New NYC mayor seeks to advance liberal agenda

By Jonathan Lemire, AP

NEW YORK–New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, propelled by a landslide election victory and the hopes of a party out of power for a generation, will be quickly unveiling an ambitious liberal legislative program that could fundamentally reshape the role of government in the largest U.S. city.

De Blasio, a Democrat whose efforts will be closely watched and potentially imitated across the U.S., is wasting no time. He has begun pushing for sweeping changes on several fronts, from the care of the homeless to police conduct, all while trying to leverage his political capital into a proposal that would be unthinkable for most politicians: to raise taxes.

“He’s trying to send a strong signal that he is going to be ambitious in his legislative goals,” said Costas Panagopoulos, a political science professor at Fordham University. “It’s a bold, risky strategy. He’s not at all trying to move in small steps.”

The centerpiece of his first year in office is to fund universal pre-kindergarten and expanded after-school programs for middle school students by raising taxes on the wealthiest New Yorkers. His proposal would increase the income tax rate from 3.9 to 4.4 percent on residents who earn more than US$500,000 annually.

But the mayor of New York can’t raise taxes unilaterally and needs the support of the state Legislature and Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo. So de Blasio, both as mayor-elect and then after taking office, has devoted an enormous amount of time and energy to pushing the plan.

He and his staff have wooed lawmakers both in New York and in the state capital Albany. He has applied pressure through the media and trotted out a grassroots lobbying effort and powerful labor unions that support the idea. Cuomo, a potential presidential candidate, has embraced the concept of universal pre-kindergarten, touting it again in his State of the State speech last week, but appears leery of raising any taxes.

And the tax hike has become key for de Blasio, who has repeatedly said he wants a dedicated revenue stream — not a one-time budget maneuver — to pay for the plan. As the hike on the rich plays well in liberal circles, de Blasio has refused to even consider alternative means of funding the pre-kindergarten plan.

De Blasio ran a very liberal campaign to survive the left-leaning Democratic mayoral primary and didn’t track to the center in the general election, refusing to budge from his plan to battle the city’s income inequality problem, which he dubbed “the tale of two cities.” He captured 73 percent of the vote on Election Day, posting the largest margin of victory by a non-incumbent while becoming the first Democrat to be elected mayor since 1989. Taking Dead Aim at the ‘tale of two cities’