Before he announced his campaign for mayor, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio was all about helping the small business owner. He attacked the Bloomberg administration relentlessly for raising hundreds of millions of dollars, more and more each year, through fines levied for even the most minor of violations. He sued the mayor for details on the fines, issued a report and vowed to ease the burden on the job creators who own the mom-and-pop shops so critical to life in places like Queens.
But when he launched his primary campaign — a tactically brilliant race in which he came from way behind to win without even having to go through the runoff election so many predicted would be necessary, given how many candidates were running — de Blasio’s focus changed sharply. He decided to run as the most liberal candidate in a field of progressive Democrats, strongly staking out that position as his own.
No longer was it about the small business owner, it was about the “Tale of Two Cities” — a divisive class warfare tactic that implies that the successful have become so at the expense of those who have not. Gone was any recognition that business owners are the very people who provide jobs to those less fortunate. Instead, de Blasio promised that if elected he would raise taxes on those at the top, and not just the super-wealthy but also the moderately wealthy.
It was an excellent strategy that won him the primary (that, and, apparently, his son’s awesome hair). Now he’s very likely to be our mayor come Jan. 1, as his opponent, the even-tempered Republican Joe Lhota, hasn’t grabbed the public’s attention the way the animated de Blasio has. And Lhota, despite having some very good ideas, faces 6-1 odds right out of the box in terms of the city’s proportion of Democrats to Republicans.
But it turns out that de Blasio’s lurch to the left probably wasn’t so much a tactic as it was the expression of his true beliefs. The New York Times revealed this week that as a younger man, de Blasio was a committed leftist, one who allied himself with the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua and said that his political philosophy was democratic socialism. He and his bride even honeymooned in Cuba, in violation of federal law.
All this was a long time ago, and many people become more conservative as they get older. We hope that turns out to be the case for de Blasio, because this city cannot handle a sharp liberal turn after Mayor Bloomberg leaves office.
For one thing, it’s highly unlikely de Blasio could even get the state to impose the tax hike he wants, given the GOP’s hold on the Senate and the likelihood that Gov. Cuomo will run for president in 2016. And we’re glad of that, because raising taxes on anyone other than the truly super-rich, those bringing in tens of millions of dollars a year, could only be bad for the economy. And that economy still has not fully recovered from the events of 2008.
Another area where we hope de Blasio will moderate his position is in policing. While the NYPD’s use of stop and frisk did warrant some reform, it should not (really could not) be thrown out altogether. Between the federal court ruling against it, the new police oversight laws passed over Bloomberg’s vetoes, and the baker’s dozen of academics who’ll be watching over the cops, New York’s Finest will need an ally, not an adversary, in City Hall. And we hope a Mayor de Blasio would make a wise choice for police commissioner. The one we have now has been fantastic.
A centrist approach is the only way to govern New York City today, and if de Blasio becomes our 109th mayor, we sure hope he takes one. Our best mayors generally have.