Bill de Blasio was sworn in as the 109th mayor of New York City on Jan. 1, 2014. Credit: Bess Adler
Despite the two mayors sharing a seemingly genial moment in the subway prior to the event, the first hour of speakers at Bill de Blasio's inauguration devoted much of their speeches to ripping into Michael Bloomberg's record — without ever saying the name of the 71-year-old former mayor sitting in the front row.
New Public Advocate Tish James spoke derisively of standardized tests, hospital closures, stop-and-frisk, and "decrepit homeless shelters and housing developments [that] stand in the neglected shadow of gleaming multi-million dollar condos."
And Harry Belafonte, escorted to the podium by de Blasio's teenage son, Dante, asserted that "New York, alarmingly, plays a tragic role in the fact that our nation has the largest prison population in the world."
"Much of that problem stems from issues of race perpetuated by the depth of human indifference to poverty," he said.
His tacit criticism of Bloomberg was wrong on two counts, however. For one, New York City's incarceration rate is 30 percent lower than the nationwide incarceration rate. On top of that, Bloomberg sank millions of his personal wealth into programs geared at keeping young men of color out of jail, like the Young Men's Initiative.
Over an hour into the ceremony, former President Bill Clinton got up to speak. He spoke fondly and proudly of de Blasio as a long-time friend and former staffer, saying he "got a big kick of watching New Yorkers fall in love with" the de Blasio family.
He was also the first to not only speak Bloomberg's name aloud, but to thank the man who, he said, "has committed so much of his life to this city."
Applause rippled through the crowd and shouts of "Yeah!" rang out.
"He leaves the city stronger and healthier than he found it, more people are coming here than leaving," Clinton said.
Former Mayor Bloomberg looked on as speaker after speaker attacked his record without ever saying his name. Credit: Bess Adler
Bloomberg did get cheers, but as de Blasio approached the podium to be sworn in, people rose to their feet and at least one attendee far from the stage called out, "I love you!"
A thank you to Bloomberg was written into de Blasio's prepared remarks, but the new mayor deviated slightly, adding, "Please, let's acknowledge the incredible commitment of our mayor."
De Blasio gave praise gingerly, however, limiting his accolades to Bloomberg's "passion" for environmental issues and public health.
"We pledge today to continue that great progress that you've made," de Blasio said, specifying "in these critically important areas."
Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. shrugged off comments about the negativity directed at Bloomberg.
"Bloomberg has had 12 yers of his day," Diaz, Jr. said. "Today's day was for de Blasio, and so [Bloomberg] was recognized in a classy way but today was for de Blasio."
But Diaz, Jr. had kind words for the former mayor he had embraced a little over a week ago on a garage rooftop in the Bronx, at a press conference highlighting affordable housing.
"He certainly deserves credit and praise," the Bronx leader said. "He did a lot of good work in economic development in the Bronx."
Diaz, Jr. noted that the two had "bumped heads" not infrequently, but said ultimately they had together achieved great things for the Bronx, like more city parks, more libraries, $700 million in housing development, and bringing crime down to an all-time low.
"He deserves credit for all the good things that we did," Diaz, Jr. said. "And in terms of where we disagreed, you know what, we need to put that behind us and move forward and support Bill de Blasio."
Senator Chuck Schumer and former mayor Michael Bloomberg shake hands with de Blasio kids Chiara and Dante at their father's inauguration. Credit: Bess Adler
Diaz, Jr. had been an early and outspoken supporter of Scott Stringer, who was sworn in as City Comptroller at the start of the ceremony. The two served together for nearly a decade in the state Assembly and were borough presidents at the same time.
"I'm so proud of my man!" Diaz, Jr. exclaimed, lighting up at the mentioned of Stringer's swearing in. "That's my man."
"Scott and I — Very rarely in politics can you call somebody your friend," Diaz, Jr. confided, explaining how they had developed a close personal friendship over the course of their political careers. "I'm so proud of my guy today."
Stringer was sworn in with his wife and two sons at his side, and gave a speech vowing to turn the Comptroller's office, typically a mechanism for after-the-fact auditing of city agencies and projects, "into a think-tank for innovation and ideas."
"There will be those who say that we as a city cannot afford to tackle poverty and inequality," Stringer said. "As Comptroller, I say we can't afford not to."
Stringer highlighted the issue of homelessness, which was drawn front and center in recent weeks by a New York Times series following a young homeless girl named Dasani Coates. 12-year-old Dasani is one of 22,000 children in New York City living in the shelter system — shelters which are often, as in Dasani's case, dangerous and filthy.
"Yes, we can shelter every family is safe, affordable homes, not squalid shelters where 22,000 of our children will go to sleep tonight," Stringer insisted.
Dasani was present at the inauguration with her family, and held the bible on which James — the first woman of color to hold a citywide office — was sworn in as the city's new Public Advocate. James called her over to the podium later while she was delivering her remarks, and declared, "This is my new BFF."
The two stood hand-in-hand as James spoke, and walked off the stage with their arms around one another.
Like Stringer, De Blasio, in his remarks, acknowledged those who doubt his ability to realize his progressive agenda — and more directly, those who doubt his commitment to the promises he made while campaigning.
"I know there are those who think that what I said during the campaign was just rhetoric, just 'political talk' in the interest of getting elected," he said. "So let me be clear. When I said we would take dead aim at the Tale of Two Cities, I meant it."
De Blasio reiterated his comment to his progressive values in his inauguration remarks. Credit: Bess Adler
"I will honor the faith and trust you have placed in me," he vowed. "And we will give life to the hope of so many in our city."
He spoke of specific plans for the first time since the election, promising an expansion of the Paid Sick Leave law that would have 300,000 additional New Yorkers covered by January 2015.
And he reiterated his plan for a five-year tax hike on the wealthy to fund universal pre-K and after-school programs.
He explained the tax hike would amount to less than $3 a day, on average, for people with an annual income between $500,000 and $1 million.
Borrowing a point from one of his deputy mayors, Alicia Glen, he pointed out that adds up to "about the cost of a small soy latte at your local Starbucks."
The tax hike is thought to be one of his most dubious promises, as it requires state approval in an election year, when incumbents are least inclined to raise taxes.
Perhaps laying the groundwork for future arguments, he spoke persuasively of the minimal impact the tax hike would have, and the immense good it could do.
"Please remember," he said. "We do not ask more of the wealthy to punish success. We do it to create more success stories."