Mr. de Blasio made a perfectly demagogic speech upon being inaugurated 109th mayor of New York City on New Year’s Day, and as such it was very fine. It was what, after all, everyone expected of him. No one expected him to praise his two predecessors, Rudolph Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg, for making it at all possible to even entertain the notions of government-enforced income redistribution that were the principal theme of his campaign, that were, in fact, the only theme of his campaign. No one grudges him this, for the political game puts no premium on expressions of gratitude, let alone of debt. On the contrary, the practice among politicians of the democratic extreme is to blame every thing that happens on past governments.
In this respect, in fact, Mr. de Blasio, who has been a community organizer and has not worked in the private sector, showed considerable tact in refraining from imputing to recent administrations the “crime wave” and “recessions” and “natural disasters” that he cited as evidence of the city’s resilience. We have overcome all these, he said, but one great challenge remains, the challenge of inequality which, by comparison with the others, does not make headlines but is not less insidious in its threat to municipal happiness.
Mr. de Blasio did not explain the relation between crime waves and tidal waves, but that may be because getting into specifics would have required naming the names of the mayors under whom the former setback to municipal joy occurred, all of whom were self-professed liberals. Mr. de Blasio prefers the term progressive, referring no doubt to New York history. An earlier progressive, Theodore Roosevelt, served as New York City’s top policeman and then as governor of the state.
At 55, Mr. de Blasio, who is tall and only beginning to tend toward a portly figure, was elected the city’s public advocate when, in defiance of tradition and his own promises, Mr. Bloomberg ran for a third term. Most New Yorkers have no idea what the public advocate is supposed to do, as there are many municipal jobs with similarly obscure purposes. However, Mr. de Blasio is the first occupant of the office, which was created in 1993, to successfully run for mayor. The new public advocate, Letitia James, is like the new mayor and his newly appointed schools chancellor, Carmen Farina, a Brooklynite.
Mr. de Blasio made a point of objecting to New York City’s “stop and frisk” law in the past, and did not complain when a liberal judge ruled it unconstitutional last year, but when he asked William Bratton, a former NYCPD commissioner under Mayor Giuliani, to return to his old job, observers were not surprised. If there is one lesson New York City Democrats have retained from the past quarter century — or more — of their city’s political history, it is that insecurity leads to electoral disaster. With or without stop and frisk — a policing tactic of proven effectiveness — Mr. Bratton’s presence at One Police Plaza sends the city’s bond ratings up faster than Mr. de Blasio’s promises to soak the rich to pay for early childhood education shoots them down.
Is he, thus, seeking to balance his act, reassurances on one side, promises on the other, and work mainly to keep the lid on the fantastic rehabilitation the city has experienced since the early 1990s? No one knows. The appointment of Mrs. Farina, who at 70 has nearly half a century of experience in public education in New York, may be viewed as a prudent one. It is a widely held view among education observers that the Bloomberg administration, in its zeal to save public education — Mr. Bloomberg’s first big political fight as mayor involved taking over the direction of the schools from the politicized Board of Education — over-emphasized administrative efficiency at the expense of classroom instruction. Indeed Mr. Bloomberg and his top education man, Joel Klein, had no experience as educators and Mrs. Farina served under Mr. Klein for a time as deputy chancellor for instruction.
While some of her pedagogic choices were much criticized when she made them, and she will be closely scrutinized for her curricular and pedagogic preferences, she is understood to be skeptical of the mechanical measurements of school success that have been the bipartisan legacies of the G.W. Bush and B. Obama administrations, with their accompanying promotion of creeping federalization of local education. If she demonstrates quickly that she has confidence in teacher and principal autonomy — she herself courted some controversy, including possible administrative lapses, when she was a principal, notably of the renowned P.S. 6 in Manhattan — she will be in a position to implement the best of the Bloomberg-Klein reforms by at last bringing traditional instruction back into the classrooms and giving every child a chance to be a great New Yorker, a great American, and fine citizen and human being.
Thus the speech. Mr. de Blasio should not necessarily be faulted for making an inauguration speech themed on envy and resentment. Income inequality is not serious complaint in the world as we know it now, and to the degree governments try to promote it with laws and regulations and taxes, they will perpetuate it. But to the extent government can maintain the structures, including public safety and public education, that are necessary to sustained opportunity, the statist heresy can be re-learned, no matter how often politicians lull voters into forgetting it.