Skip to main content

Can de Blasio keep promise to end inequality?

By Errol Louis
updated 8:26 AM EST, Thu January 2, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Errol Louis says speakers at inauguration of NYC Mayor de Blasio slammed his predecessor
  • It was partly as political overreach on issue of inequality, implicating Bloomberg, he says
  • But solving inequality not so easy, relies on factors largely out of a mayor's reach, he says
  • Louis: De Blasio promises to reverse inequality; nation will indeed be watching to see how

Editor's note: Errol Louis is the host of "Inside City Hall," a nightly political show on NY1, a New York all-news channel.

(CNN) -- Less than a day after officially concluding 12 tumultuous years as mayor, Michael Bloomberg sat stone-faced in the front row at the inauguration of his liberal successor, Mayor Bill de Blasio, as one speaker after another made blistering, thinly veiled attacks on Bloomberg's legacy.

The Rev. Fred Lucas, one of the clergymen who delivered the opening invocation, asked God to turn "the plantation called New York City" into a better place. Actor Harry Belafonte used his turn at the podium to call for an end to what he called the city's "deeply Dickensian justice system." And the newly elected public advocate, Letitia James, ticked off a litany of criticisms of Bloomberg's police, education and economic policies.

The attacks, which dominated an inauguration ceremony that is normally a celebration of municipal unity, jarred many observers. "As outside observer, hard to understand the bitter partisanship at De Blasio ceremony," noted an Israeli journalist on Twitter. "There's a time for everything, and this isn't it."

Errol Louis
Errol Louis

Things got so heated that, an hour into the event, former President Bill Clinton, who administered the oath of office to de Blasio, tried to reset the tone by offering the first praise of Bloomberg, noting that the departing mayor "leaves the city stronger and healthier than he found it." De Blasio himself departed from his prepared speech to ask the crowd to applaud Bloomberg.

The criticism was partly a matter of political overreach: Polls suggest that a majority of New Yorkers, while ready to turn the page on the Bloomberg years, also think the city is on the right track. Forty-nine percent approve of what Bloomberg did for the city, including innovative programs aimed at low-income residents.

But over the years, Bloomberg -- a Wall Street veteran and a multibillionaire with a chilly managerial style -- became an irresistible target for those who decry the gap between rich and poor. At a time when homelessness in New York has soared to a record-high 50,000 people (PDF) sleeping in city shelters every night, Bloomberg's habit of jetting off to a home in Bermuda on weekends was fodder for criticism from opponents.

The same was true of Bloomberg's free-spending ways: One conservative estimate places Bloomberg's spending on his campaigns and other political efforts at an eye-popping $650 million from his personal fortune, overwhelming liberal Democratic challengers in 2001, 2005 and 2009.

NYC mayor calls for progressive era
Clinton swears in new NYC mayor
Clintons using de Blasio inauguration?

It was easy for liberal politicians to point the finger at Bloomberg as a symbol of inequality, but as de Blasio will soon discover, the issue won't vanish with the Bloomberg administration. Slate business correspondent Matthew Yglesias has wisely suggested that progressives not get too giddy over what the de Blasio equality agenda can deliver in the foreseeable future.

"Everyone should take a deep breath or two," he wrote in August. "Economic inequality is a serious issue and municipal governance is a serious matter, but the fact is that the two have relatively little to do with each other."

Poverty has bedeviled New York and other cities for centuries, and mayors have scant power to affect broad trends like the decline of manufacturing, the loss of low-skilled jobs to foreign countries and the destruction of jobs by automation and the information revolution.

But New York's newly-elected mayor won last November on a campaign promise to use the power of government to attack yawning gaps of wealth and income between rich and poor. Even before taking office on New Year's Day, de Blasio began ratcheting up the rhetoric, explicitly positioning his new administration as a place the rest of the nation should watch for clues about how to address economic inequality.

On Wednesday he told the inauguration crowd, "We are called to put an end to economic and social inequalities that threaten to unravel the city we love."

A large audience will indeed be watching to see whether de Blasio -- or any mayor -- can make the mighty wheels of the national economy spin in the direction of uplifting the poor. If he can crack the code, an effective attack on economic inequality will be making news long after the ungracious sendoff of Bloomberg has faded from memory.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Errol Louis.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 3:41 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Stuart Gitlow says pot is addictive and those who smoke it can experience long-term psychiatric disease.
updated 12:45 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Gabby Giffords and Katie Ray-Jones say "Between 2001 and 2012, more women were shot to death by an intimate partner in our country than the total number of American troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined."
updated 7:57 PM EDT, Tue July 29, 2014
Alan Elsner says Secretary Kerry's early cease-fire draft was leaked and presented as a final document, which served the interests of hard-liners on both sides who don't want the Gaza war to stop.
updated 7:58 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Vijay Das says Medicare is a success story that could provide health care for everybody, not just seniors
updated 2:18 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Rick Francona says Israel seems determined to render Hamas militarily ineffective.
updated 1:43 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
S.E. Cupp says the entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner thinks for himself and refuses to be confined to an ideological box.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
A Christian group's anger over the trailer for "Black Jesus," an upcoming TV show, seems out of place, Jay Parini says
updated 4:28 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
updated 3:39 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Carol Dweck and Rachel Simmons: Girls tend to have a "fixed mindset" but they should have a "growth mindset."
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
updated 2:52 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Margaret Hoover says some GOP legislators support a state's right to allow same-sex marriage and the right of churches, synagogues and mosques not to perform the sacrament
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Priya Satia says today's drones for bombardment and surveillance have their roots in the deadly history of Western aerial control of the Middle East that began in World War One
updated 12:35 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
updated 6:25 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
updated 11:10 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
updated 11:33 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
updated 8:45 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
updated 9:49 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
updated 6:05 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 2:53 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 8:09 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT