For my first roundtable discussion of 2014, the topic was the first test of New York City's shiny new Mayor Bill de Blasio who was inaugurated two days before a blizzard. Like the Big Apple's top executive, I, too, had some luck, touching down after my Christmas break as the first heavy snowflakes fell. Unlike Manhattan, the metro Washington, DC area shuts down at the slightest sighting of a few flakes. So I was happy to be on terra firme before being diverted to say, Cancún, or delayed-for-hours-in-an-airport-until-finally-being-cancelled.
Mayor de Blasio, who is the first Democrat to hold this office in two decades, stuck to his guns in a buzzy inaugural address with a "progressive" rhetoric matched by optics. As to the latter, former President Bill Clinton swore him in. Hillary Clinton--who has the chattering class on fire with rumors of a 2016 presidential run, was conveniently seated next to the podium, allowing for a whole lot of free airtime during the Mayor's speech. Then Mr. de Blasio was seen shoveling snow outside his Brooklyn home. I sure wish I lived further north because I could have used a helping hand: my long travel day, coupled with an early morning start to prep our MSNBC panel, meant that the snow soon turned into rock solid ice.
As to the "progressive" rhetoric, Mayor de Blasio referenced the tale of two cities from his mayoral campaign. Through this Dickensian metaphor of a New York where the rich have become richer and everyone else has fallen, if not into, closer to poverty, he argued for one city. In this New York City, more people have access to resources, such as education and affordable housing, allowing them to thrive.
But critics have rightfully found the holes, some of them gaping, in Mayor de Blasio's goals. The Washington Post Editorial Board questions how progressive he can be if he is not willing to take on the city's power broker's such as the teacher's unions as his predecessor Michael Bloomberg did. The former Mayor's policies of closing failing schools and opening charters schools, contributed to significantly raising graduation rates.
Then there's another uncomfortable fact: reality. Funding affordable housing or his signature universal full day pre-K program require a combination of tax hikes on the wealthy or tax incentives for developers that at once sweeten the pot but are "fair" (a criticism he lodged against Bloomberg).
As I mentioned on MSNBC's Thomas Roberts show Agenda panel which focused on Mayor de Blasio, it is one thing to campaign and another to govern. I am a firm believer in coalitions to not just win elections but to make government work for people. Liberals repeatedly commit the same mistake of assuming top down bureaucratic prescriptions from the centers of power will work in real life.
Not quite. In the case of pre-kindergarten programs such as Head Start, the reviews are mixed. Why? Because the stakeholders rarely involve more than those in city halls, state houses, Washington, and think tanks. Church leaders, Boys and Girls clubs, recreation centers need to be recruited to educate parents, for example, on the importance of reading to your child at least 20 minutes a day or checking homework daily.
Programs and money help but aren't a panacea.
A large, important program requires community buy in with the highest success level coming not from outreach but in-reach--evangelized community members supporting and holding each other accountable.
As a national trendsetter, Americans battered by the global financial crash of 2008 and our anemic economic recovery will surely be looking to New York for an attempt at leveling the playing field. We desperately need it--"one America" or "one New York" where those who do everything right like getting a good education and working hard, can get ahead. Mayor de Blasio has been on the job less than a week and is showing some good signs such as keeping on some Bloomberg staff who were likely helpful during the blizzard. But the best way to make sure you have a say in how the playing field is leveled?
Don't leave it, requiring average voters to remain informed, engaged, and participating.
Click below to watch my appearance on MSNBC's Thomas Roberts show as part of the Agenda panel joining Bill Scher from the progressive Campaign for America's Future and MSNBC contributor Dr. James Paterson. This aired on January 3, 2014.Thoughts on Mayor de Blasio's first days in office?