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Rifts open between de Blasio and some progressives

Bill de Blasio on June 12, 2014.

Bill de Blasio on June 12, 2014. Credit: Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images

Bill de Blasio became mayor with a vow to enact New York City's most liberal agenda in a generation, and he's delivered on several signature campaign pledges. But periodic shifts toward the political center have angered and disappointed some of his core supporters.

The rift came into sharp relief Thursday at City Hall as the mayor hosted the Rev. Al Sharpton and black clergy leaders in a summit prompted by the death of Eric Garner after a police officer put him in a banned chokehold.

Outside in the plaza, protesters chanting "N-Y-P-D, keep your hands off of me!" ripped into the "broken windows" theory of policing -- that attention to low-level offenses helps deter more serious crime. De Blasio and his police commissioner embrace the approach even as they have cast off their predecessors' stop-and-frisk policy.

"I think some people's patience is starting to wear a little thin, and they want to see not just the rhetoric but actual action that shows a commitment to meaningful reform," said Darius Charney, a civil rights lawyer who settled long-running suits after de Blasio became mayor on stop-and-frisk and a lack of FDNY minority hiring.


'Pragmatic decisions' made

De Blasio has made fidelity to "progressive values" a stock phrase in his speeches, but governing a city of 8.3 million means he can't always satisfy his base, political experts say.

"If you're known as being rigid and unbending, you're not going to be in a position to work well or effectively in a chief executive position," said Kenneth Sherill, an emeritus professor of political science at Hunter College.

"He understands the nuts and bolts of politics, and he's making very pragmatic decisions," Doug Muzzio, a Baruch College politics professor, said of de Blasio.

And down the road, progressive groups may have to take a pragmatic view of another sort -- that de Blasio, whatever his faults in their eyes, will serve their agendas better than any realistic alternative.

Such was the case, said Jeanne Zaino, an Iona College professor of political science, when the left-leaning Working Families Party endorsed Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo for re-election after opposing him on issues from taxes to charter schools to the minimum wage.

To be sure, de Blasio has ushered in progressive changes -- making taxpayer-funded prekindergarten classes available for every 4-year-old, mandating paid sick time for most private workers, driving harder bargains with developers to create more affordable housing and launching a plan for municipal ID cards for New Yorkers not in the country legally.


'Delivering' on pledges

De Blasio spokesman Phil Walzak cited examples such as those to show the mayor is "delivering on what he promised -- a truly progressive agenda that lifts up more people and creates one New York City, rising together."

Working Families' state director and longtime de Blasio ally Bill Lipton called him "the MVP of the progressive movement."

But other positions put de Blasio at odds with some on his left flank:

He opposes legalizing marijuana, and police continue to make arrests for possessing small amounts, including in Brooklyn, where the district attorney won't prosecute most such cases.

Besides endorsing Cuomo, he is backing centrist State Senate Democrats over more liberal challengers.

He staunchly supports Israel -- a common stand for the city's mayors -- but upsetting to progressives sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, including Linda Sarsour, executive director of the Arab American Association of New York, who campaigned last year for de Blasio.

"In the city there's something called P-E-P: Progressive Except on Palestine," she said "It's a wake-up call for our community."

In Thursday's meeting, while de Blasio and Police Commissioner William Bratton pledged to retrain every police officer on the use of force, they stood by the "broken windows" theory. Critics, including Sharpton, say the practice disproportionately affects blacks and Latinos and gives rap sheets to people who aren't otherwise criminals.

"Your ability to show some sensitivity is what raised hope," Sharpton told de Blasio. "But now, I think we've got to go from that hope to actuality."

On balance, de Blasio is "more progressive than any mayor . . . for a generation," said Sherrill. "What he's doing with the occasional imperfection is upsetting the activist cadre, but it's probably not resonating very much with the average voter."

And even if those activists stay angry in coming years, Zaino said, they face a tough question: "Is there anybody more progressive, more on the left than a de Blasio, who can quite frankly fill his shoes?

"If there's nobody else," she said, "they're going to be stuck with him."

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