By Gloria Dulan-Wilson – January 5, 2014
New Yorkers Breathe Easier as Mayor de Blasio, Comptroller Stringer and Public Advocate James take Oaths of Office: Let the Healing Begin!
With history having been made in New York, as the Borough of Brooklyn made a clean sweep, having the top administrators elected simultaneously for the first time, it’s no wonder people are saying BROOKLYN ROCKS! With Bill de Blasio as Mayor, Letitia James as the first Black female Public Advocate; Eric Adams as Brooklyn’s first Black Borough President, Ken Thompson, the first Black Brooklyn DA – all breaking records as first-timers – taking oaths of office to take over the helm and change the direction of the city.
Wednesday, January 1, 2014 New Yorkers breathed a collective sigh of relief as the top three administrators of the City of New York were sworn in: Bill de Blasio is now the 109th Mayor of the City of New York, a position which is, arguably, the second-most important and prestigious job, right after that of President of the United States. Scott Stringer now takes over as Comptroller of the second-largest and most far-reaching budget in the US; and Letitia (Tish) James now steps in as Public Advocate, the position second only to the mayor.
The financial, cultural and social capital of the world, New York City – the mecca for most people who want to make it – has been under a 20-year siege of disintegration – witnessing the whittling away of its middle and lower economic classes, with favor given to the rich. For the first time in the 20 years, New York City has both a Democratic Mayor and a Democratic Governor. For the first time the city may actually enjoy having the policies in Albany in synch with the policies in the city. For the first time there is a sense of true optimism on the part of New Yorkers, who have become so accustomed to betrayal and schizophrenic rules whereby the city has been routinely given the short end of the stick.
The past 20 years saw those moves intensified with New York City being dubbed a “tale of two cities”, one of haves and have-nots, under both Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg, the previous mayors. It escalated during the past 12 years when the focus became primarily that of making Manhattan the exclusive realm of the rich, with Brooklyn becoming its back yard; thereby forcing the last remnants of Brooklynites to flee to points south after being pushed out of their homes as the result of unconscionable rent increases as properties passed from those of the communities into those of the conglomerates.
New Yorkers who had been displaced, as the result of draconian policies, watched on TV as de Blasio took the oath with renewed hope that by some miracle they would now be able to return home to find better job opportunities, decent affordable homes and better conditions than those which forced them to leave their beloved city.
For the cynical, having endured far too many lies and setbacks over the 20 years, there is a “let’s wait and see what happens” attitude. But for others, there was a clear undertone of “we’re taking New York back, no waiting or equivocating, on the part of three new administrators”.
Indeed, it appeared that all the acceptance speeches were a direct refutation and repudiation to the Bloomberg Administration. They were so directly aimed at Bloomberg one almost expected at least one of the candidates to go, stand in front of him and point a finger at him saying, sternly, “bad mayor, bad mayor; glad you’re gone, sorry you stayed so long”!! And, in fact, that was the overall tenor of most of those in attendance at the inauguration, and the millions of others who watched it streamed live into their living rooms. You could almost hear “boo!” “hiss” whenever a camera chanced to focus on him.
I’ve covered other mayoral inaugurations, which generally follow a prescribed pattern, but you notice immediately that there was something uniquely different in the atmosphere of this 2014 version of the mayoral inauguration. The music was totally different from what one usually hears at a mayoral inaugural ceremony. Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel” played in the background just before the ceremony commenced.
The stage was set with some of the who’s who of New York: the de Blasios, Bill and Hillary Clinton – the first time a mayor was sworn in by a former US President. Harry Belafonte kicked off the ceremony talking about the end of the “tale of two cities” – one rich and one extremely poor. The first interracial couple has resided in Gracie Mansion; the first Mayor of New York married with an African-American wife; the first time I can remember having heard a mayor refer to his wife as the love of his life – most mayors in the past have been so antiseptic or acerbic that we’ve forgotten the word love even existed in New York.
The first time a former mayor – David Dinkins – presided in the swearing-in of the Public Advocate, who in turn is the first Black/female Public Advocate; and finally, one who actually has true insight into the plight of the constituents across the board.
As the camera panned across the stage, one could see that most of the guests were paired off – Mayor and Ms. Dinkins; Harry Belafonte and wife; President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton, among others. And, sandwiched somewhere in between was exiting mayor Michael Bloomberg, who looked rather like an unsmiling, shrunken crone in the midst of all the smiles.
