Graced by a dais with hints of the national progressive sensation he has become, Bill de Blasio was sworn in as the 109th mayor of New York City on a frigid Wednesday afternoon, becoming the first Democrat to occupy City Hall in more than two decades.
De Blasio took the oath of office administered by his former boss, former President Bill Clinton, vowing to pursue a sweeping liberal agenda for the nation’s largest city. Some of his other former bosses, such as Hilary Clinton, former Gov. David Dinkins and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, sat nearby.
“Big dreams are not a luxury reserved for a privileged few but the animating force behind every community, in every borough,” de Blasio said.
The moment was the pinnacle of de Blasio’s unlikely political rise as a symbol of restoration for the city’s Democrats, who outnumber Republicans by a 6-1 ratio in one of the nation’s most liberal cities yet haven’t controlled City Hall since 1993.
De Blasio was first sworn in 12 hours earlier at a brief modest ceremony outside his home in Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood. Flanked by his wife, Chirlane McCray, and their two teenage children, he was administered the oath by state Attorney
General Eric Schneiderman, signed the official paperwork and, with a broad smile, paid the requisite $9 fee to the city clerk.
The events at City Hall were conducted on a far grander scale.
Clinton was joined by his wife and ex-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a presumptive White House front-runner in 2016. Former Gov. Mario Cuomo and his son, the current governor, another potential presidential candidate, also sat nearby, as did former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, just hours into his first day as a private citizen after spending 12 years in office.
Thousands of people braved low temperatures to salute the new mayor, who held a receiving line in City Hall after the ceremony. Two other Democrats also were sworn in to hold citywide offices: Letitia James as public advocate and Scott Stringer as comptroller.
De Blasio thanked his family, supporters and the city for “taking on the elite” and pushing for change.
“When I said we would take dead aim at the tale of two cities, I meant it. And we will do it,” he said. “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. We will succeed … as one city.”
Scores of everyday New Yorkers took part, including 11-year-old Dasani, who was featured in The New York Times’ multipart series on homelessness from which de Blasio has repeatedly said he has drawn inspiration.
The inauguration was undeniably political. Speaker after speaker, from civil rights activist Harry Bellafonte to Stringer to James, railed against the city’s inequality, delivering sharp rebukes to — though never mentioning by name — Bloomberg, who was sitting unsmiling just a few feet away. Only Bill Clinton and de Blasio offered praise for the former mayor, whose poll numbers remain relatively high.
The former president received a raucous ovation and spoke glowingly of de Blasio’s agenda, perhaps in an attempt to burnish the liberal credentials of himself and his wife as the Democratic Party seems to be shifting leftward. De Blasio’s tenure will be closely watched by liberals throughout the country who are eager to see how the nation’s largest city may be reshaped.
His first test in office, however, will likely be a practical one delivered by the weather: A significant snowstorm is expected to hit the five boroughs Thursday and Friday.
De Blasio takes office at a crucial juncture for the city of 8.4 million people.
As New York sets record lows for crime and highs for tourism, and as the nearly completed One World Trade Center rises above the Manhattan skyline, symbolizing the city’s comeback from the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, many New Yorkers have felt left behind.
De Blasio reached out to those he contended were lost during
the often Manhattan-centric Bloomberg administration, and he called for a tax increase on the wealthy to pay for universal pre-kindergarten.
“We do not ask more of the wealthy to punish success,” he said. “We do it to create more success stories.”
He also pledged to improve economic opportunities in minority and working-class neighborhoods and decried allegations of abuse under the police department’s stop-question-and-frisk policy. He and his new police commissioner, William Bratton, have pledged to moderate the use of the tactic, which supporters say drives down crime but which critics have claimed unfairly singles out African-Americans and Hispanics.
De Blasio’s inauguration culminates a remarkable political journey. For more than a decade, he was a political insider, working for the Clintons, Cuomo and Dinkins. He was then elected to the City Council, representing Park Slope and Boro Park for two terms.
He served as public advocate, the city’s official watchdog, and used the obscure and underfunded post to launch his mayoral bid. He was mired in fourth for much of the primary before the candidacies of several better-known opponents imploded. He then coasted to a general election rout over his Republican opponent.