It’s been four years since Bill de Blasio first stood on the steps of City Hall and, placing his hand on a Bible that had once belonged to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, took the oath of office to become New York City’s 109th mayor. It was a frigid day, bitter and blustery, but after 20 years without a Democratic mayor, his inauguration seemed to herald a new moment of egalitarian possibility in New York City. De Blasio had run for mayor as an unabashed progressive, energizing a previously untapped base of urban activists—and earning The Nation’s endorsement—through what we called his “commitment to reimagining the city in boldly progressive, egalitarian terms.” As he stood at the dais, tall and slender as a skyscraper, he vowed to make good on his campaign promises.
“Today, we commit to a new progressive direction in New York,” de Blasio declared in a speech that invoked the word “progressive” six times in just 1,885 words. “So let me be clear. When I said we would take dead aim at the Tale of Two Cities, I meant it.”
Four years later, as de Blasio heads back to City Hall, this time after taking the oath of office from Bernie Sanders, he finds himself at the helm of a city that is, indeed, less Dickensian. Thanks to a collection of creative interventions, New York has made real progress on the path to a more humane city. It has instituted a universal pre-Kindergarten (UPK) program that provides free early-childhood education to nearly 70,000 young New Yorkers—and has saved parents an estimated $1.4 billion. It settled almost all of the municipal-union contracts that had expired under the previous mayor, Michael Bloomberg, giving retroactive pay raises to thousands of New Yorkers while recommitting to the principle of collective bargaining. It has expanded paid sick leave; instituted a municipal ID card; and adopted a $15 minimum wage for both city employees and nonprofit human-services contractors—all of it adding up to what veteran journalist Juan González hailed as “an unprecedented multibillion-dollar improvement in the economic life of the city’s working-class and poor majority.”
Along the way, the de Blasio administration has engineered other interventions, often less visible but no less worthy. It overturned years of harsh welfare policy that had victimized poor New Yorkers from the days of Rudolph Giuliani through Bloomberg. It created new protections for freelancers as well as an Office of Labor Policy and Standards to enforce labor law and educate workers about workplace rights. It spearheaded a Community Parks Initiative, and far more.