CIVIC CENTER — Thousands of New Yorkers gathered at City Hall on a frigid New Year's Day to attend the inauguration of Bill de Blasio — the 109th mayor of the City of New York, and the first Democrat to enter the office in 20 years.
In his inauguration speech, de Blasio alternated between soaring promises of a new progressive era for New York City taking digs at the tenure of the outgoing administration, as a stonefaced Michael Bloomberg sat just feet away.
"Thank you, Mayor Bloomberg," de Blasio said, "To say the least, you led our city through some extremely difficult times. And for that we are all grateful. Your passion on issues such as environmental protection built a legacy... We pledge to continue the progress you made in these critically important areas."
Still, de Blasio hit home his campaign rallying cry of the "Tale of Two Cities", urging New Yorkers to be ready to start resolving the "inequality crisis" in the city. He drew a line back of tradition from the New Deal progressive era of reform and the civil rights struggles of the 1960s as inspiration for the kind of change he promised to bring to the city today.
"From Jacob Riis to Eleanor Roosevelt to Harry Belafonte — who we are honored to have with us here today — it was New Yorkers who challenged the status quo, who blazed a trail of progressive reform and political action, who took on the elite, who stood up to say that social and economic justice will start here and will start now," said de Blasio.
The new Mayor promised to make good on his campaign rhetoric to expand the city's Living Wage Law — currently being appealed by the outgoing Bloomberg administration — implement a tax hike on upper income New Yorkers to bring universal pre-kindergarten and expanded after school programs for middle school students to city children, and reform stop and frisk.
"When I said we would take dead aim at the Tale of Two Cities, I meant it. And we will do it. I will honor the faith and trust you have placed in me. And we will give life to the hope of so many in our city. We will succeed as One City. We know this won’t be easy; It will require all that we can muster," de Blasio said.
Bill Clinton set a gracious tone in his remarks ahead of swearing in de Blasio, singling out both Bloomberg and de Blasio for praise.
"I am grateful to both mayors — for mayor Bloomberg for his years of service and for the legacy that he will leave, and for mayor de Blasio for his good and caring hands," said Clinton. "[Bloomberg] leaves the city stronger and healthier than he found it. More people are coming here than leaving it. With all of our challenges, people know deep down inside that there is something special about New York."
"We have to have a city of shared opportunities. This inequality problem bedevils the entire country," Clinton added, before holding up a bible that belonged to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt for de Blasio to take the oath of office, "We are going to share the future. We need to share it in a positive way."
Incoming Public Advocate Letitia James was less conciliatory, taking her oath on a bible held by little Dasani Coates, a homeless girl whose tale became a rallying cry after the New York Times did a five-part series on her life.
James, the first woman of color to be elected to citywide office, said she was humbled by her election, and was thankful for the guidance of her ancestors who were "more accustomed to backbreaking work than to dinner parties," and for a city "that cares more about a child going hungry than a new stadium or a new tax credit for a luxury development.
"The growing divide between the haves and the have-nots tears our city apart," James said, summoning Dasani to stand at her side during her speech.
"If working people aren't getting their share ... you better believe Dasani and I will stand up," James added, during a scathing speech that took aim at the outgoing administration for focusing on sports arenas and gleaming condos while shunning working families who go hungry and others forced from their homes by rising rents.
The urge for change was also foremost on the minds of many in the audience.
“It’s about time we have a progressive mayor, and I’m looking forward to a lot of changes. I think if he does even a quarter of what he said he’d do, it’s going to be successful,” said Bette Baldino, 53, a teacher who lives in Sheepshead Bay who was among the 1,000 New Yorkers able to snag a free ticket to the inauguration and a reception with the de Blasio family after the ceremony.
Vaughn Armour, 63, a retired Radio City staffer who lives in Crown Heights, said he admired de Blasio's work ethic.
"He seems to be a caring person. He wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He’s a hard-working guy and he’s got a pretty cool family, too. He seems like he’s going to be a fair guy," said Armour, who said he's looking forward to positive changes in the Department of Education.
The city's first family ran into Michael Bloomberg and Diana Taylor while exiting the City Hall station, according to photos tweeted by a de Blasio aide.
"Everyone's taking the 4 today," Rebecca Katz wrote.
From his populist support of efforts to stave off hospital closings in Brooklyn to the campaign-defining Dante ad, de Blasio sealed his victory by taking on many issues New Yorkers felt Bloomberg had brushed under the rug.
As he enters City Hall, de Blasio will inherit a number of challenges left by Bloomberg, from negotiating contracts with the city’s entire public sector workforce to delivering on his promise for significant parts of his plan for universal pre-kindergarten by September of next year.