What to expect from New York City’s new mayor
On the first day of the New Year, New York City will have a new mayor. Bill de Blasio, the first Democrat to hold the position in 20 years, will be taking office after defeating opponent Joe Lhota by a margin of 49 percent on Election Day. As the BBC stated in its profile of the mayor-elect, he “campaigned on a promise to reverse the city’s rising income inequality, combined with sharp attacks on a city police policy that critics say violates the civil rights of minorities.”
His background has involved advocacy for these issues. He worked on the 1989 mayoral campaign for the first black NYC mayor, as well as for Hillary Clinton’s New York state senate campaign, one often associated with liberal social causes. He was also a regional director for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in the Clinton administration. He was also associated with activist movements as a young adult, most notably as an advocate for the Sandinista National Liberation Front in Nicaragua.
Statements of his radical past were often used by his opponents in order to diminish his credibility. Luckily for de Blasio, an opponent’s lack of credibility has much to do with how he was able to win the vote in the first place. The infamous Anthony Weiner of the two rounds of sexting scandals (one in 2011, and one in July 2013 in the midst of his mayoral campaign) was the primary other Democrat in the running until this sent him out of the race. Meanwhile, Republican candidate Lhota’s position was best summed up by the NY Daily News: “In a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans 6 to 1, Lhota faced an uphill climb from the moment he entered the race.” There was an immediate prejudice against Lhota from many constituents, which is assumed to be due to partisan lines. As the New York Times reported in September 2013, “And in a stinging blow for Mr. Lhota, a former city budget director, only 35 percent of voters said he would be a better manager of municipal finances, compared with 45 percent for Mr. de Blasio.” This relates to how, regardless of specific qualifications, there was a bias towards Lhota from the start. Despite his experience in City Hall under former NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani, after two decades of Republican mayors, it appears that NYC residents are ready for a change.
So, how will this change be executed? One major campaign point for de Blasio was proposing increased regulation of the stop-and-frisk New York City Police Department procedures. The mayor-elect even created an ad using his biracial son in regard to the controversy over profiling of young men of color for this procedure.
De Blasio’s family is one of the many ways that he garnered support. His kids are adolescents with public school educations. His wife, Chirlane McCray, is a black poet, writer and activist who before her marriage identified as a lesbian—all things that helped de Blasio get votes from groups that are underrepresented in government today. Prioritizing the rights of people of color, as he did with the stop-and-frisk ad, and overtly recognizing the prejudice that many other candidates ignore is an extremely valuable trait to have in office, especially in New York City.
Education was also important. His opponent Lhota wanted to create more charter schools, but de Blasio proposes funneling more time and energy into improving struggling public schools, as well as universal preschool in the city.
As in every race, taxes were also a highly contested issue. In a policy associated with many liberal candidates, the NY Daily News reports that de Blasio wants to increase the tax on the wealthy: “De Blasio wants to hike the income tax on New Yorkers earning $500,000 or more to 4.3 percent from 3.8 percent, and has vowed property tax reform.”
But promises like increasing the tax on the wealthy, reducing homelessness and reprioritizing education aren’t exactly new to many voters. As Forbes contributor Carrie Sheffield noted post-election, “De Blasio’s ‘public advocate’ role is strikingly similar to Barack Obama’s ‘community organizer’ gig: neither offered substantive executive experience managing massive, complex organizations. This came back to bite Obama—and millions of Americans—during the bungled rollout of ObamaCare.” NYC is obviously smaller in scale than the whole US, but it is still of great significance. Now that he has been elected, those in NYC are wondering whether his campaign promises will amount to any action.
There are quite a few reasons why some of his goals might become a reality. It starts with de Blasio’s support system of constituents. As stated above, Democrats to Republicans in the city are proportioned six to one — very unlike the nearly 50-50 partisan split in the country. There is the simple fact that New York is one city, not laced with all the layers of bureaucracy that the President of the United States has to work through in order to pass legislative action. The smaller scope of the position also allows de Blasio to put more focus into the issues that he has pledged to defend.
De Blasio is still just mayor-elect, and we don’t have much of his past experience to look to as we speculate about what will occur in the near future. During his victory speech he said, “Let me be clear, our work, all of our work, is really just beginning. We have no illusions about the task that lies ahead.” Recognition of the size and scope of the issues he and NYC will have to face in the next four years is a very good start to making promises that aren’t so empty after all.
Alexa Salvato is a freshman journalism major who is running for mayor of Buzzsaw. Email her at asalvat1[at]ithaca.edu.