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 6:03 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
updated 5:52 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette notes that this fall, minority students will outnumber white students at America's public schools.
updated 5:21 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
Humans have driven to extinction four marine mammal species in modern times. As you read this, we are on the brink of losing the fifth, write three experts.
updated 7:58 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It's been ten days since Michael Brown was killed, and his family is still waiting for information from investigators about what happened to their young man, writes Mel Robbins
updated 10:11 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Sally Kohn says the Ferguson protests reflect broader patterns of racial injustice across the country, from chronic police violence and abuse against black men to the persistent economic and social exclusion of communities of color.
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
updated 9:10 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the left mistrusts Clinton but there are ways she can win support from liberals in 2016
updated 1:38 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
updated 1:34 PM EDT, Sat August 16, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the way cops, media, politicians and protesters have behaved since Michael Brown's shooting shows not all the right people have learned the right lessons
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Sun August 17, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says the American military advisers in Iraq are sizing up what needs to be done and recommending accordingly
updated 3:41 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Marc Lamont Hill says the President's comments on the Michael Brown shooting ignored its racial implications
updated 5:46 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Joe Stork says the catastrophe in northern Iraq continues, even though many religious minorities have fled to safety: ISIS forces -- intent on purging them -- still control the area where they lived
updated 6:26 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Tim Lynch says Pentagon's policy of doling out military weapons to police forces is misguided and dangerous.
updated 9:15 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
S.E. Cupp says millennials want big ideas and rapid change; she talks to one of their number who serves in Congress
updated 7:57 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Dorothy Brown says the power structure is dominated by whites in a town that is 68% black. Elected officials who sat by silently as chaos erupted after Michael Brown shooting should be voted out of office
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Bill Schmitz says the media and other adults should never explain suicide as a means of escaping pain. Robin Williams' tragic death offers a chance to educate about prevention
updated 11:05 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Nafees Syed says President Obama should renew the quest to eliminate bias in the criminal justice system
updated 4:24 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Eric Liu says what's unfolded in the Missouri town is a shocking violation of American constitutional rights and should be a wake-up call to all
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Neal Gabler says Lauren Bacall, a talent in her own right, will be defined by her marriage with the great actor Humphrey Bogart
updated 6:56 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Bob Butler says the arrest of two journalists covering the Ferguson story is alarming
updated 4:35 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Mark O'Mara says we all need to work together to make sure the tension between police and African-Americans doesn't result in more tragedies
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
updated 7:08 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Michael Friedman says depression does not discriminate, cannot be bargained with and shows no mercy.
updated 11:25 AM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must not surrender to apathy about the injustice faced by African Americans
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT