Bill de Blasio won New York City's mayoral election handily Tuesday, sweeping aside Republican challenger Joe Lhota, and even finding himself with the possibility of a strong mandate.
It's a new era for New Yorkers, but many observers have avoided predicting exactly what de Blasio will do when he moves into Gracie Mansion in two months, after Mayor Michael Bloomberg ends his third term and 12 years as the city's chief executive.
De Blasio is a longtime politico, having run Hillary Clinton's 2000 U.S. Senate campaign and worked for former NYC Mayor David Dinkins, but despite a stint on the City Council representing part of his home borough of Brooklyn and his current job as the city's public advocate, he was fairly unknown outside the world of New York politics until very recently.
As such, there is little consensus about just what de Blasio will do as mayor. Here are a few suggestions for specific, fairly nonpartisan policies that he should pursue in the first year of his term:
1. End stop & frisk: This one is obvious. De Blasio made halting Bloomberg's stop-and-frisk program and the "tale of two cities" the two central themes of his candidacy, and it's pretty safe to say that de Blasio will make this one of his main priorities. Ending this discriminatory practice is critical to the health of New York, and absolutely essential if de Blasio hopes to begin to repair relationships between citizens and police, restore a sense of racial justice, and fulfill his campaign promises.
And now that the judge who ruled it unconstitutional has been removed from the case, the tactic's future is more uncertain than ever, meaning de Blasio needs to come in and make the whole debate irrelevant by striking it from the NYPD on day one.
As de Blasio said at an August mayoral candidates' forum, “The courts have just affirmed facts that too many New Yorkers know to be true: Under the Bloomberg administration, with the acquiescence of Speaker Quinn, millions of innocent New Yorkers -- overwhelmingly young men of color -- have been illegally stopped.”
2. Make Ratner build affordable housing: De Blasio has long backed the construction of the Barclays Center in downtown Brooklyn, but the project didn't go as originally planned. The new mayor will likely have a problem shaking off the impression that he is too cozy with developers and real estate interests, which he very well may be. But making an early move that will help the city at the expense of a big-money developer would go a long way toward helping to reduce that feeling among New Yorkers opposed to the Bloomberg administration's development regime.
Under Forest City Ratner Companies' original plan for the Atlantic Yards area, the developer was to build hundreds of units of affordable housing in addition to the massive new home of the Brooklyn Nets. But as it stands today, the taxpayer-backed behemoth of a stadium looms over Flatbush Avenue, and Forest City has not made good on its initial promise to build affordable housing. De Blasio should step into this fray and find a way to compel the company to provide much-needed new homes for low- and middle-income residents. A deal's a deal, no matter what happens to the global economy.
3. Fire Ray Kelly: The NYPD under Commissioner Ray Kelly has had some stunning successes. Crime is way down, murders have plummeted, and New York City is once again seen as a safe city, perhaps the safest it's ever been. That's great for attracting tourists and protecting the city's elites, but there's a dark side to the Kelly era.
Kelly not only presided over the stop and frisk policy's implementation and undying defense of it over recent years, he has also made the city's police into a militarized force replete with its own intelligence wing, which came under fire for targeting Muslims in New Jersey, beyond its jurisdiction. Kelly was not willing to admit his mistake in allowing such overstepping. And the way he presided over the violent, swift clearing of the Occupy Wall Street encampment in Zuccotti Park was shameful.
De Blasio would presumably do more to restore public trust in police and government by firing Kelly than by any other single action.
4. Figure out sick time for public employees: As public advocate, de Blasio was a fierce supporter of a bill that would have expanded paid sick leave to hundreds of thousands of workers who currently don't have that crucial benefit, even writing a letter to Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn in August 2012 demanding that it be passed.
"A Paid Sick Leave bill will support a workforce healthy and capable enough to build a stronger New York City," he wrote. "If city workers without sick days were to secure this important protection, approximately 48,000 emergency hospital visits would be prevented every year."
De Blasio made the issue one of the central pillars of his campaign, so we'd expect him to follow through when he takes office. De Blasio needs to make paid sick leave a reality for public workers across the city.
5. Maintain his five-borough vision: One thing that helped propel de Blasio to a crushing win in the mayoral race was the fact that he sees New York City as more than just Manhattan. Unlike Bloomberg, Quinn and many other politicians, de Blasio lives in Brooklyn and sees things from an "outer-borough" (to use a fairly derogatory term) perspective. As such, he spoke about issues facing people from all five boroughs during the campaign, and worked tirelessly on their behalf while serving as public advocate and, of course, as a councilman representing his home district.
As mayor, de Blasio needs to maintain that scope of attention, ensuring that he doesn't revert to the Manhattan-first mentality that has gripped so many mayors since the consolidation of the city in 1898. He needs to ensure that situations like Bloomberg's bungling of the 2010 blizzard in areas like Northeast Queens don't repeat, and to be fair in disaster response, unlike Bloomberg -- who made sure Manhattan rebounded quickly from Hurricane Sandy last year but has not done the same for the people of coastal Staten Island and other heavy-hit areas. He speaks of two cities, but he needs to act to show that every New Yorker lives in the same town.