A year ago, just a few days after Bill de Blasio’s oath of office, the gods chillingly caught the mayor of New York with a series of snowstorms. Chaotic snow plowing services transformed Manhattan’s Upper East Side into cut-off alpine valleys; the citizens were not impressed by the gumption of the two-meter tall man.
Contritely, de Blasio apologized. When the next weather attack befell the city in February and left thousands of children stranded in their schools, the honeymoon of mercy granted to America’s politicians ended abruptly.
More than a few asked themselves whether it had been right to elect the first Democrat in 20 years into City Hall — and a left-leaning liberal, at that. The media calculated that no mayor since Ed Koch in the mid-‘70s possessed less administrative experience. It was a cold start, and not a good one.
De Blasio’s Ability to Learn
So no one can be surprised that Bill de Blasio ordered the city to play possum before the latest invasion of snow: a ban on driving with harsh punishment, a de facto ban on leaving via discontinued buses and trains. It is easy to mock this seemingly timid “No we can’t” spirit. In the same right, one could give de Blasio credit for the ability to learn.
It is this quality that distinguished the New Yorker, of 1961 vintage, with Italian-German ancestors in his first year in office. More pragmatic than many would have thought a leftist populist capable of being, he adapted his campaign promises both to reality and to the majority of the city council, to which he himself once belonged. When a tax on the rich — those with an income of over $500,000 per year — that was meant to take up the expansion of pre-schools and regular schools failed at the city council, he got the money elsewhere.
De Blasio’s budget of $74.7 billion dollars had enough reserves to increase social housing by more than 17,000 units, negotiate 11 percent pay raises for 325,000 city employees in the coming years and provide jobs for around 100,000 inhabitants. The unemployment rate fell to a six-year low and the crime rate sank to a record all-time low, even for murder.
A Pragmatist at City Hall
De Blasio ensured the provision of occupational sick pay— something overlooked in the U.S., of course — and daycare: He wanted to form one city, a single city from the fragmented worlds of poor and rich. That’s what campaigner de Blasio promised. Wall Street bankers anticipated the worst, while a coalition of minorities anticipated heaven in New York. Both were disappointed, which says a lot about him.
New York had put behind it a difficult ascent since U.S. President Gerald Ford refused the bankrupt city any help from the federal government in October 1975. “Ford to City: Drop Dead” was the headline in the Daily News, and it created a headline myth. Ford allegedly never said that, yet as a precaution, New York let him pay for it in the next election year when he lost the state of New York and his reelection to Jimmy Carter.
What’s more, de Blasio, who served as New York’s ombudsman from 2010 to 2013, does not dispute that his predecessors Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg rebuilt the ill-famed “ungovernable” city, financially and morally.
On the Side of the Indignant
Yet, so he said, too many New Yorkers had fallen by the wayside. His political sympathy was primarily for them. That he favored the “eco fraction” of his supporters with a ban on horse-drawn carriages in Central Park in the name of animal protection — the last vestige of romance … gone — could pass as overzealous may subside.
De Blasio’s actual problem is far weightier: He has riled the police against him. First, it was the order to refrain from making arrests for possession of minimal amounts of marijuana for personal use that displeased the powerful NYPD. Then came the case of Eric Garner in July 2014. A man suffocated in a police stranglehold, and no grand jury in the city found itself ready for an inquiry of charges.
Garner was black. The mayor, married to a black woman, sided with the protesters. To top it off, at least from the view of the offended police force, he appeared with Al Sharpton. The black minister and activist is never far away when it comes to leading race protests.
The Backs of the Police
De Blasio calls him a friend — like he does Bill and Hillary Clinton, incidentally —and led his Senate campaign in 2000. All appeals to understand his position were to no avail; the NYPD turned its back in animosity. Officers literally turned their backs to him at the funerals of murdered colleagues and at a speech in front of the police academy. For weeks, the city’s police have carried out feeble work, on the edge of refusing to work at all.
New York’s citizens may find humor in this, since 90 percent fewer citations have been given. In any case, no complaints have arisen in the face of this neglect of duty. Things might be different if people fear their safety is being neglected.
There were certainly conversations between the mayor and the police union, and the officers would never dare to refuse to obey orders. As yet, de Blasio knows from surveys that the majority of public opinion is on his side.
It weakens the mayor that he cannot rely on his troops. It unsettles police, whose job is hard enough even in a more peaceful New York.
It doesn’t help that de Blasio is inclined to euphoric rhetoric that is not sparing with empty words, particularly with regards to self-praise, and expressions like “profound” and “transformative.” Occasionally, he is reminiscent of the early Obama, who invoked “one nation,” like de Blasio’s “one city.” We wish Bill de Blasio more fortune than the president.