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New York’s New Mayor

Author: Julia E. Sweig, Nelson and David Rockefeller Senior Fellow for Latin America Studies and Director for Latin America Studies
January 1, 2014
Council on Foreign Relations

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Originally published in Portuguese on Folha de Sao Paulo:

Inequality. Early childhood education. Higher taxes on income over $500,000. Tougher scrutiny on racial profiling by the police. New York's new mayor, Bill de Blasio, takes office today after framing the 12-year tenure of Michael Bloomberg as a Charles Dickens narrative, a 'tale of two cities.'

Bloomberg's legacy on infrastructure, transportation, public health, and the lowest crime and murder rate in history, plus his national leadership on gun control, has made many people's lives better and safer. Brazilians visiting New York or buying apartments there can attest to the city's multiple charms in this regard, in contrast to their own cities.

But like the rest of the United States, and perhaps because the highs are so high, the opulence so opulent, life for New Yorkers of little means has become extremely difficult. Real estate is unaffordable. Subsidized or rent controlled apartments are hard to find. The poverty rate for children in New York City is 31 percent. Of the city's 52,000 homeless, 22,000 of them are children. Those penthouse apartments selling on West 57th Street for 40, 50, or 90 million dollars have spectacular views of Central Park, but they are too high for their residents to see or imagine the lives of poor New Yorkers.

De Blasio's campaign put a bright light on those contrasts. But his progressive outlook was formed well before he became a political operative in New York politics. (He ran Hilary Clinton's 2000 campaign for state senator). In the 1980's he worked for the Nicaragua solidarity movement and later earned a degree in Latin American politics from Columbia University. Then as now, Central America was a prime example of how the disproportionate concentration of resources in the hands of a small elite can have devastating consequences on public welfare.

As New York's first post-financial crisis, post-Occupy Wall Street Mayor, De Blasio's clearly values the capacity for good government policy, not just the market, to improve people's lives. His task as mayor- to build on Bloomberg's positive legacy but give the majority of poor, working poor and middle class a chance to thrive, not just survive, is also the greatest national challenge we face as a country. The Democratic party in particular, the very party whose leadership for two decades has largely accepted the market mantra that regulation and taxes are anathema to prosperity, has taken notice of Republican overreach, but also of the political appeal of de Blasio's message, the success of his campaign, and the emergence and success of other progressives in almost every region of the country. To drive home the point that New York City has a way of setting the standard for the rest of the country: de Blasio will be sworn in by one former president, Bill Clinton, while a potential future president, Hilary Clinton, looks on from the VIP seats.

This article appears in full on CFR.org by permission of its original publisher. It was originally available here.

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