Also, Thousands attend Gracie Mansion ‘open house’ hosted by de Blasio

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Former President Bill Clinton swears in Bill de Blasio as his humbled wife Chirlane holds the Bible and daughter Chiara and son Dante proudly look on.
(Photo by Seitu Oronde)

*Thousands braved frigid cold weather to attend the swearing in ceremony of New York’s 109th Mayor Bill de Blasio who pledged to close the gap between the “haves” and “have nots” in the nation’s largest city, on Wednesday, January 1, 2014, on the steps of City Hall  as New York’s 109th mayor.  Former President Bill Clinton administered the oath of office at a ceremony outside City Hall using a Bible once owned by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Before delivering the oath, Clinton talked about the growing wealth gap.  “This inequality problem bedevils the entire country,” the former president said. “But it is not just a moral outrage, it is a horrible constraint on economic growth and on giving people the security they need to tackle problems like climate change.”

As his proud wife Chirland McCray de Blasio held the historic Bible, De Blasio took the oath with the couple’s children, Chiara and Dante, at his side.  On the landslide results of his November electoral victory ending a long losing streak for Democrats that began when former Mayor David N. Dinkins, lost to Republican Rudy Giuliani in 1993, de Blasio was ready and fit to take office.

His inaugural speech addressed mounting issues important to New Yorkers that would bridge the gap between the very rich and the very poor – something that was missing during the 12-year reign of Mayor Michael Bloomberg whose policies de Blasio said favored the rich.

“De Blasio repeatedly used the Dickensian phrase “tale of two cities.”  “When I said we would take dead aim at the tale of two cities, I meant it,” he said.  “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 meticulously outlined his agenda for his administration, including higher taxes for those earning more than $500,000 a year to fund full day, universal pre-K and after-school programs for middle school students and the expansion of paid sick leave for employees of businesses that have 20 or more workers.  “Big dreams are not a luxury reserved for a privileged few,” he said, “but the animating force behind every community, in every borough.”

De Blasio’s biracial family’s visibility in the campaign resonated with residents of a city coping with a 21% poverty rate and increasing racial divisiveness brought on by the controversial stop-and-frisk policy allowing police to search people in high-crime areas. In a lighter moment Clinton said, “With all due respect to the television show, they’re our real modern family.”

De Blasio had praises for Bloomberg who is credited with bringing the city through the recession, and with making New York safer and more livable.  “To say the least, you led our city through some extremely difficult times,” de Blasio said.  “And for that, we are all grateful.  Your passion on issues such as environmental protection and public health has built a noble legacy.”

De Blasio who campaigned on putting a stop to “stop-and-frisk” — in which police stop, question and frisk people they deem suspicious, even if they’ve committed no crime — was one of the most controversial policing techniques in recent time.  Law enforcement and other proponents said the practice helped reduce crime.  To critics, it’s racial profiling.  To De Blasio, it had to be transformed.  “We will reform a broken stop-and-frisk policy, both to protect the dignity and rights of young men of color, and to give our brave police officers the partnership they need to continue their success in driving down crime,” de Blasio said.

Unfortunately, de Blasio inherits a city with the highest level of homelessness since the Great Depression, according to advocates.  More than 52,000 people, including 22,000 children, spend each night in city shelters.

“We are called to put an end to economic and social inequalities that threaten to unravel the city we love,” the new mayor said during his inaugural.  “And so today, we commit to a new progressive direction in New York. And that same progressive impulse has written our city’s history.  It’s in our DNA.”

Also sworn in Wednesday was Scott M. Stringer as the 44th Comptroller of the City of New York.  Letitia James, who as public advocate, becomes the first Black woman to hold citywide office in New York City.

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At de Blasio’s inauguration, singer and activist Harry Belafonte promised that the new mayor “would not let this city remain a community divided.” (Photo courtesy Corey Sipkin)

Everything said was not all peaches and cream as some speakers used their speeches to take a jab at Bloomberg much to his chagrin.  Prominent singer and activist Harry Belafonte promised that Mayor de Blasio “would not let this city remain a community divided.”  Rev. Fred Lucas Jr., a Sanitation Department chaplain, then compared the city to a “plantation” in an invocation that was an extended metaphor on slavery.  And the city’s 18-year-old Youth Poet Laureate Ramya Ramana recited an original composition that described New York City as plagued by “classism,” with the “brown-stoned and brown-skinned playing a tug of war.”

