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Bill de Blasio declares a ‘new progressive era’ in New York

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio delivers remarks at his 2018 inaugural ceremony at City Hall on Monday. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) began his second term Monday by decrying a “new dawn of divisiveness” in the United States and suggesting that “a new progressive era” had begun in the country’s largest city.

“A society where only the 1 percent can get ahead is truly a house divided against itself,” de Blasio said. “It is a reality that cannot be sustained.”

The mayor made several less-than-subtle references to President Trump’s administration, describing New York City as a bulwark against it. He noted that the city’s 2017 homicide rate was the lowest since 1951, crediting the drop to community policing reforms that conservatives had opposed. And without mentioning the president by name, he warned that “overt and gleeful prejudice is suddenly in vogue” and that New York was standing against it.

“This gaudy celebration of discrimination based on faith or color or nationality is simply un-American,”  de Blasio said. “Every time a police officer is trained to de-escalate a conflict, we step into the future.”

De Blasio was sworn in at City Hall Park by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a decision that gave the frigid outdoor ceremony a national political tilt. After the city’s other elected officials delivered short speeches, with subtle references to de Blasio’s first-term disappointments, Sanders praised the mayor for expanding urban social programs while Republicans in Washington move to shrink government.

“Instead of pandering to billionaires, we have a government that has chosen to listen to the needs of working families,” Sanders said. “While many politicians don’t even talk about child care, he is moving this city toward universal pre-K education.”

Sanders, a Brooklyn native who has spent his political life in Vermont, was invited to the inauguration by de Blasio himself, a move that spoke loudly about changes in Democratic Party politics. In 2014, de Blasio asked former president Bill Clinton to swear him in, and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton watched from the dais as her husband praised de Blasio’s “real modern family” and his campaign to create a city of “shared opportunities, shared prosperity, shared responsibilities.”

Four years later, the Clintons have receded from their generational role in Democratic politics. De Blasio, who in 2016 endorsed Hillary Clinton over Sanders in the Democratic presidential primary, said in November that any modern president whose personal behavior echoed Bill Clinton’s “would have to resign.” In his inaugural remarks Monday, de Blasio praised the Vermont senator and his wife, Jane, for driving the party, and national politics, to the left.

“You have proven that the voices of the people are what matter most, and the political process in this country will never be the same,” de Blasio said. “It will be more democratic.”

With a second term secured, de Blasio has stepped up his own national political advocacy. During a trip last month to meet with Democrats in Iowa, de Blasio told The Washington Post that he would campaign wherever the party needed him if it could help win Congress and state legislatures in the 2018 midterm elections.

De Blasio has started that work in New York, where an unusual coalition between centrist Democrats and Republicans has given the GOP effective control of the Senate. The mayor has been among the most prominent Democrats urging voters to replace the members of the “Independent Democratic Caucus” and has feuded with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D), who after years of working with the IDC has said he wants his party to win control outright.

“So now he’s going to move heaven and earth to have a Democratic state Senate, and he wants to elect Democratic Congress members in the swing districts and not see them redistricted against the interest of Democratic candidates?” de Blasio told Politico late last year. “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

In 2017, pressure from de Blasio and other progressives appeared to move Cuomo to the left. The governor appeared with Sanders to propose tuition-free state college educations for anyone whose family earned less than $125,000 a year. In December, Cuomo suggested that the state “break down fundamental barriers that for far too long have prevented New Yorkers from being heard” by introducing early voting and automatic voter registration.

Cuomo got good political news of his own on Monday, when businessman Harry Wilson announced that he would not seek the Republican nomination for governor this year. Wilson, who nearly won a race for state comptroller in 2010, was seen as the party’s strongest possible candidate, with personal wealth that could have cut into Cuomo’s fundraising advantage. Cuomo’s last opponent, former Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, lost his reelection bid last year as suburban voters in New York and other states swung toward the Democrats.

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