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New year, new New York City mayor, new signals
This first day should be Bill de Blasio's easiest as New York City mayor. With former President Bill Clinton providing some global glitz as he administers the oath, first-family members need only to smile, wave, and listen while de Blasio sketches his intentions in a speech.
All the difficult exchanges with legislators, unions, interest groups and others can wait for a bit. In the last half-century, only Mayor John V. Lindsay had the bad luck to take office the very day that transit workers walked off their jobs, commencing a strike that crippled the city for 12 days.
Now the crowd gathers, around City Hall, taking seats in the traditional cold.
Inaugural ceremonies are so scripted and pomp-infused that the gaffes and surprises stand out. U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts fumbled President Barack Obama's first swearing-in. In 1994, Mayor Rudy Giuliani's then 7-year-old son caused a distraction by reciting the speech with him. Last year, Vice President Joe Biden even said he was proud to be president.
So barring last-minute slip-ups, the de Blasio show on Wednesday is likely to receive passing reviews. The low-key midnight swearing-in ceremony outside his Brooklyn home featured daughter Chiara in a party hat, son Dante in jeans, and a $9 official payment.
But today, the city's 109th mayor could gain some added political lift if he's willing to:
-- Hose down any unreasonable expectations of fat labor contracts as he did Monday in a news conference by calling for collaborative personnel cost savings. This is easier said than accomplished, of course. But de Blasio might find the time right to combat the cant from some quarters that he's disposed to "give away the store."
-- Defend his slow appointment process by reiterating a will to find the best people for top jobs. It buys a bit of time -- though not much -- before critics start to question how efficiently City Hall will run.
-- Resist further campaigning against departing Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who for a host of reasons became a piñata for contending Democrats in the election season just ended. Starting Wednesday, all that happens arrives on de Blasio's watch.
-- Even as he sticks with his message about "two cities," gracious words for his predecessor make for the type of small hypocrisy that other power brokers, and maybe the voting public, seem to appreciate.
A cautionary tale: On New Year's Day in Albany seven years ago, the blustery Gov. Eliot Spitzer made even his aides cringe when he threw verbal knockdown pitches at his predecessor George Pataki and legislative leaders with whom he'd have to deal. "Like Rip Van Winkle," Spitzer said, "New York has slept through much of the past decade while the rest of the world has passed us by. Today is the day when all of that changes . . ." The fallout wasn't pretty.
-- Signal independence. As head of a Democratic city inside a Democratic state, he has an early cordiality with re-election-seeking Democratic Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and with the newly elected City Council. De Blasio's two GOP predecessors had to find allies from across the partisan divide. The new mayor won't have that problem, but he will need to show he's his own person -- or else he'll be reacting to everyone else's agendas.
-- Keep the remarks brief -- and not just because it's cold outside. The political slam against de Blasio has been that he's never risen far above Council member, with his most recent four years in the sometimes-maligned role of public advocate.
Going on too long at the rostrum would only reinforce the image of a neighborhood pol holding forth ad nauseam.