not to focus only on the horse race.”
As his audience grows, so, too, does his capacity to shape the conventions of political reporting. Gabe plans to pursue journalism as a career — and to “continue the newsletter for as long as I can.”
Asked whether the newsletter’s inaugural subscriber still studies its contents, Gabe, who maintains a professionalism matching the severity of the political moment, let out a laugh.
“Most days,” he said.
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