New York City has a new mayor. Bill de Blasio was sworn in last week by Bill Clinton in a ceremony that covered issues of race and poverty, backed by an excellent soundtrack. Amber Jamieson reports from Manhattan.
The first day of the year saw New York City get a new mayor and a new political attitude, with a party-atmosphere inauguration of the first Democrat mayor in 20 years. Democrat royalty turned out to celebrate, with former president Bill Clinton swearing in Bill de Blasio from Brooklyn as the 109th mayor of New York City in a ceremony at City Hall.
“We don’t ask more of the wealthy to punish success, we do it to create more success stories,” said de Blasio, as he outlined a tax hike on those earning $500,000-$1 million annually.
Rather than a chauffeur-driven car, de Blasio and his postcard-worthy biracial family (pictured) walked up the steps of the City Hall subway station. The Boy From New York City, by the Ad Libs, played. “He’s kinda tall” goes its opening line, appropriate for the 6’5” mayor. That was quickly followed by a remix of Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York melting into Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’ Empire State of Mind, and then Kiss’ Back in the New York Groove.
This was the first mayoral inauguration with a DJ. The soundtrack deserves a special mention because it’s not easy to create a party in subzero temperatures.
Attendees drank steaming hot apple cider from commemorative thermos cups, and free blue blankets were wrapped around frozen legs. “In keeping with the traditions of my people, next time can we do this in Boca?” quipped Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, referring to the Florida city of Boca Raton that elderly east coast Jews flock to each winter.
Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton sat next to New York state Governor Andrew Cuomo, with outgoing mayor Michael Bloomberg a few seats down. De Blasio worked in Clinton’s administration and managed Rodham Clinton’s first campaign for the US Senate. His own campaign focused on New York as the “Tale of Two Cities”, a city divided into rich and poor, and often divided by race — topics that many of the inauguration ceremony speeches referenced.
“No more Brownstones and brown-skinned playing tug-of-war,” read one line of the impressive slam poem written by New York’s Youth Poet Laureate Ramya Ramana, an 18-year-old from Queens.
De Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, is African-American, and their biracial children featured heavily throughout his campaign, with ads featuring his afro-rocking son Dante often touted as critical in the shift of public opinion towards de Blasio.
“He represents, with his family, the future of this city and the future of our country,” said Clinton. “With all respect to the television show, they’re our real Modern Family.”
Afterwards, thousands lined up for over four hours for a photo with the new mayor. De Blasio staffers handed out hot dogs, empanadas and black and white cookies (a typical New York snack that resembles an oversized Neenish tart) to calm the freezing hordes. And New Yorkers reacted exactly as de Blasio encourages, throwing hot dogs to those who couldn’t reach the stand and breaking cookies into pieces to share. As one cookie sharer jokingly said: “We are building a new society right here.”
The party atmosphere continued on for the first week of de Blasio’s reign. When a snowstorm hit New York City this week, de Blasio shovelled his own sidewalk and pretended to striptease when asked how many layers of clothing he was wearing. A journalist asked de Blasio the flavour of his first day as mayor; he quipped in reply “strawberry”. In contrast, Bloomberg was the slick billionaire, the serious and straight-laced father of the city who lectured citizens about unhealthy eating.
Clinton was one of the few to pay tribute to Bloomberg in his speech, with most others continuously decrying the former mayor’s stop-and-frisk policies, the tax breaks given to wealthy developers and the city’s growing issue with homelessness.
A New York Times article last week showed that Bloomberg spent at least $650 million of his own money on being mayor — from breakfast and lunch for his staffers to large donations to arts organisations and international travel. The former mayor refused the US$225,000 salary he was entitled to and instead took just $1 a year from the city.
But de Blasio’s “tale of two cities” rhetoric worked perfectly against Bloomberg, and it’s a political message already being utilised by other US progressives — two other mayors in New York state used a similar line in recent local elections.
Clinton reiterated in his speech that he fully supported de Blasio’s campaign message. Last September saw new data reveal that the inequality gap between rich and poor in the US was now at its widest. Perhaps we can expect a “tale of two countries” slogan come 2016, since Hillary remains the hot favourite to be the Democrats’ presidential nominee.
But it was another subject of a New York Times article that drew much attention. Recently, the paper published a harrowing investigation into child homelessness and poverty. The star of that Invisible Child series, Dasani Coates, held the bible for Letitia James as she was sworn in as Public Advocate, the ombudsman for New Yorkers and the first woman of colour to hold citywide office.
While most of the crowd was made up of political volunteers, 1000 tickets were made available online last week to all New Yorkers and disappeared within minutes.