National News

De Blasio’s Second Inauguration: Less Fanfare, Dimmed Star Power

Posted December 29, 2017 10:10 p.m. EST
Updated December 29, 2017 10:12 p.m. EST

NEW YORK — When Bill de Blasio was sworn in for his first term as mayor, before a crowd of thousands on Jan. 1, 2014, the event seemed like a political coronation, celebrating New York City’s return to Democratic rule.

The first row of the City Hall dais was filled with political luminaries, including Hillary and Bill Clinton, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and even the departing mayor, Michael Bloomberg.

But at de Blasio’s second inauguration on Monday, things are going to be very different: Neither the Clintons, Cuomo or Bloomberg are expected to attend.

Over the intervening four years, de Blasio has attacked, angered or alienated each of those powerful leaders on hand at his inauguration, starting immediately with Bloomberg, whose legacy was assaulted from the dais that day, and proceeding famously to Cuomo — a feud still very much in progress.

The mayor then angered Hillary Clinton by his public show of declining to endorse her — until he belatedly did. Finally, he crossed Bill Clinton, who swore in de Blasio at the 2014 ceremony. De Blasio recently said that if the former president were in office today, he would have to resign over his sexual conduct.

In a sign of the changing times, de Blasio will be sworn in this time by Sen. Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton’s campaign rival who represents the ascendant left wing of a Democratic Party that is more in line with the mayor’s worldview.

“I thought about what I wanted to say to people in this moment as I started a second term and I wanted to make very clear that we remain committed to addressing income inequality and creating a fairer city and no one personified that better than Bernie Sanders,” de Blasio said in a news conference Thursday.

City Hall officials acknowledged Wednesday that the inauguration would be “dramatically scaled down” from four years ago. Workers preparing the plaza in front of City Hall for the event were expected to set out 1,500 chairs, compared with about 5,000 four years ago. In a news release, City Hall said the smaller size was due in part to “the potential for extreme weather.” But planning for the event has been going on since long before predictions of temperatures around 20 degrees.

Gone is the sheen and excitement of de Blasio’s ascension to the zenith of city government, the first Democratic mayor in two decades who promised an unabashedly left-of-center governing philosophy. De Blasio’s re-election was no less historic — the first Democrat to return as mayor since Ed Koch three decades ago — yet the moment has been decidedly more muted.

Last time around, 1,000 free tickets were offered more than a week in advance. This year, a notice for the public to get a ticket went out only days before, and City Hall officials said fewer tickets would be available.

The tone of the proceedings are also likely to be more subdued. Four years ago, de Blasio, as a candidate and mayor-elect, had taken direct aim at his predecessor’s administration, condemning stark divisions of race and economic well-being in the city that he was to take over.

His inauguration reflected the same: a pastor from the Sanitation Department described “the plantation called New York,” and Ramya Ramana, the city’s youth poet laureate, recited a poem lamenting the city’s “classism” and social divisions that left “brownstones and brown skin playing tug-of-war.”

While de Blasio praised Bloomberg in his inaugural address, the plantation reference, Ramana’s poem and a fiery speech by the newly elected public advocate, Leticia James, were widely seen as snubs to the outgoing mayor, who sat unsmiling on the dais.

Bloomberg received an invitation to Monday’s inauguration, but has declined, according to a spokesman, Stu Loeser.

Several influential Democratic elected officials who attended last time also have decided to skip the ceremony, including Reps. Hakeem Jeffries and Joseph Crowley, and New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman. The congressmen cited family obligations, and a representative for Schneiderman said that he would be traveling.

Also sitting in the first row four years ago were Sen. Chuck Schumer and former Mayor David N. Dinkins. A spokesman for Schumer said that the senator’s schedule for Monday was not yet finalized. Only Dinkins confirmed that he would be there to watch de Blasio take the oath a second time.

“I think he has done well,” Dinkins said. “I look forward to his second inauguration and I like him.”

De Blasio, for his part, has not appeared overly focused on the event. In recent weeks, he has appeared more interested in issues of national concern such as the Republican tax plan.

After his re-election last month, de Blasio almost immediately set his sights beyond the five boroughs. He traveled to Iowa. He protested in front of Trump Tower. He gave numerous interviews to publications with little footprint in New York.

“I suspect that the mayor of the city of New York is going to focus mostly on national politics,” said James, who will take the stage for her second inauguration along with the mayor.

“I myself will be focusing on the needs and concerns of New Yorkers,” she said, enumerating problems from a shrinking middle class to homelessness to affordable housing. “There’s no shortage of issues here in the city of New York.”

James, the first black woman elected to citywide office, is considered a potential mayoral candidate in 2021, as is another person who will be on the stage with de Blasio on Monday: Comptroller Scott M. Stringer. Both rode into office in 2013 amid a wave of enthusiasm for Democratic control of City Hall.

Now, many are looking ahead to their next job, even if they are loath to say so publicly.

“The best way to fight for New Yorkers is to work at the job I have, not to focus on the job I may want someday,” Stringer said. For others on the dais four years ago, the moment provided a snapshot of warm relations with de Blasio before years of strain.

“Thank you Governor Cuomo,” de Blasio said during his address. “It will be my honor to serve shoulder-to-shoulder with you again.” Afterward, de Blasio gave two emphatic hugs to the governor, who had been the federal housing secretary when de Blasio worked for him at the Department of Housing and Urban Development during the Clinton presidency.

Things did not work out as expected.

De Blasio and Cuomo have engaged in a bitter feud that started within days of the inauguration, sparring regularly over major issues that included how to pay for prekindergarten classes and subway improvements and minor ones, like the fate of a stray deer.

Cuomo’s staff said he would be attending the swearing in on Long Island of the new Nassau County executive, Laura Curran.

Likewise, de Blasio has found ways to sabotage his relationship with the Clintons, even after the 2016 presidential election. This year, the mayor criticized Hillary Clinton’s campaign in hindsight, and appeared with Sanders at the largest rally of his re-election campaign.

Spokesmen for Bill and Hillary Clinton did not respond to inquiries. Eric F. Phillips, the mayor’s press secretary, said that the Clintons were invited but did not respond to the invitation.

Other attendees from 2014 who will not be there Monday include the event’s DJ, Masud Semple, and Ramana, the youth poet laureate.

“Obviously, if you walk in the city, if you walk in the boroughs, it’s evident that these things still exist,” Ramana, 22, a recent graduate of St. John’s University, said in a telephone interview, referring to the challenges that she cited in her inaugural poem. “But I think that it’s great that we have somebody that is willing to challenge these things and work for us.”

Semple, known as DJ M.O.S., said that he will be out of the country and was unavailable to play the second inaugural. He nonetheless suggested some songs he might have played. Among them: Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough.”