All three knock-down speeches left Bloomberg not in such a groovy New York State of mind especially since his administration has implemented successful innovative programs, policies & initiatives that have made “The Big Apple” a better, cleaner, safer place to work, live, and raise a family.

However, it was the city’s new public advocate James, who delivered the most jarring remarks resulting in a knock-out speech!  “The growing gap between the haves and the have-nots undermines our city and tears at the fabric of our democracy,” James said.  She went on to describe “a gilded age of inequality” where “decrepit” housing developments stand in the shadows of multimillion-dollar condos and “stop-and-frisk abuses” “have been touted as ‘success stories’ as if crime can only be reduced by infringing on the civil liberties of people of color.”

Although none of the attacks mentioned Bloomberg by name, their target was clear.  Through it all, Bloomberg took it on the chin while slumped in his seat and staring straight ahead.  However, when former President Bill Clinton started praising his work Bloomberg sat up straight and smiled.  “I also want to thank Mayor Bloomberg, who has committed so much of his life to this city.  He leaves this city stronger and healthier than he found it.  More people are coming here than leaving,” Clinton said.

De Blasio had praises for Bloomberg who is credited with bringing the city through the recession, and with making New York safer and more livable.  “To say the least, you led our city through some extremely difficult times,” de Blasio said.  “And for that, we are all grateful.  Your passion on issues such as environmental protection and public health has built a noble legacy.”

Clinton praised both mayors.  “With all of our challenges, people know somehow deep down inside there’s something special about New York.  So, I’m grateful to both mayors — Mayor Bloomberg for his years of service, and for the legacy he will leave, and to Mayor de Blasio for his good and caring hands,” Clinton concluded.

De Blasio’s progressive blueprint calls for:

Increased Taxes:  Under this keynote proposal, those earning more than $500,000 a year would see their tax rate rise from 3.9% to 4.4%.  Someone earning $10m would pay about $183,000 more.  The revenue would fund universal pre-kindergarten.

Affordable Housing:  Service workers are increasingly being forced into the far-flung reaches of the outer boroughs as rents and property values soar. De Blasio says he will make private developers include affordable housing in all their schemes, aiming to create or preserve 200,000 units over the next 10 years.

Education:  De Blasio has vowed to stop the trend towards charter schools encouraged under Michael Bloomberg, and end the closing of failing schools.  He wants to move away from an emphasis on test scores to grading schools and teachers.

Stop-And-Frisk:  De Blasio made the surge in street searches of largely black and ethnic minority New Yorkers under Bloomberg a centerpiece of his campaign.  His new police commissioner, Bill Bratton, returning for a second stint at the helm, has promised to rein back on the practice.

Central Park:  The new mayor says a high priority will be to remove horse carriages in Central Park because they are inhumane. They will be replaced by “electric, vintage-replica, tourist-friendly vehicles.”

On Sunday, January 6, 2014, thousands of visitors lined up to meet & greet and get a photo-op with Mayor de Blasio as he opened the doors of Gracie Mansion to the public which was on his first orders of business to give the people of this great city a chance to get a glimpse of  his new home.  “Gracie Mansion is the people’s house,” stated de Blasio.
Visitors holding specially issued tickets lined up outside the historic “people’s house,” at 88th Street and East End Avenue on the Upper East Side, and patiently waited for hours for their chance to meet their new mayor and take guided tours throughout his new quarters.  The 214-year-old building underwent a multi-million dollar renovation paid for by the then Mayor  Bloomberg but sat vacant for the last 12 years after the former mayor elected instead to live in his lavish Upper East Side town house.  When they finally make the move from their Brooklyn brownstone, the de Blasios will be the first family to occupy the 214-year-old Federalist-style mansion, located on the banks of the East River, since Rudy Giuliani’s family left in 2000.

New York based award-winning journalist Audrey J. Bernard covers entertainment, fashion & beauty, film, lifestyles and travel for the Electronic Urban Report and other outlets.  Contact her via: [email protected]

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Audrey J. Bernard