- Justin Dynia
Dissecting Bill De Blasio’s Tenure as Mayor of New York City
The mayor left office in early January not with a bang but a whimper as most New Yorkers watched Bill De Blasio walk away from City Hall after eight years with few fond memories. His administration achieved some common sense reform but failed to turn New York City into the progressive bastion of reduced inequality that he had hoped.
Photo Courtesy: Lucas Jackson/Reuters
The Cambridge born, Red Sox fan won the mayorship in 2013 as the first Democrat to lead City Hall in two decades. One of his first moves in office was to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, a reform designed to benefit over-targeted minority communities.
His overall approach to taking on the NYPD stood out in comparison to his predecessors. De Blasio ended the unconstitutional “Stop and Frisk” policy in 2014, which officers used to racially profile and harass Black and Latino residents. The NYPD also began to wear body cameras in 2018 to improve accountability and transparency. Aside from a homicide spike in 2020 that paralleled nationwide trends, De Blasio oversaw a steady reduction in the city’s crime rate.
One of De Blasio’s most popular policies was the adoption of universal pre-kindergarten, which dramatically expanded access to early education and child care for families with lower incomes. He allowed charter schools to use public school buildings, a victory for advocates of school vouchers who want to empower families to have better school choices.
On transportation, De Blasio oversaw some achievements including record low pedestrian deaths. On climate, he committed to making New York City carbon neutral by 2050 and set a blueprint for promoting sustainability and a green future.
His populist messaging at least resonated with many working class New Yorkers more than his predecessor, billionaire Michael Bloomberg, who saw the city as a luxury metropolis for the rich. De Blasio’s vision of a city of equal opportunities for all was daring, and his successor Eric Adams is sure to continue this pragmatic approach when he takes office on January 1.
Promises Made, Promises Not Kept
Tackling inequality was at the top of his to-do list, but inequality along racial and class divides run just as rampant as when he entered office. Nearly 70% of public schools are still segregated, highlighting the shortcomings of his education policy. Failing to address the homelessness crisis was the biggest failure of his administration according to the mayor himself. Though 200,000 affordable homes were built under his administration, lower income families are still struggling to pay rent in one of the most expensive cities in the nation.
Hoping to make NYC a hub for tech and innovation, De Blasio watched as Amazon reneged on plans to make their HQ2 in Long Island City in 2019, losing the city 25,000 jobs. A massive software bug crashed the city government’s networks later that year, causing tech czar Samir Saini to resign and rubbing salt in the wound of a city behind on tech.
When the pandemic presented an opportunity for strong leadership and an effective strategy, De Blasio faltered. New York City became the global poster child for the outbreak in March 2020 as COVID-19 swept the nation. To date, over 1 million residents have contracted the virus and over 37,000 have died, a devastating human toll. Long lines at testing centers and a lack of at-home testing kits continued to make it difficult for residents to stay safe amidst a surge of cases caused by the Omicron variant in December.
Not all of these failures sit squarely on the shoulders of De Blasio, but it was expected that the mayor would not let progress against the virus go backwards. The positivity rate of testing in the city stood around 20% in his last month and office and greatly exceeded figures from the onset of the pandemic. His response to the surge in cases was a vaccine mandate for all private employers, a potentially salient move that was still weeks too late.
It remains surprising that someone who ate pizza with a fork and a knife even ascended to New York City’s highest office. De Blasio defied contradictions, which became an asset to his critics and pull for his supporters.
Despite failing to make much headway in the presidential primaries in 2020, De Blasio flirted with another run for office. But weeks after bowing out of office, the former mayor announced he would not be running for the governorship in another crowded field of competent candidates, including incumbent Governor Kathy Hochul.
De Blasio’s legacy offers a prime example of how not every politician can walk and chew gum at the same time.