NEW YORK — Emboldened by a historic landslide that made him the first Democratic mayor of New York City in a generation, Bill de Blasio seeks to push ahead with an ambitious liberal agenda aimed at easing the economic inequality he hammered in his “tale of two cities” campaign.
Voters were drawn to his stance as the cleanest break from the 12 years of Michael Bloomberg, the outgoing mayor whose policies helped make New York one of the nation’s safest and most prosperous big cities but also one that has become increasingly stratified between the very rich and the working class.
The mayor-elect made it clear Wednesday that he wanted to waste no time in enacting his vision that could move the nation’s largest city toward the left.
“Today is now the first day of an eight-week sprint to prepare our administration (and) we are hitting the ground running,” said de Blasio at a Manhattan news conference in which he unveiled the leaders of his mayoral transition team.
“The people in this city have spoken and the mandate is clear that is our obligation to create a city in which our prosperity is shared and there is opportunity for all,” he said.
De Blasio, who takes office Jan. 1, vowed to maintain the public and economic safety gains made under Bloomberg and his predecessor, Rudy Giuliani, but also give a voice to those who felt forgotten by what they felt were the Manhattan-centric policies of the previous two administrations.
His first hires were meant to signal a commitment to that balancing act. Jennifer Jones Austin, who runs a social services organization and specializes in early childhood education and civil rights, and Carl Weisbrod, who helped shepherd the economic revitalization of Times Square and found the New York City Economic Development Corporation, will run his transition.
De Blasio also met with Bloomberg at City Hall on Wednesday morning. When a swarm of media followed the mayor-elect up the steps, he marveled: “All this, it’s incredible.”
The two men met privately for about 20 minutes, then sat at a table, speaking softly, while photos were taken. De Blasio, the public advocate, frequently criticized Bloomberg during the campaign but thanked the outgoing mayor for his advice.
“He and his team have been very forthcoming and very positive with their help,” de Blasio told reporters, saying that he was confident that the change of power would be smooth.
De Blasio trounced Republican rival Joe Lhota 73 percent to 24 percent in incomplete, unofficial returns that would provide the largest margin of victory for a nonincumbent in city history.
De Blasio, 52, will need that political capital to tackle his signature campaign promise: to raise taxes on the wealthiest New Yorkers in order to fund universal pre-kindergarten.
That progressive proposal needs approval from Albany, and neither Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who endorsed de Blasio, nor many state legislators seem eager to raise taxes as many of them head into a 2014 election year. Throughout the campaign, de Blasio insisted he didn’t have a “Plan B” if Albany balked, saying his mandate would persuade lawmakers.
He said Wednesday that his transition team would soon help select a first deputy mayor, who would then in turn help him fill two key administration posts: a new schools chancellor, who he has vowed will be an educator who will listen more to the concerns of parents, and perhaps most pressingly, a new police commissioner. He has not revealed his choice for the top NYPD job but has said he would not retain Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly.
He pledged to improve community-police relations by reforming stop-and-frisk, a tactic that allows police to question people deemed suspicious. Its critics, including de Blasio, believe it unfairly targets minorities while its supporters give it credit for helping drive down crime. A federal judge deemed its implementation unconstitutional, though her ruling was thrown out by an appeals court last week.
De Blasio, the first Democrat elected mayor since 1989, comes to office with the backing of most major unions, but they will soon sit at the other end of the negotiating table as the new mayor will be forced to face a major fiscal crisis.
All the city’s municipal unions have expired contracts and many of their leaders are demanding back pay, which could total $7.8 billion, a payout many economists believe would cripple the city’s finances. De Blasio has vowed not to negotiate in public but has said retroactive raises could be difficult to produce.
De Blasio leaves Wednesday for the Somos El Futoro conference, an annual retreat for city and state Democratic leaders in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He is expected to meet with several party powerbrokers who will have a hand in shaping the new administration as well as hold discussions with Cuomo.
Cuomo was de Blasio’s former boss while they each worked in President Bill Clinton’s administration. The governor has sounded enthusiastic about their potential partnerships.
“I don’t know if you could have a mayor and a governor who have a better relationship,” Cuomo told public radio’s “Capital Pressroom” on Wednesday. “I am just excited to have Bill in that position … that personal relationship is very important.”