A bevy of local elected and community leaders were among the thousands of bundled up New Yorkers at City Hall on Wednesday celebrating the new city vanguard. Many noted the work that still lies ahead of them, while others took to the stage to jab at the outgoing mayor.
A new mayor, comptroller and public advocate join a refreshed City Council with 21 new members. Many of the new leaders, including those in offices designed to be checks on the mayor, are largely committed to the progressive priorities of the Bill de Blasio administration.
“This is a paradigm shift in city government,” said Councilman Donovan Richards at City Hall today. “Listen, we’re heading into a progressive new year, and just to know that the changes that are going to happen across New York City are starting with Bill de Blasio is amazing.”
The Queens Council member emphasized the importance of de Blasio’s campaign promise to bring universal pre-kindergarten to New York City, calling it a critical priority for all elected leaders.
“We’ve had a long time of more of the professional, kind of Wall Street feeling. Everything was about corporate, corporate, corporate,” said Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras minutes before de Blasio’s inauguration. “I think this is an opportunity to really bring this back to the grassroots and give this house back to the people.”
The four years to come are predicted to be a stark difference in tone and governance to the last 12 years under now former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, to whom many critics link to the city’s ballooning social and income inequality.
Bloomberg — seated in front of City Hall alongside former President Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Sen. Chuck Schumer, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and former Mayor David Dinkins — was rarely invoked during today’s inauguration ceremony. His policies over the last 12 years, however, were often the target of criticism by Wednesday's speakers.
Musician and activist Harry Belafonte, long a critic of the New York Police Department’s stop and frisk tactic, revived those criticisms with Bloomberg seated a few feet behind him.
“The change of the law is only the tip of the iceberg in fixing our deeply Dickensian justice system,” Belafonte said.
The Rev. Fred Lucas Jr., of the Brooklyn Community Church and chaplain with the Department of Sanitation, made reference to the city as a “plantation” during his invocation, praying for the city to become “the city of God, a city set upon the hill, a light shining in darkness.”
Public Advocate Letitia James’ inauguration speech drew applause multiple times for lambasting stop-and-frisk, hospital closures, and the prioritization of luxury condos (which she referred to three times).
Only President Bill Clinton and de Blasio directly thanked Bloomberg for his 12 years as mayor. Clinton’s praise of the mayor drew eventual applause, with the former president saying that Bloomberg left New York “stronger and healthier than he found it.”
“More people are coming here than leaving,” Clinton said. “With all of our challenges, people know somehow deep down inside there’s something special about New York. So I’m grateful to both men — Mayor Bloomberg for his years of service and for the legacy he leaves, and to Mayor de Blasio for his good and caring hands.”
In an interview after the inauguration, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. admitted that he and Bloomberg disagreed on a number of policy issues, most notably education and stop-and-frisk but were still able to cooperate on others including housing and general crime reduction.
“He deserves credit for all the good things he did. In terms of where we disagree, we need to put that behind us and move forward to support Bill de Blasio,” Diaz said. “I think Bloomberg has had 12 years. Today was for de Blasio.”