Commentary: A New Progressive Administration in New York City

Bill de Blasio is invoking liberal themes that are earning him the attention of like-minded officials around the country.

Posted: 01/02/2014 02:43 PM EST

At the beginning of Wednesday’s mayoral inauguration in New York, Harry Belafonte framed the major issue facing the city’s new chief executive.

“New Yorkers should ensure our mayor he will not stand alone in facing the naysayers of progress in our midst,” he said.

Indeed, Bill de Blasio’s inauguration as New York City’s 109th mayor has been widely viewed as a triumph of progressive politics in a city that seems to have placed a particular emphasis on development of luxury condos, gentrified neighborhoods and bicycle lanes.

Instead, de Blasio speaks firmly about the importance of taking on inequality. He speaks of the importance of developing pre-kindergarten programs for all of the city’s children and paying for it by imposing a small tax increase on the wealthiest New Yorkers. He lashes out at the stop-and-frisk program so passionately defended by former mayor Michael R. Bloomberg as a key crime reduction strategy.

“We are called to put an end to economic and social inequalities that threaten to unravel the city we love,” de Blasio said, in his inaugural address.

De Blasio is the first liberal official to serve as the city’s top executive in 20 years, when David N. Dinkins served as New York’s first African-American mayor. And he and his administration will be closely watched not only by New Yorkers, but also by a skeptical national right-wing audience that is already condemning the rise of de Blasio’s progressive road map.

He is not alone among New York City’s top elected officials with progressive ideals. Letitia James, the new Public Advocate and first African-American woman elected to citywide office, spoke forcefully about leveling the playing field between the marginalized and the wealthy. So, too, did Scott Stringer, the city’s newly inaugurated comptroller.

In a passionate inaugural address, James spoke about the challenge facing New York, as a city with “decrepit homeless shelters” in the “shadow of gleaming multimillion dollar condos.”

For de Blasio and his administration to enact all the agenda items he desires, it will take a herculean amount of work. Convincing New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, and the state’s far less progressive upstate officials to raise taxes on the wealthiest citizens will be a formidable undertaking.

Still, the dawning of the de Blasio era sends important signs to cities across America. In an era when the conservative right has shown its ability to shut down the government and deny extension of unemployment benefits, the administration in New York will be a beacon of hope to progressive Americans.

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(Photo: Seth Wenig-Pool/Getty Images)

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