Thursday, November 7, 2013

Hizzoner Mr. Bill:
De Blasio and a new New York

AMID THE raw emotions in the few short months after 9/11, Michael R. Bloomberg, the billionaire who might have been king, celebrated his first victory as the 108th Mayor of the City of New York in November 2001, at the Sheraton New York Hotel and Towers, an upscale hotel off 53rd Street and Seventh Avenue in midtown Manhattan.

Bloomberg celebrated his second mayoral victory four years later, at a ballroom at the Sheraton New York and Towers in midtown Manhattan. He marked his third campaign victory to occupy Gracie Mansion four years after that, at a ballroom at the Sheraton New York and Towers.

You’re forgiven if you think New York City government has some longstanding election-night contractual arrangement with the Sheraton. It doesn’t. Nor is the mayor obligated to mark victory from anywhere in the borough of Manhattan. This was obvious Tuesday night, when the incoming 109th Mayor of New York City, Democrat Bill de Blasio, having crushed his Republican challenger Joe Lhota by 49 points, thanked his supporters from a stage at the Park Slope Armory, off Eighth Avenue and 15th Street in Brooklyn, N.Y.

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If you’re looking for symbolism (and what NYC mayor’s election isn’t full of that?) there’s plenty to be found in the contrast between these two addresses. The Sheraton is a leading hotel, all swank and polish and gleam, with rooms between $250 and $750 a night.

The Park Slope Armory was completed in 1893; in September, Brooklynites celebrated Healthy Kids Day at the location, a site of one of the city’s more enduring, accessible, affordable citywide fixtures:  the YMCA.

We can expect more breaks with upper-crust ceremony from de Blasio, if his victory speech last night is any indication. De Blasio, who was the city’s public advocate since 2009, parlayed undeniable personal charm, a fellow feeling for New Yorkers, and the presence of his own family as a symbol of civic unity into a winning mayoral campaign as racially, ethnically and geographically ecumenical as any in the city’s history — and certainly since the “gorgeous mosaic” that David Dinkins assembled to win the mayor’s office in 1990.

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A FORMER Housing and Urban Development official under President Clinton, he was for eight years a member of the New York City Council. With eloquence and fire, de Blasio frequently confronted Mayor Bloomberg on several policies, pushing back hard against Bloomberg policies that disproportionately affected the poor, low-income residents and the homeless.

De Blasio wins the rights to change the drapes at Gracie Mansion as someone with the apparent ability to bridge some of the city’s disparities; the smarts to entertain the importance of worlds and experiences outside his own; the savvy antennae to name-check an album by R.E.M. as a way of expressing his own embrace of life’s rich pageant.

He began his speech Tuesday night with an ancestral shoutout: “Tonight, I feel the deepest appreciation for generations of my family, including those no longer with us, and a special thank you to my Italian family and friends in Rome, and in my grandfather’s hometown of Sant’Agata dei Goti and my grandmother’s hometown of Grassano.”

Then it was clear why de Blasio’s insurgent, insistent campaign caught fire. It was even more clear why New Yorkers have a genuine progressive as their next mayor, the first in a generation.

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New York is now, and has always been, a city-as-meme. For generations, it has nurtured — by accident and on purpose — a binary scenario of existential possibilities usually defined in the chasm (or the road) between wealth and poverty, between rich and poor. Martin Scorsese’s lapidary “Gangs of New York” studied life in New York during the draft riots of the Civil War, examining the clash of cultures nativist and immigrant, black and white. Tom Wolfe’s 1987 novel “Bonfire of the Vanities” took aim at more current divisions of race, class and culture, its citizen characters spanning the worlds between Wall Street and the innermost inner city.

Much of the city’s power — its mythos and its economics — derives from the energy of its strivers and the leverage of its most successful citizens. But the city’s more brutal traits — its capacity for indifference, its persistent embrace of the tribe — come from the friction that arises when strivers and successful compete for resources that are, ultimately, as limited in New York City as anywhere else.

On Tuesday, de Blasio made it clear that he understands this. “I’ve spoken often about a Tale of Two Cities,” he said. “That inequality – that feeling of a few doing very well, while so many slip further behind – that is the defining challenge of our time.

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BECAUSE INEQUALITY in New York is not something that only threatens those who are struggling. The stakes are so high for every New Yorker. And making sure no son or daughter of New York falls behind defines the very promise of our city.

“New York is the brightest embodiment of the idea behind American greatness: It doesn’t matter where you were born what you look like what your religion is, or who you love. If you have brains and heart and guts and faith, this city – more than any other in the world – will offer you a real chance at a better life.

“For generations, New York has meant opportunity. That’s what it has been to so many, and that’s what it must be again.

“New Yorkers are strong and resilient, dedicated and big-hearted. Our greatness is not accidental. But neither is it inevitable. To maintain that greatness and to ensure that our brightest days are ahead of us, we must commit ourselves to progressive ideas that will lift us all.”

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De Blasio, who won support from across the city’s racial, ethnic and geographic spectra, fired a rather pointed shot at the notion of Manhattan as the determining incubator for a person’s dreams. The city’s bigger than that, he said from Brooklyn.

“The best and the brightest are born in every neighborhood. We all have a shared responsibility -- and a shared stake -- in making sure their destiny is defined by how hard they work and how big they dream, not by their ZIP code.

“So when we call on the wealthiest among us to pay just a little more in taxes to fund universal Pre-K and after-school programs we aren’t threatening anyone’s success. We are asking those who’ve done very well to ensure that every child has the same opportunity to do just as well as they have.
“That’s how we all rise together.”

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AND DE BLASIO made the smart pivot to one of the more oppressing concerns for New Yorkers: the vast and poisonous overreach of “stop-and-frisk,” a policy instituted by the New York Police Department, approved by Bloomberg, and wielded against black and brown New Yorkers on a pre-emptive basis that effectively made the city’s minorities probable-cause targets on the basis of race alone.

“Public safety is a prerequisite for the thriving neighborhoods that create opportunity in this city. So is respect for civil liberties,” he said. “The two are not mutually exclusive; in fact we must have both. We must work to promote a real partnership between the best police force in the world and the communities they protect from danger – be it local or global.

“New Yorkers on both sides of the badge understand this. We’re all hungry for an approach that acknowledges we are stronger and safer as a city when police and residents work hand-in-hand.

“That’s how we all rise together. ...”

The New York Post reports that Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, one of the architects of stop-and-frisk and its chief evangelist in the media, is said to be in talks for a cybersecurity job with JPMorgan. And not a moment too soon.

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When he takes the oath of office on Jan. 1, de Blasio will face city-sized economic challenges including a deficit of at least $2 billion, and the prospect of negotiations with labor leaders over billions in retroactive wage increases for city workers, some of whom haven’t had a raise in years.

He’ll have to deal with police unions that are dead set against his plans for an overhaul or elimination of stop-and-frisk. And he’ll encounter all the challenges you can expect in the city that’s long been a microcosm for the essence of the urban American experience.

But he doesn’t take the job empty-handed. His rhetorical leitmotif on Tuesday — “That’s how we all rise together” — has a breathtakingly powerful reality: His own family. The grandson of Italian immigrants took the stage on Tuesday with his African American wife, Chirlane McCray, and their two children: daughter Chiara and son Dante (whose defiantly retro Afro, straight outta “The Boondocks,” was a standout in one of the de Blasio campaign’s best TV ads).

The message was there without the Mayor-elect saying a word: It’s time to end the Tale of Two Cities. The unification project begins Jan. 1.

Image credits: De Blasio top and middle: via MSNBC. De Blasio logo, from the campaign Web site. Tweets by their respective creators.

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