NEW YORK — The standard line on New York City’s mayor-elect Bill de Blasio, who takes office next Wednesday, is that he’s the antithesis of outgoing mayor Michael Bloomberg. That’s not quite true, and New York’s voters probably hope it isn’t. In electing de Blasio, they were looking for a course correction from the Bloomberg years, not a repudiation.
Change they’ll certainly get. Bloomberg is a billionaire who lives in Manhattan’s upscale precincts. De Blasio is a progressive populist who hails from middle-class Brooklyn. He campaigned on his “tale of two cities” divided between the very rich and everyone else.
Bloomberg is all business and can legitimately brag about his economic development successes over the last 12 years. De Blasio is a community activist who is proud to be leading a new wave in American politics. “There’s a progressive movement in this country that’s having a real effect,” he says, adding that “the inequalities we’re facing are becoming just fundamentally unacceptable.” De Blasio is right about that.
And these guys don’t seem to like each other much. They gave dueling speeches last week that could be the prelude to a coming blame game over the city’s fiscal challenges.
Bloomberg warned that a “labor-electoral complex” could devastate the city’s finances. Since de Blasio is pro-labor, it wouldn’t be unreasonable for him to think he was Bloomberg’s target. For his part, de Blasio noted that Bloomberg has left him with an unprecedented number of open union contracts, a heavy burden for a new administration.
Both speeches underscore the unpleasant reality confronting de Blasio: It’s not easy building a progressive record when money is tight — which is precisely why de Blasio is unlikely to turn his back on the entirety of Bloomberg’s legacy.
To achieve his goals, de Blasio will need the evidence-based approach and crisp management style that Bloomberg championed. Bloomberg told The New Yorker’s Ken Auletta that he wanted to be known for having set “a tone that the city can be well run and can invest in the future.” That’s not a bad description of what de Blasio needs to do.
A New York Times/Siena College poll earlier this month pointed to the problem with Bloomberg that led New Yorkers to embrace de Blasio. It found that 56 percent said Bloomberg favored the rich. Only 24 percent said he treated all groups equally, and just 10 percent said he favored the middle class. They expect de Blasio to be different: 41 percent said he would treat all groups equally; 21 percent said he’d favor the middle class; 22 percent said he’d favor the poor.
Nonetheless, Bloomberg’s approval rating stood at 53 percent, remarkably high for a long-serving mayor. While New Yorkers are happy to have de Blasio in charge — 73 percent said they were optimistic about his coming term — he has persuaded only a bare majority that he will manage the city effectively.