Democratic presidential hopeful Bill de Blasio on Sunday said a 1994 crime bill that 2020 rival Joseph R. Biden helped write was “one of the foundations” of “mass incarceration” in the country, describing it as a “huge mistake.”

“Look, the vice president and anyone else has to be accountable for every vote they take and what’s on their record, and I think that was a huge mistake,” Mr. de Blasio, the mayor of New York City, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

He touted a reduction in the jail population in New York City and said they are “ending the era of mass incarceration” in the city.

The mayor said the 1994 bill, signed by then-President Bill Clinton, incarcerated people who had “done very little” wrong.

“It’s taking a lot of work to finally break free from that, but let’s face it: federal policies, including that crime bill, are a big part of why untold thousands of people and families had their lives entirely disrupted and in many ways destroyed because folks who had done very little were sent to very long sentences,” he said. “We’ve got to break out of that, and anyone responsible has to be accountable and has to speak to it.”

Rivals of Mr. Biden have been looking for a way to eat into his healthy lead in early public polling on the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, and criminal justice could be an area where he’s vulnerable to criticism from the Democratic base.

The former vice president said while campaigning in New Hampshire this month that mass incarceration arose from state-imposed mandatory minimum sentences, and not the crime bill itself, but did say that a big mistake in the bill was enacting tougher sentences for crack cocaine than for powder cocaine.

Sen. Kamala Harris, another 2020 contender, said she has a great deal of respect for Mr. Biden, but that she disagreed with the 1994 bill and thinks the action contributed to mass incarceration in the country.

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