Mayor de Blasio was sworn in Monday by a bundled-up Sen. Bernie Sanders at a stripped-down affair at City Hall — where he said he’d work to make New York a safer, more affordable and inclusive place in his second term.
“We have a responsibility, every one of us, to ensure that New York remains a beacon to our nation and the world,” de Blasio said.
Hizzoner stood before a much smaller crowd than four years ago on an achingly cold afternoon, kicking off a second and final term in which many expect he will focus increasingly on national issues. The selection of Sanders, a Vermont senator and popular leader of the Democratic party’s left wing, did little to dial down those expectations, as the senator praised the mayor as a foil to President Trump.
“In this city, the largest city of our country, the people of New York under Bill de Blasio have chosen to move government in a very different direction than what we’re seeing in Washington,” Sanders said.
He praised de Blasio for helping working people rather than billionaires, for launching universal pre-K, mental health programs and protecting immigrants.
“The bottom line is that what Mayor de Blasio and his administration understand is that in this country, in the home of Ellis Island, our job is to bring people together with love and compassion and to end the divisions and the attacks,” Sanders said.
Absent were President Bill Clinton, who swore de Blasio in in 2014, and Hillary Clinton, whom the mayor endorsed over Sanders — perhaps a sign of de Blasio’s strained relationship with them after stalling on his endorsement, the shifting leftwards tides of the Democratic party or of both.
Also absent from the dais was Gov. Cuomo, who has feuded with de Blasio and instead attended the inauguration of Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, who he swore in. Sen. Chuck Schumer managed to attend both, showing up about an hour into de Blasio’s fete.
In a prominent spot on the City Hall stage was Cynthia Nixon, the actress and longtime de Blasio supporter who is mulling a 2018 gubernatorial primary bid against Cuomo.
City Hall estimated that about 950 people attended; in 2014, it was about 5,000.
De Blasio arrived without the fanfare of 2014, when he and his wife Chirlane McCray and children Chiara and Dante emerged from a nearby subway stop — though this year the four did blow choreographed kisses from the stage. On a frigid day that Sanders joked was “warm and pleasant” by “Vermont standards” — Hizzoner promised to keep his speech short.
“I can do a very brief speech if you prefer,” he said, to cheers. “The people have spoken… You are the most distinguished frozen group of people I have ever spoken before.”
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He recounted the successes of his first term — a record-low number of murders last year in particular, which came as he sought to improve relationships between police and community.
In addition to being the safest big city in America, de Blasio said, “I want us to be the fairest big city in America.” And he returned to slogan of his re-election bid, “This is your city.”
“It is a reminder that the true owners of this beloved place are not the big landlords and developers, not the titans of Wall Street and the 1%,” he promised.
And he contrasted that with policies emanating from Washington — recounting Abraham Lincoln’s promise that a house divided against itself cannot stand.
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“We in our city refuse to be dragged down to a place we know is beneath us. We know that the gaudy celebration of discrimination based on faith or color or nationality is simply unAmerican. It is a violation of who we are,” de Blasio said. “We know the overt and gleeful prejudice that is suddenly in vogue spits in the face of all that has made our city great.”
“And we will not be passive in the face of regression. We will not ignore or deny the threat,” he said. “We will confront it head on. To do anything less would be an affront to our very identity as New Yorkers.”
Despite references to disagreements with Washington, the tone of the affair was another marked difference from 2014 — when the Sanitation chaplain Rev. Fred Lucas called New York a plantation in his invocation and Mayor Bloomberg (who did not attend this year) sat stone-faced.
This year, even as pols impugned Washington’s policies, they focused more on the city’s own efforts to counter-act them, and invocations and benedictions focused more on bringing grace and guidance to the city.
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Still, there were hints of politics — particularly in speeches from the two other elected officials sworn in, both considered contenders for the next mayor: Controller Scott Stringer and Public Advocate Letitia James, whose speech went longer than de Blasio’s.
Stringer, like the mayor, railed against the idea of an unaffordable city — and noted the challenges that the mayor has yet to overcome.
“But amidst all this success, sobering challenges remain. Tonight, in subzero conditions, more than 62,000 New Yorkers will sleep in homeless shelters,” Stringer said. “24,000 of them are children. Rents have increased 33% over the last 10 years, while wages grew less than half that rate. More New Yorkers live in poverty than there are people in Philadelphia or Phoenix.”
James, who offered the longest speech of the entire event, focused mainly on her office’s accomplishments — but she called attention to the scandal surrounding lead paint in the city’s public housing developments.
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“We must not only create and preserve more affordable housing, but ensure that ‘affordable’ truly means affordable for all,” she said. “But we also must ensure that the housing that our city provides and maintains is safe and free of dangerous lead that can strip our children of their futures.”
In his remarks, de Blasio teased out the increased tensions expected between the three Democrats as he becomes a lame duck and they become mayoral contenders.
“I guarantee you in the next four years we’re going to agree on everything,” he cracked.
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ERIN DURKIN, JILLIAN JORGENSEN