A One Year Analysis of New York City’s 109th Mayor
By Clifford Michel
“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,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio on the day of his inauguration. “…We won’t wait. We’ll do it now.”
The words echoed out of Bill de Blasio’s mouth were met with heavy skepticism. It had been two decades since a democrat graced the presence of City Hall’s Blue Room as NYC’s chief executive.
De Blasio was considered a long shot by many to win the race. The Daily News, New York Post, and New York Times, all endorsed former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.
But de Blasio’s emphasis on social and economic justice, more specifically his rally against the NYPD’s stop and frisk policy, easily got him through the primaries and the general election in November.
So as his tenure as Mayor began, it’s not surprising that a sweeping length of liberal legislation followed.
Still, de Blasio ran into several issues immediately. Governor Andrew Cuomo was hesitant to support his universal pre-kindergarten bill because of its tax on the highest income bracket, especially with 2014 being a reelection year for the Governor.
“He’s quickly learning what Mike Bloomberg, Rudy Giuliani and everyone before him learned,” David Catalfamo, an adviser to former Governor George Pataki, told Capital New York. “You can be mayor of the biggest city in the state but still have no say about what happens in Albany.”
Reports came out that aides to Governor Cuomo were pressuring elected officials to drop their support of the Mayor’s pre-K agenda. The Republican controlled State Senate also proved difficult for de Blasio to navigate as leaders claimed early on that they simply would not support hiking up any taxes.
Governor Cuomo eventually allotted $100 million over the next year and $1.5 billion over the next five years in the state’s budget for universal pre-K. Still, de Blasio resisted and tapped high ranking democrat, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to hold up the vote.
In continuation of his education reform, de Blasio denied rent free spacing in public school buildings in February to three of 17 charter schools and $200 million in Capital funding. All three schools were a part of the Success Academy Charter Schools, arguably the most successful network of charter schools in the U.S.
The decision attracted the attention of attack advertisements and Governor Cuomo, who openly advocated to support the charter schools.
Two short months later, the Mayor’s Office announced that it had found space for the charter schools and de Blasio’s first political bruising in office was over.
Vision Zero, a concept borrowed from Sweden, has also been championed by de Blasio. Vision Zero is centered around the idea that all traffic incidents can be prevented.
Essential parts of Vision Zero—lowering the speed limit to 25 miles per hour, installing additional red camera lights, and speed-tracking cameras—needed to be approved by the New York State Legislature, forcing de Blasio to call upon his bully pulpit again in Albany.
The Albany lawmakers approved de Blasio’s initiatives and major parts of Vision Zero were signed into law in late October.
In lockstep with the national conversation of the Democratic Party, de Blasio took executive action in late September to raise the minimum wage for city employees from $11.90 to $13.13 per hour and will likely reach $15.22 by 2019.
Being that he is the mayor of the largest municipality in the United States, de Blasio has been pulled into the national spotlight on multiple occasions.
De Blasio was ranked 29 in POLITICO Magazine’s “The POLITICO 50,” with his profile colorfully headlined: “The New Icon of the Left.”
The interview outlines the news media’s tendency to pick up on the mayor’s actions, believing that some actions may become national trends.
Other times the national spotlight has shown de Blasio as a calm pragmatist, such as when the city was responding to the revelation that Craig Spencer, a doctor in New York, had Ebola.
Above all else that has tested and torn the mayor was the death of Eric Garner, who died of an apparent chokehold by an NYPD officer.
Garner’s death, paired with the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, dominated headlines from July through December.
De Blasio’s challenge lied within his campaign promise to mend minority neighborhoods’ relationships with police officers, while simultaneously supporting a police department that has never really trusted the mayor.
De Blasio took a stranglehold of the democratic primary after he ran an advertisement with his son Dante, who is black, that spoke out against the unfairness of Stop and Frisk targeting of minorities.
“He is the only one that’ll stop a Stop and Frisk era that unfairly targets people of color. Bill de Blasio will be a mayor for every New Yorker and I’d say that even if he weren’t my dad,” Dante said in the advertisement.
De Blasio ended up tapping Bill Bratton as NYC’s new Police commissioner to ease community relations.
Later in the year Bratton announced that the NYPD has lived up to the city’s promise to curtail stop and frisk.
“This year, as of today, we’ve done about 45,000,” Bratton said at the American Justice Summit at John Jay College in November. “So we’ll probably end the year with about 50,000. It’ll be down about 75 percent from what it was last year.”
But Garner’s death has overshadowed these efforts and has resulted in a surprising wave of negativity for the mayor. Shortly after the grand jury indictment, the mayor announced that the entire police force would go through a retraining process and that the city would pilot a $258 million body camera program.
The body camera program seems to have lost traction after the jury’s decision, being that the entire incident with Garner was recorded. Thousands of demonstrators showed their displeasure through nearly a week of continuous protests, Include the Millions March in Manhattan, which attracted 50,000 to 60,000 protesters.
“I’m not saying it’s a full solution. You can probably turn them off. A crooked cop can come along and take it apart. I don’t think it’s a full solution,” Taurean Lanier, a Staten Island resident, told The Banner at 202 Bay Street shortly after the grand jury’s decision. “Indictment the only way to set an example. They make an example of us every day.”
Reactions from police officers, who have been skeptical of de Blasio since he rallied against them during his bid for mayor in 2013, has also been quite negative.
The Sergeants Benevolent Association announced on December 16 that hundreds of police officer signed an open letter to de Blasio asking him and other elected officials to not attend their funerals if they die in the line of duty.
The action stems from, what officers feel like, a lack of support from the Mayor.
Garner’s death has also called into question Bratton’s “broken windows” policing style, which calls on a police force to stop petty crime to prevent major crime.
It’s clear that De Blasio is sticking to his promise to bring liberalism back to New York City, but it’s already been shown multiple times that when the Mayor has constant support for the people, it may cause a rift between the institutions closest to the city.