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New year, new mayor, same issues

Stephon Johnson | 1/2/2014, 11:45 a.m.

After taking the mayoral oath in a private, live-streamed ceremony at his Park Slope home, Bill de Blasio did it again on New Year’s Day at City Hall with more pomp and circumstance.

The new mayor was sworn in by former President Bill Clinton with a crowd of elected officials, local dignitaries and regular New Yorkers bundled up to deal with the freezing temperatures. De Blasio’s speech reiterated much of what his campaign stood for: income inequalities, making the rich pay their fair share and making the five boroughs affordable for all New Yorkers and not just the highest bidders.

When looking at now former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s legacy, many will point to the drop in crime and the “rise” of certain neighborhoods like Harlem, Williamsburg and the Lower East Side. Bloomberg treated New York City, particularly Manhattan, as a luxury item. But only the privileged few can afford luxury. The problem for many working-class New Yorkers wasn’t the drop in crime or the change in their neighborhoods; it was who benefited from those things. Most New Yorkers felt that the changes weren’t about them. They felt like they were forgotten. De Blasio wants to remind those New Yorkers that they have a stake in this city as well.

Ambiguity is the word to use when discussing de Blasio. We know about his son, Dante, his daughter, Chiara, and his wife, Chirlane, but not as much about him beyond the basics. He’s staunchly opposed to stop-and-frisk, but he brought back an avid stop-and-frisk supporter (William Bratton) as police commissioner. He advocates making charter schools pay rent, but his new appointee to the schools chancellor position has a fan in Success Academy Charter School CEO Eva Moskowitz. But Wednesday was about optimism, and de Blasio came armed with a lot of it.

With the city being 20 years removed from its last progressive mayor, de Blasio comes to Gracie Mansion with a lot of questions. All public unions are working without contracts and looking to negotiate raises and back pay, the city’s budget is projected to be a shortfall and homelessness rose consistently under Bloomberg. During the 2013 mayoral race, de Blasio’s Republican opponent Joe Lhota used ads reminding citizens of the city’s “bad old days,” suggesting that the new mayor would take the city back to the days of graffiti and crack vials in the streets.

But de Blasio reminded everyone braving the cold at City Hall on Wednesday that his reign as mayor won’t be about regression, but progression. It won’t be about bringing the rich down, but raising the poor up. It won’t be about “being better off” as a poor or homeless person in New York City than anywhere else (like Bloomberg recently said). Rather, it will be about hardworking, law-abiding, poor, working-class and middle-class people being able to make a living in New York City if they so choose.

Yet, de Blasio has to put his actions into motion. He has to walk the walk. And while Wednesday morning might have signaled the end of the Bloomberg era, at least the people knew where de Blasio stood on certain issues. De Blasio still has to show it and prove it.