Police shootings overshadow Bill de Blasio's early success
Despite keeping his campaign promise to curb the use of stop and frisk, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has struggled to support the NYPD and also defend the rights of protesters who share his liberal values.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio saw success at fulfilling many of his liberal campaign promises during his first year in office but has at times been overshadowed by events beyond his control, most notably the recent killings of two police officers amid a wave of protests against police conduct.
The mayor, whose election opened a new chapter in America's largest city after billionaire Michael Bloomberg's three terms, has appeared triumphant against some of those outside forces — notably during an Ebola scare — and has become a national progressive voice. The police shooting, however, has pushed his young mayoralty into its biggest crisis yet.
The double slaying came weeks after a grand jury declined to indict an officer in the chokehold death of an unarmed black man, Eric Garner. It has heightened de Blasio's delicate efforts to support arguably his most important city agency, the New York Police Department, yet also defend the rights of the protesters who share his liberal values.
As 2014 draws to a close, his balancing act is teetering. Twice in a week, officers mourning their fallen brothers turned their backs on de Blasio, a searing display of contempt and an omen that de Blasio's struggle with police could cripple his attempts to improve the fortunes of those living at the city's margins.
Under former mayors Rudolph Giuliani and Bloomberg, the NYPD largely went unchecked for 20 years, its power growing considerably after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. But de Blasio was a different voice, one who wanted to continue the historic drop in crime but prioritized improving relations between police and communities of color.
The unions heard his campaign promise to curb the use of stop and frisk — a police tactic a federal judge ruled discriminated against minorities — not as a criticism of strategy but rather as an assessment of the men and women of the NYPD. After Garner's death, the police unions — which are seeking a new contract — roared against de Blasio's close connections to the Rev. Al Sharpton, a civil rights activist and noted police critic.
After the grand jury's decision, de Blasio spoke about cautioning his own son, who is half-black, about contact with police, and he permitted anti-NYPD protesters to march freely. And when the two officers were gunned down Dec. 20 by a man who cited Garner as one of his motivations for violence, the unions said de Blasio had "blood on his hands" for fostering an atmosphere of anger toward police.
De Blasio has sought to lower the temperatures on both sides.
"Let's focus on these families and what they have lost," he said last week. "I think that's the right way to try and build toward a more unified and decent city."
De Blasio made a similar call for unity last New Year's Day.
Out went Bloomberg, the businessman who reshaped New York with his data-driven management style that made the city safe and glamorous yet economically stratified. In came de Blasio, who took the oath of office in front of his modest Brooklyn home, surrounded by his biracial family.
He campaigned on a pledge to reduce the city's income inequality gap and worked in tandem with City Council to pass legislation aimed at bettering the lives of the less fortunate. Laws were passed to expand paid sick leave and living wage legislation, and the first steps were taken to create the nation's largest municipal ID program.
His affordable housing plan aims to create or preserve 200,000 units in the next 10 years. And he struck labor deals with more than half the city's workforce.
But the centerpiece of his agenda was a plan to massively expand universal prekindergarten schooling. He aimed to fund it with a tax on the city's wealthy, an idea that died in the state legislature.
However, his advocacy loosened $300 million from the state budget to launch the program. Dozens of city agencies combined on a smooth rollout and 53,000 4-year-olds entered the new pre-school classrooms in September.
Perhaps his crowning achievement was his steady hand after the city's first Ebola diagnosis. Grounded in science, his calm demeanor reassured New Yorkers even as other political figures were all over the map in their approach.