Liberals across the country are looking to Bill de Blasio, who was sworn in as mayor early Wednesday, to morph New York City’s municipal machinery into a closely watched laboratory for populist theories of government that have never before been enacted on such a large scale.
The elevation of an assertive, tax-the-rich liberal to the nation’s most prominent municipal office has fanned hopes that hot-button causes like universal prekindergarten and low-wage worker benefits — versions of which have been passed in smaller cities — could be aided by the imprimatur of being proved workable in New York.“The mayor has a remarkable opportunity to make real many progressive policies and prove their merit,” said Gavin Newsom, the lieutenant governor of California, who as mayor of San Francisco introduced a form of universal health care and allowed same-sex couples to wed.“De Blasio matters,” Mr. Newsom said. “A lot of us are counting on his success.”New York has long been a lodestar for urban governments the world over. The avant-garde policing pioneered by former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani transformed the way major municipalities fight crime. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s corporate-minded approach to education and feats of social engineering, like the ban on smoking in bars, quickly gained global traction.In Mr. de Blasio, a wily, image-conscious strategist who had lagged far behind in polls just weeks before the Democratic primary, advocates on the left see a unique aligning of the stars: a champion of their values who is also a shrewd and cunning practitioner, stepping into office at a time when the national debate over inequality and social justice has reached a fever pitch.His administration could be a redemptive moment for a national left whose policies were often blamed for the crumbling of urban centers in the 1960s and 1970s, yet has now started to reassert itself in smaller jurisdictions with bold new approaches on issues like income equality and poverty.But Mr. de Blasio must also grapple with the restraints placed on local executives: He is barred from unilaterally setting income tax policy, meaning he must persuade legislators in Albany and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to approve his proposal to raise taxes on the wealthy. And he has never experienced the day-to-day demands and compromises of managing an enterprise anywhere near the size of the city he will now lead.