Harry Belafonte set the tone for the rest of the ceremony by stating that de Blasio’s mayoralty marked the new emancipation proclamation for New Yorkers. That it was the end of the “tale of two cities” as he now begins his tenure to “set the captives free” – from overpriced housing, underpaid jobs, lack of contracts and good faith, free from poor educational systems.
The tone, which was echoed by the new administrators, was as much an indictment for the past twelve years under Bloomberg as it was that of promise for the next four years with de Blasio at the helm.
Even the poem, written and recited by New York City Youth Poet Laureate Ramya Rmana, entitled “New York City”, was like a gauntlet thrown down in front of the previous regime. She graphically depicted the stress and struggle endured by “Black, white, Asian, Latino and Asian New Yorkers over the past 12 years; culminating with, “We congratulate Mayor Bill de Blasio, we are so happy to have you… and let the congregation say ‘Amen!’”
Scott Stringer, City Comptroller, pledged to be a wise steward over the city’s funds, making sure that the dollars were appropriately invested in the city’s people as much as with outside concerns. Homes would take precedence over stadiums; education over elitism. He managed to maintain his composure and focus, while his adorable, precocious little child, who had broken away from his wife, frolicked in the background, much to the delight of the audience (and totally unlike the brat who disrespectfully disrupted Giuliani’s swearing-in 20 years ago). Stringer, who stood with his wife and newborn baby, and pledged to “put people above politics and shared prosperity above private aggrandizement. For all its great wealth, New York is only as strong as its most vulnerable children. All people will find opportunity in our city of aspirations”.
Letitia (Tish) James was joined on the stage by Mayor David N. Dinkins – amidst cheers from the audience. The Rev. Anthony L. Trufant, of Emmanuel Baptist Church, paused to express gratitude to former NY Mayor David Dinkins as the first mayor of African-American descent who served the city with dedication. He also acknowledged Dasani Coates, a young homeless child whose family was recently chronicled in the New York Times, held the Bible for Ms. James as she took the oath of office.
There was a moment of humor when the minister stated “I conclude”, in reference to his speech, and Ms. James mistakenly thought it was part of her oath, and repeated his statement, then realizing her error stated, “Oh! You conclude?” bringing levity to the event as the audience laughed with her.
Rev. Trufant, in concluding the oath, had a message of his own to deliver: “…to be where you’re supposed to be when you’re supposed to be there, and do what you’re supposed to do for the people of the city of New York, and to speak courageously and clearly truth to the powerful, and vow to attend to the voice of the disenfranchised and the distressed, whose voices must be respected and responded to. Now Public Advocate James, go make a difference, so that when you leave office people will say that you left them better off than when you found them.”
As part of her acceptance speech, Public Advocate James stated: “I never expected to hold city-wide office, or to be the first woman of color to hold the Office of Public Advocate. I joined public service because I thought it was the single most effective way to change that outlook of exclusion and marginalization that polarized so many New Yorkers at one time or another; the policies that left them voiceless must turn at some point or another; that speaks for them; that cares more about a child going hungry than a new stadium; or a new tax credit for a new development. To live up to the challenge and to be morally centered is the task before those of us who consider ourselves the morally conscious wing of our city. “
She continued: “Even as the tide turns towards progress, we do not have the luxury to rest. The growing gap between the haves and the have-nots undermines our city, and tears at the fabric of our democracy. Homeless shelters and substandard housing developments stand in the shadow of gleaming high rises – longtime residents are being priced out of their neighborhoods by rising rents and stagnant incomes. We live in a city where a New York City worker can work full-time and still have to have food stamps to feed her family. Half of all New Yorkers are living at or near the poverty line. I’ve met with individuals who have made a science of stretching a paltry $7.25 an hour an act of magic while trying to survive in one of the most expensive cities in the world.”
Focusing on young Dasani Coates and her family, who were honored guests at the inauguration, and calling her her new BFF (Best Friend Forever), James stated, “…in the face of insurmountable odds, working people of New York don’t give up; their spirits have not been broken. New Yorkers get up each day and fight, and when they’re knocked down, they get up again and fight some more. New York still has one of the most diverse and talented workforces in the world. If the working aren’t getting their fair share, or they don’t get the reforms New Yorkers were promised, you’d better believe Dasani and I will stand up – all of us will stand up and call out anyone and anything that stands in the way of our progress. One City, Together!”
