Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

If Democrat can make it in New York, he can make it...

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AT midnight on New Year's Eve, in front of his house in Brooklyn, Bill de Blasio was sworn in as the 109th mayor of New York City. He marks a return to Gotham's blue roots, which worries some with long memories.

Across the five boroughs Democrats outnumber Republicans six to one, and New Yorkers have not voted for a Republican for president since Calvin Coolidge in 1924. Nonetheless, de Blasio is the city's first Democratic mayor in two decades.

A more formal inauguration was held on the freezing steps of city hall the next afternoon. All New York's Democratic worthies were there. Former president Bill Clinton presided over the ceremony, and de Blasio, appropriately, was sworn in using a Bible once owned by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

He said he would make good on his campaign promise to "take dead aim at the tale of two cities" and "leave no New Yorker behind." He also fleshed out his plan to tax the wealthy "a little more" to pay for pre-kindergarten for every child.

A progressive vision was needed, he said, and he wouldn't wait for change: "We'll do it now."

Yet his promise to overturn many of the policies of his long-serving predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, may be less revolutionary than it sounds.

To start with, William "Broadway Bill" Bratton is back as the city's top cop. As Mayor Rudy Giuliani's police commissioner in the mid-1990s, Bratton helped transform the force and the city by using data to track criminals and introducing zero tolerance for lesser crimes.

He returns to an even safer New York. The city had 333 murders in 2013, the lowest number in 50 years and more than 300 fewer than in 2001. Nonetheless Bratton's presence will comfort those New Yorkers who worry a Democratic mayor means a return to dangerous streets.

The new mayor is said to have had a tough time finding someone who agrees with him on education. Most cities are expanding charter schools, but he wants to limit them. At last he chose Carmen Fari±a, a former teacher and fellow progressive, to head the city's huge public-school system, which has 1.1 million pupils.

He also named two veterans from the Ed Koch administration of the 1980s to help with looming labour discussions. The unions refused to negotiate new contracts for municipal workers with Bloomberg, because they knew there was no way he would give them what they wanted. They are now hoping de Blasio will raise salaries and backdate the increases.

Bloomberg warned in December that New York cannot afford its unionized political machine. Pension costs soon will be crippling: Retirement pay for the police, for example, already costs more than their wages. De Blasio should listen to that, but might not.

New Yorkers do not yet realize how much they will miss Bloomberg -- the big projects, the long-term planning and, not least, the lavish spending.

The New York Times reported the billionaire mayor spent $650 million of his own money on the city. He paid for pilot programs out of his own pocket and donated millions to the arts. He even paid $5 million to renovate Gracie Mansion, the mayor's official residence, while never living there. He preferred his own Upper East Side pied--terre.

De Blasio and his family, however, intend to move into Gracie Mansion. Being a Democrat does not mean passing up five freshly painted bedrooms, mahogany bedsteads and a denticulated cornice in the library.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 6, 2014 $sourceSection0

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