Bill de Blasio: First Democratic NYC mayor in 20 years

Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio embraces his son Dante, left, and daughter Chiara, center, after he was elected the first Democratic mayor of New York City in 20 years.
Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio embraces his son Dante, left, and daughter Chiara, center, after he was elected the first Democratic mayor of New York City in 20 years.

New York City's mayor-elect Bill de Blasio seeks to push ahead with an ambitious liberal agenda aimed at easing the economic inequality that he hammered in his "tale of two cities" campaign, which propelled him to a landslide victory that signaled a break with the 12-year era of billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Voters were drawn to the contrast that the Democratic de Blasio made with 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.

On Wednesday, de Blasio met privately with Bloomberg at City Hall.

The mayor-elect said he "feels great." When a swarm of media followed him up the City Hall steps, he marveled: "All this, it's incredible."

De Blasio, the city's public advocate, was trouncing Republican rival Joe Lhota 73 to 24 per cent in incomplete, unofficial returns that were on pace to post one of the largest routs in the history of the nation's largest city. He will become the first Democratic mayor of New York City in a generation when he take office Jan. 1.

Bloomberg, who first ran as a Republican and later became an independent, guided the city through the US financial meltdown and the aftermath of 9/11. He is leaving office after three terms.

Though polling shows New Yorkers largely approve of Bloomberg's policies, those same surveys revealed the city was hungry for a change.

"Today you spoke loudly and clearly for a new direction for our city," de Blasio told a rollicking crowd of supporters at the YMCA in his home neighborhood of Park Slope, Brooklyn, a far cry from the glitzy Manhattan hotel ballrooms that usually host election night parties.

Lhota, a former deputy mayor, spent much of the campaign slamming de Blasio's "tale of two cities" appeal as class warfare and argued that de Blasio's time in the 1980s with the left-wing Sandinistas in Nicaragua as an aid worker and activist made him a Marxist.

De Blasio, 52, reached out to New Yorkers from the city's four outer boroughs, who he contended were left behind by the often Manhattan-centric Bloomberg administration. He pledged to improve economic, educational and quality-of-life opportunities in minority and working-class neighborhoods.

He decried alleged abuses under the police department's stop-and-frisk policy that allows police to question people deemed suspicious. De Blasio enjoyed a surge when a federal judge ruled that police had unfairly singled out blacks and Hispanics.

A white man married to a black woman, de Blasio also received a boost from a campaign ad featuring their son, a 15-year-old with a big Afro hairstyle.

He will need the capital from his commanding victory to tackle his signature campaign promise: to raise taxes on the wealthiest New Yorkers in order to fund universal early education known as pre-kindergarten.

That progressive proposal needs approval from the New York state government, and neither Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who endorsed de Blasio, nor many state lawmakers seem eager to raise taxes as many of them head into a 2014 election year.

He will soon make two key administration posts to further that agenda: a new schools chancellor, 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 current Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly.

De Blasio has pledged to improve community-police relations by reforming stop-and-frisk. Its critics, like de Blasio, believe it unfairly targets minorities while its supporters give it credit for helping drive down crime.

De Blasio 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 of 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.

Despite his reputation for idealism, he has also shown a pragmatic side, having worked for both Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton and Cuomo, and was known for closed-door wheeling-and-dealing while serving on the City Council.

Lhota called de Blasio to concede about half an hour after polls Tuesday night.

"It was a good fight and it was a fight worth having," Lhota told a crowd of supporters in a Manhattan hotel.

-AP

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