Taking Office, de Blasio Vows to Fix Inequity

Michael M. Grynbaum, New York Times, January 2, 2013

Bill de Blasio, whose fiery populism propelled his rise from obscure neighborhood official to the 109th mayor of New York, was sworn into office on Wednesday, pledging that his ambition for a more humane and equal metropolis would remain undimmed.

In his inaugural address, Mayor de Blasio described social inequality as a “quiet crisis” on a par with the other urban cataclysms of the city’s last half-century, from fiscal collapse to crime waves to terrorist attacks, and said income disparity was a struggle no less urgent to confront.

“We are called to put an end to economic and social inequalities that threaten to unravel the city we love,” he said to about 5,000 people at the ceremony, many beneath blankets on a numbingly cold day.

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Gone was the more solemn air of inaugurations past, replaced by the booming strains of disco, soul, and dance music by the Commodores, Marvin Gaye and Daft Punk, spun by a local D.J. stationed high above the audience. (Even Hillary Rodham Clinton, seated onstage, swayed with the music.)

Several of the nation’s pre-eminent Democrats—including Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and former President Bill Clinton, who administered the oath of office over a Bible once owned by Franklin D. Roosevelt—appeared with Mr. de Blasio on the dais, celebrating the elevation of a party stalwart with whom they had close ties.

The ceremony was filled with an unusually open airing of the city’s racial and class tensions, including a poem bristling with frustration about “brownstones and brown skin playing tug-of-war,” a pastor’s words about “the plantation called New York,” and fierce denunciations of luxury condominiums and trickle-down economics.

Mr. de Blasio, a careful custodian of his image, took pains to choreograph the appearance of a newly approachable and inclusive City Hall, arriving with his family on the subway and walking onstage to doo-wop tunes. {snip}

And although he warned that his administration’s work “won’t be easy,” Mr. de Blasio made only passing reference to the myriad and daunting challenges—fiscal, political and structural—that he will face in enacting his ambitious policy agenda.

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From her seat in a back row, Justina Taylor, 16, of the Bronx, started singing along with a Jay-Z song. “This is my kind of inauguration,” she said.

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The crowd was rapt as Ramya Ramana, a young Indian-American poet, made a cri de coeur in verses addressing familiar themes of class and poverty from Mr. de Blasio’s campaign. Ms. Ramana, in an appearance partially arranged by Chirlane McCray, Mr. de Blasio’s wife and a poet herself, described a New York that was “not lights, not Broadway, not Times Square,” but “coffee-colored children playing hopscotch on what is left of a sidewalk.”

Letitia James, the new public advocate, delivered what amounted to a blistering rebuke of Mr. Bloomberg’s 12-year tenure as mayor. The first minority woman to hold a citywide elected office, Ms. James invoked images of “decrepit homeless shelters” in the “shadow of gleaming multimillion dollar condos.”

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But Mr. de Blasio did not hesitate to restate his determination to change the Police Department’s stop-and-frisk tactics, saying he wished to “protect the dignity and rights of young men of color.”

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After a highly personal campaign in which he placed his family at the forefront of advertisements and pamphlets, Mr. de Blasio unsurprisingly made sure his wife and children held central roles at the event. He introduced Ms. McCray as “my partner in all I do.”

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The mayor's 19-year-old daughter Chiara de Blasio.

The mayor’s 19-year-old daughter Chiara de Blasio.

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