Politics

01.01.14

Bill de Blasio Starts His Progressive Revolution

New York’s 109th mayor was sworn in Wednesday promising to enact almost every liberal wish. But the mayor’s political fate truly rests on the NYPD.

As the hour of the inauguration neared, an NYPD supervisor said that Mayor Bill de Blasio had fallen ill and that his aides were not sure he would be able to arrive at City Hall by subway as planned.

“They’re worried,” the supervisor said of the aides.

But at 11:45 a.m., de Blasio and his family emerged from the underground and a cheer went up from a line of largely young supporters who had been prepositioned by the subway entrance. A hipster senior aide in a grey knit cap motioned with his arms for them to cheer even louder. The sound system played “The Boy From New York City.”

However ill he may have been, de Blasio suddenly seemed fully energized. He had gone in a few weeks from being an impossible long shot to winning by an historic landslide and here he was, about to be formally inaugurated as the 109th mayor of the City of New York.

To make it all the more unreal, de Blasio was to be sworn in by President Bill Clinton, who had arrived with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. De Blasio has a long history with the Clintons, but they had remained neutral during the mayoral race. Their presence at Wednesday’s ceremony was widely seen as recognizing that the progressive message with which de Blasio became mayor had also made him representative of a new national dynamic in which Democrats were actual Democrats .

When the big moment came, the former president rose from beside the person who is presently most likely to become the next one. One factor that could change things for Hillary Clinton is this new progressive surge, which Bill Clinton forthrightly embraced in his brief remarks. He declared that he “fully endorsed” de Blasio’s “core campaign commitment” to address the Dickensian disparity in prosperity and opportunities between the wealthy few and struggling many.

“This inequality problem bedevils our entire country, and, I can tell you from my work, much of the world,” Clinton said. “We cannot go forward if we don’t do it together.”

Clinton noted that de Blasio would be taking the oath on a Bible once used by FDR.

“It is altogether appropriate he should do so,” Clinton said. 

The Clintons were taking a gamble by embracing the lanky onetime long shot who now stepped up to take the oath.  The liberalism of decades past was widely seen as leading to urban decay and high crime and there had been a turnaround during 20 years of Republican mayors. Murder was now at a record low and New York was not just the safest, but also the healthiest and cleanest big city in America.

“However it goes, the political fate of de Blasio—and to at least some degree of Hillary Clinton—now hinges on the NYPD.”

But it was not the fairest, with the working poor being pushed from their neighborhoods to make room for million dollar co-ops and crime reduction too often seeming to translate into infringing on the constitutional rights of young men of color. De Blasio had pledged to end this “tale of two cities” and tip the balance back towards greater equality.

The danger for New York and de Blasio, and therefore the Clintons, is that he might also tip New York back into what are known as the bad old days. There had already been two murders before 2014 was three hours old and it will be the duty of newly named Police Commissioner Bill Bratton to ensure the bloodshed was not a portent.

Bratton—teamed with the now-deceased policing genius Jack Maple—was able to cut murder by more than half during his first tenure as police commissioner under Mayor Giuliani.  The essential principle behind that unprecedented drop is in keeping with de Blasio’s worldview. Maple’s computerized Compstat system forced the NYPD to address black-on-black crime as seriously as it did black on white crime.  His strategies are still in place and are largely responsible for the city’s remarkable transformation.  There is no reason why they cannot remain just as effective as Bratton seeks to reign in some of the stop-and-frisk abuses and create greater trust between the cops and civilians.

Maple certainly had clear notions of police fairness, as he demonstrated as a young cop when he came upon a captain who was beating a hulking prisoner in handcuffs. Maple removed the cuffs and said, “Hit him now, captain.”

However it goes, the political fate of de Blasio—and to at least some degree of Hillary Clinton—now hinges on the NYPD. 

The other big question is whether de Blasio’s talk about equality was just part of an effort to get to where he was now, standing with his left hand on that FDR Bible, his right hand upraised as he solemnly took the oath of office as the new mayor.

He sure sounded altogether sincere in the inaugural address that followed, all the more so because the adrenalin of his arrival seemed to be wearing off and he did not appear to be feeling his best even as he sought to rouse what was best in all who could hear him.

De Blasio began by thanking the Clintons, reminding everyone that Bill had once told us “to still believe in a place called Hope” and Hillary had told us “it takes a village.” He did not forget to acknowledge the presence of Governor Andrew Cuomo, who may find it harder than expected to resist de Blasio's calls for a tax hike on the wealthy given the new progressive mood.

De Blasio also thanked his predecessors, Mike Bloomberg and David Dinkins. De Blasio noted that Dinkins had given him his start in New York City government as a mayoral aide.

“You also had the wisdom to hire a strong and beautiful young woman who walked up to me one day in City Hall and changed my life forever,” de Blasio said.

To now be back here with his wife, Chirlane McCray and their children, Chiara and Dante, was too remarkable for it not to feel like destiny. And a sense of something meant to be seemed to fill him as he described his family as “my rock” and went on to say that “what makes today so special isn’t just my family, but our larger New York family.”

