NEW YORK (AP) – A day after recording a historic landslide victory, Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio sat down with the man he is replacing, Michael Bloomberg, and began planning for the transition to a liberal agenda of what he calls economic inclusiveness after more than two decades of more conservative leadership.
De Blasio, the first Democrat to be elected mayor since 1989, portrayed himself as the cleanest break from the 12 years of Michael 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.
The mayor-elect’s first move Wednesday was to meet with a man he frequently criticized during the campaign. Bloomberg presented his successor with an electronic book with information on city agencies, and the two men talked for more than an hour, much of it with photographers’ cameras clicking.
“It was a very cordial conversation, a very helpful conversation,” de Blasio told reporters later at a later Manhattan news conference. “He and his team have been very forthcoming and very positive with their help.”
De Blasio said he was confident that the change of power would be smooth and that they would meet again before he takes office Jan. 1.
The pleasantries at the photo op aside, much of de Blasio’s campaign was run as a repudiation of Bloomberg, and the incoming mayor made it clear Wednesday he felt the voters had emboldened him with the power to change the course of the city.
“The people in this city have spoken, and the mandate is clear that is our obligation to create a city in which our prosperity is shared and there is opportunity for all,” he said.
He has vowed to maintain the public and economic safety gains made under Bloomberg and his predecessor, Rudy Giuliani, but also give a voice to those who felt forgotten by what they felt were the Manhattan-centric policies of the previous two administrations.
His first hires were meant to signal a commitment to that balancing act. Jennifer Jones Austin, who runs a social services organization and specializes in early childhood education and civil rights, and Carl Weisbrod, who helped shepherd the economic revitalization of Times Square and found the New York City Economic Development Corporation, will run his transition.
That pledge to fight income inequality appears to have resonated with residents of a city where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 6 to 1.
“This is not a sharp turn to the left; it’s a return to normal,” said retired Hunter College political science professor Kenneth Sherrill, who noted that the Republicans’ unlikely mayoral winning streak was in part due to unusual circumstances.
“This is the first election in 20 years in which the Republican candidate for mayor was not charismatic, was not a billionaire and there was not a massive crisis that would cause people to defect from their normal party loyalties,” Sherrill said.
Giuliani, a Republican, defeated Democrat David Dinkins in 1993 amid fears about soaring crime rates, and Bloomberg won in 2001 largely thanks to his media fortune and the fallout from the Sept. 11 attacks.
De Blasio trounced Republican rival Joe Lhota 73 percent to 24 percent in incomplete, unofficial returns that would provide the largest margin of victory for a non-incumbent in city history.
De Blasio, 52, will need that political capital to tackle his signature campaign promise: to get Albany’s approval to raise taxes on the wealthiest New Yorkers in order to fund universal pre-kindergarten.
He said Wednesday that his transition team would soon help select a first deputy mayor, who would then in turn help him fill two key administration posts: a new schools chancellor, who he has vowed will be an educator who will listen more to the concerns of parents, and perhaps most pressing, a new police commissioner.
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 addresses a major fiscal crisis.
All the city’s municipal unions have expired contracts, and many of their leaders are demanding back pay that 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.
De Blasio leaves Wednesday for the Somos El Futuro conference, an annual retreat for city and state Democratic leaders in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He is expected to meet with several party powerbrokers who will have a hand in shaping the new administration.
Associated Press writer Jennifer Peltz contributed to this report. Contact Jonathan Lemire on Twitter (at)JonLemire
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