Bill de Blasio is the first Democrat to hold the Office of Mayor since David N. Dinkins. The last 20 years has seen the rights, goods and quality of services, affordable housing and job opportunities for New Yorkers diminished, while simultaneously, the costs of living, housing, education and food escalated. New Yorkers have been forced to choose between rent and food. These and other issues are why New York has been called the “tale of two cities” – that of the haves and the have-nots. With the latest decision from Congress to not extend unemployment benefits, the cutback in food stamp benefits and the continued escalation of housing and rental costs, his first thirty days are more likely to be about damage control than anything else.
President Bill Clinton, who administered the Oath of Office to de Blasio, was the first US President to do so. De Blasio, having worked in the campaigns for former President Clinton, former Mayor David Dinkins and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was the first mayor I can recall who mentioned his wife as his “soul mate and the love of his life”. A sharp departure from the pomp and circumstance one is accustomed to.
After complimenting his wife and children, he proceeded to detail his vision for the future of a reunified New York City. He complimented Bloomberg for being dedicated to New York, but emphatically thanked Mayor David Dinkins for “starting us on the road to a safer city, and for always uplifting our young people – and I must say personally, for giving me my start in New York City government. Thank you. And Mayor Dinkins, you also had the wisdom to hire a strong and beautiful young woman who walked up to me one day in City Hall and changed my life forever”.
De Blasio sought to dispel any concept that his campaign promises were only to help him get elected. Under the theme of his message, “We won’t wait, we’ll do it now”, he pledged to:
> Take “dead aim at dispelling the image of the Tale of Two Cities”;
> Provide quality services in all 5 boroughs, because “big dreams are not a luxury reserved for a privileged few but the animating force behind every community in every borough;
> Do everything possible to ensure that every girl and boy, no matter what language they speak, what subway line they ride, what neighborhood they call home — that every child has the chance to succeed. City government’s first responsibility is to keep our neighborhoods safe;
> Expand the Paid Sick Leave law so no one would lose pay simply because illness strikes, with the view to having 300,000 additional New Yorkers protected by 2015;
> Keep our streets clean to ensure that those who live here – and those who visit – can get where they need to go in every borough;
> Put an end to economic and social inequalities that threaten to unravel the city we love. Commit to a new progressive direction in New York;
> Require big developers to build more affordable housing, stem the tide of hospital closures, expand community health centers into neighborhoods in need.
His key message was to require the very wealthy to pay a little more in taxes to underwrite full-day Universal pre-K and after-school programs for every middle school student. Those who earn $500,000 to $1,000,000 a year will have their taxes increased by an average of $973 a year, or approximately $3.00 per day, over a five-year period, or, as he put it, “about the cost of a small soy latte at your local Starbucks to help our kids get on the right path and stay there”.
Rightfully reminding New Yorkers that all the efforts and work had to be done in conjunction and cooperation with the city’s residents he stated, “It won’t be accomplished only by me, it will be accomplished by all of us — those of us here today, and millions of everyday New Yorkers in every corner of our city. You must continue to make your voices heard. You must be at the center of this debate. And our work begins now”.
Mayor de Blasio’s ultimate message was that “New Yorkers see our city not as the exclusive domain of the One Percent, but a place where everyday people can afford to live, work and raise a family. We won’t wait. We’ll do it now. But now, in our time, we face a different crisis – an inequality crisis. It’s not often the stuff of banner headlines in our daily newspapers. It’s a quiet crisis, but one no less pernicious than those that have come before. Its urgency is read on the faces of our neighbors and their children as families struggle to make it against increasingly long odds. To tackle a challenge this daunting, we need a dramatic new approach — rebuilding our communities from the bottom up, from the neighborhoods up. And just like before, the world will watch as we succeed. All along the way, we will remember what makes New York, New York. Pledging to leave no New Yorker behind, he stated that the same progressive impulse has written our city’s history. It’s in our DNA”. ###
NOTE: New Yorkers have (for the first time) an opportunity to make a major midcourse correction, with both the Governor and the Mayor now working in conjunction with each other, it’s up to all of us to make sure we are part of the solution, not part of the problem. It requires dropping our cynicism for collective cooperation, creativity and vision. It’s not going to happen overnight, but it can happen if we make it happen. – GDW