“We see what binds all New Yorkers together: an understanding that big dreams are not a luxury reserved for a privileged few, but the animating force behind every community,” he said, “the spark that ignites our unwavering resolve to do everything possible to ensure that every girl and boy, no matter what language they speak, what subway line they ride, what neighborhood they call home—that every child has the chance to succeed.”

He acknowledged that the city government's first responsibilities are to keep the streets safe and clean. The damp chill in the air, along with the visible breath that accompanied his words sere a reminder of an approaching snowstorm, which promised to be his first big test on the most fundamental duties of any mayor of whatever political bent.

“But we know that our mission reaches deeper,” de Blasio said. “We are called to put an end to economic and social inequalities that threaten to unravel the city we love. And so today, we commit to a new progressive direction in New York. And that same progressive impulse has written our city’s history. It’s in our DNA.”

He invoked the memory of liberal champions ranging from FDR to Harry Belafonte, who had just addressed the gathering at city hall at the start of the ceremony, with a heartfelt call for greater racial justice.

“It’s that tradition that inspires the work we now begin,” de Blasio now said. “A movement that sees the inequality crisis we face today, and resolves that it will not define our future.”

He then got to that other big question, the one about sincerity.

“Now I know there are those who think that what I said during the campaign was just rhetoric, just ‘political talk’ in the interest of getting elected,” he said. “There are some who think now, as we turn to governing—well, things will just continue pretty much like they always have.”

He spoke the words by which he will have to live, not some campaign promise, but a pledge issued in office:

“So let me be clear. When I said we would take dead aim at the tale of two cities, I meant it. And we will do it. I will honor the faith and trust you have placed in me. And we will give life to the hope of so many in our city.”

He went on, “We will succeed as one city. We know this won’t be easy; it will require all that we can muster. And it won’t be accomplished only by me; It will be accomplished by all of us—those of us here today, and millions of everyday New Yorkers in every corner of our city.”

He got to specifics.

“We will expand the Paid Sick Leave law—because no one should be forced to lose a day’s pay, or even a week’s pay, simply because illness strikes...”

With that came a reminder that he was said not to be feeling well. He indeed looked like he was fighting off something as he continued. And that had the effect of making him seem all the more sincere.

He spoke of reforming stop-and-frisk and requiring real estate developers to build more affordable housing and fighting to keep hospitals open and expanding community health clinics in poor neighborhoods.

“So that New Yorkers see our city not as the exclusive domain of the One Percent, but a place where everyday people can afford to live, work, and raise a family,” he said.

Off to his left was the Brooklyn Bridge, where throngs of Occupy Wall Street protesters were arrested two years ago for blocking traffic. The most common criticism of the Occupy movement was that it had no leader, no set goals. Here was a leader speaking much the same language, but with particular aims that he was determined to achieve, and soon.

“We won’t wait,” he said. “We’ll do it now.”

But lest anybody think he was a radical, he made clear that when he spoke of taxing the rich to fund universal pre-K and after school programs for middle schoolers, he was only asking them to pay “a little more.” He suggested that the city’s very wealthiest would be paying only $973 more a year.

“That’s less than three bucks a day—about the cost of a small soy latte at your local Starbucks,” he said.

He was speaking of not so much occupying Wall Street as enlisting it.

“So please remember: we do not ask more of the wealthy to punish success,” he said. “We do it to create more success stories.”

He ended by noting that the city was no stranger to a good fight.

“New York has faced fiscal collapse, a crime epidemic, terrorist attacks, and natural disasters,” he said. “But now, in our time, we face a different crisis—an inequality crisis.”

He acknowledged it is a calamity that can go largely unnoticed by those who do not feel its full brunt.  And those who do feel it are too often not heard.

“It’s a quiet crisis, but one no less pernicious than those that have come before,” he said.

He still looked like he was not feeling his best, but he had never been better as he went on to say,  “Its urgency is read on the faces of our neighbors and their children, as families struggle to make it against increasingly long odds.”

He invoked a New York to come like the New York that once was, before chaos and crime gave liberalism a bad name.

 “We will remember what makes New York, New York,” he declared. “A city that fights injustice and inequality—not just because it honors our values, but because it strengthens our people”

As he continued, a listener needed only substitute “country” for “city” and “New York” to see how the progressive view would play for a national candidate such as Hillary Clinton, who was now politically married to him.

“It’s a place that celebrates a very simple notion: that no matter what your story is—this is your city. Our strength is derived from you. Working together, we will make this One City. And that mission—our march toward a fairer, more just, more progressive place, our march to keep the promise of New York alive for the next generation.”

The test of his abilities and resolve would have been commencing even as he spoke, whether or not he had closed by saying, “It begins today.”

Meanwhile, the new year’s first big storm is expected to hit the city on Thursday and snow removal comes before social justice.  The performance of the Clinton’s political BF will be there for all to see.

The progressive new mayor says he is ready. And you can bet that if need be he will be out with a shovel himself, sick or not.