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Janison: De Blasio's roster favors operatives over technocrats

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de blasio Credit: Bill de Blasio makes a speech during the inauguration. (Charles Eckert)

In two weeks as mayor, Bill de Blasio has given every sign of turning City Hall from technocratic with a small ‘t’ to Democratic with a capital ‘D’ — as you may expect when a one-time campaign operative replaces a career businessman in the job.

It becomes evident in de Blasio’s top appointments. Peter Ragone, senior adviser, has worked in campaigns for Democrats ranging from ex-Council Speaker Peter Vallone Sr., to former Vice President Al Gore, to Gavin Newsom, the former San Francisco mayor. De Blasio helped run Hillary Clinton’s first Senate campaign, and many other new city aides worked for various Democratic-allied unions and elected officials.

It’s also evident from his public dealings. He involved himself in the City Council speaker’s race by helping muster support for the winner, Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-East Harlem). Over the weekend, de Blasio met with the Queens Democratic chairman, Rep. Joseph Crowley, who opposed Mark-Viverito, to patch up differences.

And it’s evident from his statements. New Jersey’s Republican Gov. Chris Christie took an early dig at de Blasio’s plan for a tax surcharge on top earners, and last week, de Blasio gave it back, calling official actions that sparked “Bridgegate” unprofessional, immature and immoral.

The intraparty divisions that marked the mayoralties of Ed Koch and David Dinkins seem like ancient history as the first Democratic administration in 20 years takes over.

Not whether, but how, the political fault lines develop remains to be seen — across the bargaining table, in the police’s actions, and in the Council.

The progressive mantra so far remains “more of a tag line than a coherent ideology,” said Prof. David Birdsell, dean of Baruch College’s School of Public Affairs. He suggested that the details of approaches on issues from schools to homeless assistance stand to be debated among those who would call themselves progressive.

Nassau County Democratic chairman Jay Jacobs, who raised funds for de Blasio last fall, expressed hope that the new mayor’s credibility with unions and progressive groups could bring an ability to persuade labor representatives to reach productive deals.

“When you sit across the table from a friend, you’re more eager and able to hear their problems and their issues,” Jacobs said. “He’s pragrmatic and I believe, he understands you take reasonable steps — things you can sell and that can happen without creating blowback ...”

Democratic strategist George Arzt said de Blasio “really works at the politics, the interpersonal relationship. The last mayor did not work at all in the same way.”

Dan Janison is a Newsday columnist.

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