De Blasio Taking Office Citing Wealth Gap as Crime FallsHenry Goldman
Bill de Blasio becomes New York’s 109th mayor today after winning election in a record landslide by pledging to reduce income inequality and restrain aggressive police tactics.
De Blasio, 52, the first Democrat to run City Hall in 20 years, faces the challenge of turning those campaign promises into policy. Among his first tasks as he succeeds three-term Mayor Michael Bloomberg: persuading state lawmakers in Albany to approve higher taxes on the wealthy to pay for all-day pre-kindergarten and after-school programs for teens.
A self-described “progressive,” de Blasio has already captured national attention. President Barack Obama invited him and other newly elected mayors to a White House meeting last month to focus on job creation and economic fairness, and he emerged from the 90-minute session as the main spokesman for the group. Democrats will run the 12 biggest U.S. cities this year.
“He’s part of a surge nationally among Democrats to shift policy away from fiscal austerity to an expansion of the social safety net and better-paying jobs,” said Robert Shapiro, a professor and former chairman of the political science department at Columbia University in Manhattan. “People are looking to the cities for solutions to these problems.”
At noon, a ceremony on the steps of City Hall will feature former President Bill Clinton. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the former U.S. Secretary of State and a possible 2016 presidential candidate, also will attend. De Blasio worked in the Clinton administration as a regional director of Housing and Urban Development and managed Hillary Clinton’s successful 2000 campaign for U.S. senator from New York.
Consistent with the themes de Blasio pushed during his campaign, he set aside 1,000 free tickets for the public for the ceremonial swearing-in, which his transition team says is unprecedented. He also is hosting an open house Jan. 5 from noon to 5 p.m. at Gracie Mansion, the official mayoral residence on the Upper East Side. Those wishing to attend signed up on the Internet.
De Blasio takes over a resurgent city. Crime rates are at historic lows, the $72.7 billion budget is balanced, jobs are at an all-time high and a record 54 million tourists pumped money into the economy this year. Homicides have declined by almost 50 percent since Bloomberg became mayor in 2002, and this year’s total of 333 through Dec. 29 is 20 percent below last year’s record low.
That’s why de Blasio’s first major personnel decision was the Dec. 5 appointment of William Bratton, 66, as police commissioner, a job he held for two years until he resigned in 1996 after a falling-out with Republican Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.
Bratton’s 27-month stint heading the police department began a 20-year period in which crime dropped 74 percent. The achievement was due in part to CompStat, a system Bratton pushed that uses a database to map, categorize and time-stamp crimes to manage dangerous neighborhoods, said Jeremy Travis, president of John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan and a member of de Blasio’s transition committee.
The new commissioner takes over a 34,000-officer department and must prove he can continue to reduce crime while refining stop-and-frisk street tactics that de Blasio campaigned against, saying they targeted blacks and Latinos disproportionately and damaged police-community relations.
In appointing Bratton, de Blasio compared stop-and-frisk to chemotherapy cancer treatment.
“Used in the right dose it can save lives,” the mayor-elect said. “Used in the wrong dose, too heavy a dose, it can create its own dangers and problems. It can backfire.”
De Blasio said Dec. 30 that he would drop the city’s appeal of a federal court decision finding that the stop-and-frisk practice violated the Constitution.
Bratton also will run a 1,000-officer division devoted to terrorism investigations and prevention that’s been criticized for its surveillance of Muslims. De Blasio has vowed to curtail the practice.
Bloomberg’s three terms included zoning changes that stimulated investment to build offices, apartment towers and parks on underused waterfronts; new baseball stadiums in Queens and the Bronx; and an arena that brought professional basketball to Brooklyn. He closed multibillion dollar budget gaps in the recession that coincided with the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and after the 2008 financial crisis.
The city is on pace to reach a record 4 million total jobs in 2013, the mayor said last month. He is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.
Under Bloomberg, the city’s credit rating was raised three times, to Aa2, third-highest, by Moody’s Investor’s Service. As the change in administrations approached, investors on Dec. 17 accepted less extra yield on some New York general-obligation bonds compared with benchmark municipals with similar maturity. A security maturing August 2024 traded with an average spread of about 0.45 percentage point, compared with a 0.47 percentage-point when the bonds priced Dec. 12, data compiled by Bloomberg show.
The reduction in homicides in the 20 years since they topped 1,900 a year and the financial stability the city enjoys 40 years after its fiscal crisis created the conditions that allowed de Blasio to get elected on a liberal platform, Shapiro said.
“The voters were wary of crime and the fiscal crisis, and they put their trust in more moderate and conservative candidates,” Shapiro said, referring to Mayors Edward Koch, Giuliani and Bloomberg.
In de Blasio, New York voters chose a Cambridge, Massachusetts-bred Boston Red Sox fan who arrived in the city as a New York University undergraduate. He received a master’s degree in international relations from Columbia University. He then worked for a Catholic relief organization, for which he distributed food and medicine on a 10-day trip to Nicaragua.
De Blasio’s career in city politics began as an aide to former Mayor David Dinkins in 1990. He first won election as a Brooklyn school board member in 1999, and served two terms as City Councilman from 2002 to 2009, where he focused on child abuse and the homeless as chairman of its general welfare committee, before getting elected to the citywide watchdog post of public advocate in 2009.
De Blasio’s task, as he describes it, will be to focus on improving the lives of the 46 percent of New Yorkers with incomes at or below 150 percent of the city’s poverty level, or $46,000 for a four-person household in 2011. He seeks more income distribution in a city where the richest 1 percent took home 39 percent of all earnings in 2012, up from 12 percent in 1980, according to the Fiscal Policy Institute, a New York-based research group.
In a City Council with 48 Democrats among its 51 members, the overwhelming majority has expressed support for de Blasio’s agenda, including a resolution asking the state legislature to enact the tax increase. De Blasio defeated Republican Joseph Lhota in the mayoral race by 49 percentage points, the widest victory margin by a non-incumbent in city history.
Under de Blasio’s plan, the tax rate on incomes above $500,000 would rise to 4.4 percent from almost 3.9 percent. For the 27,300 city taxpayers earning $500,000 to $1 million, the average increase would be $973 a year, according to the Independent Budget Office, a municipal agency.
“We must first admit that the affordability crisis exists, and then resolve, together, to do something about it,” he said in an October speech to the Association for a Better New York, a group of corporate executives.
He’s also vowed to create 200,000 units of below-market “affordable housing” in the next 10 years, partly by using a $1 billion investment from city pension funds. On Dec. 23, he appointed Alicia Glen, the head of urban investment for Goldman Sachs Group Inc., as deputy mayor for housing and economic development to work out low-cost financing for the construction.
De Blasio’s election means that besides New York, there will be Democratic mayors next year in Los Angeles; Chicago; Houston; Philadelphia; Phoenix; San Antonio; Dallas; San Jose, California; Austin, Texas; and Jacksonville, Florida.
In some of those states, the legislatures are controlled by Republicans. As a result, when Democrats and mayors advocated issues such as higher taxes to support education and expanding Medicaid under Obama’s health-care overhaul, Republicans blocked them.
De Blasio may find a more receptive audience in Albany, where the Assembly is controlled by Democrats and the Senate by Republicans and a breakaway group of Democrats. Also, de Blasio worked for Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo when the governor was housing secretary under Clinton.
“Instead of pouring billions of dollars into unnecessary and overly generous tax incentives for big corporations, we need to invest in small businesses, in workforce training, and in the City University of New York -- the most reliable pathways for those seeking a shot at entering the middle class,” de Blasio said in the speech to the business group.