NEW YORK — “Us love us some good human,’’ said New York City’s 2014 youth poet laureate, Ramya Ramana, in a verse celebrating her new mayor, Bill de Blasio, at his ceremonial swearing-in on the steps of City Hall on Wednesday.
You had to love you some Bill de Blasio, too, to have braved the cold for his inauguration, and those who did arrived on-message and in furry or fuzzy hats. “I’ve got on five layers,’’ volunteered Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), the Upper East Side’s woman in Washington. Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, who helped deliver the invocation, along with a pastor, an imam and a monsignor, jokingly asked, “In keeping with the traditions of my people, next time can we do this in Boca?”
Near noon, the crowd was told to watch the jumbo screen as the new mayor and his family emerged from the subway — talk about a showy entrance — to a medley of tunes that included the Manhattan Transfer’s “Boy From New York City,” Sinatra’s rendition of “New York, New York” and a perhaps less widely appreciated classic, “You’re a Native New Yorker.” (“You should know the score by now,’’ the lyrics say.) New York’s new first lady, Chirlane McCray, was pulled into a dance with a female friend as supporters high-fived and fist-bumped de Blasio and the couple’s teenage children, Chiara and Dante. The multiracial de Blasios are “our real ‘Modern Family,’ ’’ former president Bill Clinton, who administered the oath of office, noted approvingly.
The event was not just a progressive jamboree but a 90-minute pummeling of outgoing mayor Michael Bloomberg, who looked glum in the front row of the VIP guests who faced the crowd, along with Bill and Hillary Clinton, Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), and former mayor David Dinkins. It was the former president who finally put in the first kind work for Bloomberg, but that was late in the program.
First, from a lectern that seemed more like a pulpit, one speaker after another said New Yorkers could and would show the whole country how to address income inequality. A preacher referred to “the plantation called New York City,’’ and Broadway’s Patina Miller sang John Lennon’s “Imagine.”
The new city comptroller, Scott Stringer, who was also sworn in Wednesday, spoke angrily of the “squalid shelters where 22,000 of this city’s children will sleep tonight.” He brought one of those children, 12-year-old Dasani Coates, who was recently featured in a long New York Times article, to the stage with him, as did the new public advocate, Letitia James. She called Dasani her “new BFF,” and challenged what she suggested were Bloomberg’s priorities when she said the new administration “cares more about a child going hungry than a new stadium or a new luxury development.” And the word “Dickensian” got more of a workout than at any time since “The Wire” went off the air.
Actor and activist Harry Belafonte said that New York “alarmingly plays a tragic role in the fact our nation has the largest prison population in the world’’ and, as Bill Clinton nodded, said the mayor would be “fixing our deeply Dickensian justice system.”
Belafonte bowed deeply to McCray, her husband’s top adviser, very much in the Clintons’ mold; in fact, Belafonte named her her husband’s keeper. McCray’s moral center, he said, would insure that de Blasio’s light “will never dim for want of a guardian at the gate.”
Cynthia Nixon, who was introduced as an “actor and public school parent,” was the least political of the day’s speakers, apparently because she was dressed for her old TV show, “Sex and the City”: She stepped to the microphone and announced, “My legs are simply freezing from the cold, but other than that I’m fine.”
If anyone doubted whether Bill Clinton’s role in the event had a political as well as personal purpose, the wait to find out wasn’t long: The former president’s first words were these: “I’m grateful the governor and first lady of Puerto Rico are here, because it reminds us what’s special about New York.’’ And then these: “I’m grateful to Mayor Bloomberg” for his dozen years leading the city.
That there hadn’t been at least a half-bow to Bloomberg until then did seem lacking in generosity on a day when the rhetoric was all about bringing the “two New Yorks” of haves and have-nots together.
Then, using a Bible once owned by Franklin D. Roosevelt, Clinton administered the oath of office to de Blasio, who had been officially sworn in at his Brooklyn home just after midnight.
The new mayor did thank Bloomberg for his “passion on issues such as environmental protection and public health.’’ He also gave a shout-out to Dinkins “for starting us on the road to a safer city.”
Dinkins rarely gets any credit for starting the turnaround for which Rudy Giuliani took all the kudos; the last Democrat to run this overwhelmingly Democratic city, Dinkins left office in 1993 — but not before McCray, who worked for him, met de Blasio at City Hall.
The new guy in the job — a job older than the republic itself, Bill Clinton noted — boldly tempted fate by calling his spouse “my soul mate and my best friend, my partner in all I do.” (Neither she nor her fellow full partner, Hillary Clinton, made any formal remarks.)
De Blasio also made some specific promises: to expand paid sick leave, “stem the tide of hospital closures” and “reform a broken stop-and-frisk policy.” Repeating the central promise of his campaign, he said he would “ask the wealthy to pay a little more in taxes so that we can offer full-day universal pre-K.’’ He said that would raise taxes for those making between $500,000 and $1 million by an average of $973, or less than $3 a day, “about the cost of a small soy latte at your local Starbucks,” he said, drawing a big laugh.
The New Yorkers I talked to all said they thought de Blasio would try to make good on those promises. “The last time I saw this kind of excitement was Bobby Kennedy,’’ insisted Duke Ferguson, a 59-year-old former teacher. (“Is that the guy who got killed and was going to run for president?” a younger de Blasio volunteer standing nearby wondered.)
But several in the crowd suggested that the reality that followed their stratospheric expectations of a more recent inspirational candidate, Barack Obama, had tempered what they thought their new mayor could deliver right away. And New Yorkers can be a little bit vain about their realism: It’s not the city but the state that would have to raise taxes, and “taxing the wealthy is going to be a tough one for the governor in an election year,’’ said New Yorker Carmen Collado. “Maybe in his second term.”