Conviction, criticism at inauguration
The legacy of Michael Bloomberg came under sharp attack today during a grand City Hall inauguration ceremony for New York's new citywide officials, in the lead-up to a speech by Bill de Blasio in which the new mayor reeamphasized his campaign promise to address economic inequality.
Bloomberg sat silently in the front row of the roughly 5,000 attendees, while speaker after speaker knocked his administration's performance without naming him directly.
At one point a roving camera streaming images to a large screen zoomed in on him looking stone-faced while he took in the harsh words during the frigid New Year's Day event.
"Changing the stop-and-frisk law is as important as it is; the change of a law is only the tip of the iceberg in fixing our deeply Dickensian justice system," civil rights activist and singer Harry Belafonte said in his introduction of de Blasio, the city's 109th mayor, who campaigned on the promise of closing the city's income gap and curtailing the police department's use of the controversial stop-and-frisk tactic.
"Bill de Blasio has been overwhelmingly mandated to make many who for much too long danced with despair believe again that the American dream is attainable," Belafonte continued.
Fred Lucas, the Department of Sanitation chaplain, referred to the city as a "plantation" during his invocation.
Tish James, who replaces de Blasio as the city's public advocate, delivered a particularly harsh assessment of the outgoing administration.
"The growing gap between the haves and the have-nots undermine our city and tears the fabric of our democracy," James said.
"We live in a gilded age of inequality where decrepit homeless shelters and housing developments stand in the neglected shadow of gleaming multimillion dollar condos," she continued. "Where long-time residents are priced out of their own neighborhoods by rising rents and stagnant incomes; where stop-and-frisk abuses and warrantless surveillance have been touted as 'success stories' as if crime can only be reduced by infringing on the civil liberties of people of color."
James, in her new capacity as public advocate, also issued what sounded like a warning to de Blasio.
"Of course, if working people aren't getting their fair share, if our government isn't security the reforms New Yorkers were promised, you better believe that Dasani and I will stand up, that all of us will stand up, and call out anyone and anything that stands in the way of progress," she said, referring to the young girl featured living in a squalid Brooklyn homeless shelter that was featured in a high-impact New York Times series.
The girl's family was present at the ceremony and the girl, Dasani Coates, stood beside James during the speech.
It fell to former president Bill Clinton, who said he hadn't intended to say much beyond performing the ceremonial swearing-in of de Blasio, to yank the proceedings back in a more conciliatory direction, making a point of thanking Bloomberg who had, he said, improved New York and "committed so much of his life to this city."
Afterward, de Blasio, too, started by acknowledging his former bosses, the Clintons; his longtime ally Andrew Cuomo, who was also at the event; and Bloomberg.
"Thank you, Mayor Bloomberg. Please, let's all acknowledge the incredible commitment of our mayor. To say the least, you led our city through some extremely difficult times. And for that, we are all grateful," de Blasio said, elaborating on prepared remarks which were distributed to reporters.
De Blasio devoted much of the rest of his roughly 20-minute speech, which concluded the event, to his "Tale of Two Cities" campaign theme.
He vowed again to push for an income-tax hike on New Yorkers earning more than $500,000 annually to fund universal pre-kindergarten, a proposal Cuomo initially panned, before indicating that he'd seek some sort of compromise with de Blasio.
The new mayor also promised to expand the city's existing law mandating companies with more than 20 employees provide five paid sick days each year.
Cuomo sat on the makeshift stage near Hillary Clinton, a likely 2016 presidential contender whose national plans would almost certainly preclude Cuomo from pursuing his own.
Huma Abedin, the wife of disgraced former congressman and mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner, also attended the event. Abedin is one of Hillary Clinton's top aides.
De Blasio's family, which played a central role in his campaign, figured prominently in the inauguration ceremony. His wife, Chirlane McCray, held the Bible as he recited the Oath of Office. His teenage children Chiara and Dante stood beside them.
CORRECTION: The original version of this article referred to Dasani Coates as an 11-year-old girl. Per the Times, she's now 12.