The inauguration of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on January 1 signaled an important left-of-center turning point in the evolution of progressive politics. It’s important not only for the largest city in America, but also for the masses of people who increasingly live in major urban centers throughout the world.
Mayor de Blasio represents a new challenge for a more “progressive” urban change and leadership in America. Championing the cause of economic equality across the lines of race, class and gender, will have a transformative impact on how other big cities are led and changed.
After being sworn in by former President Bill Clinton, de Blasio stood at the podium to boldly proclaim, “We are called to put an end to economic and social inequalities that threaten to unravel the city that we love.”
African Americans and Latino Americans in particular know first-hand the social, racial and ethnic inequalities that characterize major metropolitan areas throughout the United States. This has always been a tale of two cities for them – a city for the superrich and a city of the superpoor. De Blasio declared, “When I said we would take dead aim at the tale of two cities, I meant it. And we will do it. I will honor the faith and trust you have placed in me. And we will give life to the hope of so many in our city.
We will succeed … as one city.”
It is important to note that Mayor de Blasio was overwhelmingly elected last November with over 74 percent of the vote. His campaign did not shy away from a stern left-of-center progressive stance on all the major municipal political issues from education, employment, health care, and criminal justice to economic equality. The majority of New York voters knew who and what they were voting for by electing Bill de Blasio.
Hopefully, this will also be a teachable moment for others who seek political office.
There have been too many closet progressives or liberals who have felt erroneously that in order to be elected, they had to hide or camouflage the fact that they were actual liberal in their principles and perspectives. Of course, those kind of politically camouflaged elected officials usually end up failing because they have been too cowardly to stand up for their principles.
Incarceration still high
Harry Belafonte also did not shy away from speaking the truth at Mayor de Blasio’s inauguration. He stated, “While it is encouraging to know that the statistics have indicated a recent drop in our city’s murder rate, New York alarmingly plays a tragic role in the fact that our nation has the largest prison population in the world.”
He explained, “Much of that problem stems from issues of race, perpetuated by the depth of human indifference to poverty. Changing the stop-and-frisk law is as important as it is the change of the law is only the tip of the iceberg in fixing our deeply Dickensian justice system.” Of course, Brother Belafonte was correct and on point.
It is refreshing to see the re-emergence of elected officials who are not afraid to represent their constituents and to speak truth to power. The eyes of the world will be watching New York City to see whether there is fundamental change. At least for first days of 2014, the city appears to be headed in a good direction with a good leader.
Belafonte said it best: “Bill de Blasio gives New York another opportunity to open the door of possibilities. We, New Yorkers, must not let him fail…. We’ve got a lot of work to do, so let’s get busy.”
Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. is President of Education Online Services Corporation and the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network.