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Did Becoming the Favorite Change Mayor-Elect Bill de Blasio?

Andrew Burton/Getty Images News/Getty Images

New York City Mayor-elect (and still Public Advocate) Bill de Blasio had a victory party Tuesday night that, like his victory party nearly two months ago at the end of the Democratic primary, fit its campaign. Back in September, de Blasio had risen from fourth to first in the polls in scarcely a month, and duly the party was held in a small, dark night club packed largely with people in on the joke. De Blasio made a boisterous appearance outside, on an uncrowded Gowanus street with food carts.

These days, de Blasio, the massive frontrunner during the entire general election campaign (it looks like he will defeat Republican nominee Joe Lhota by close to 50 points, a record for a non-incumbent in the modern era), has been increasingly unavailable to the media and has been a capital-T Thing. His party let in probably close to a thousand people, at the expense of intimacy: It was held in the hangar-like Park Slope YMCA, formerly an armory; all the lights were on, and the scene was made even brighter for television’s sake. When, at 9pm, the invaluable local channel NY1 announced that New Yorkers had elected a new mayor, the hoi polloi had not yet been let in the venue, and the vast quantities of media members, pols, and other connecteds largely ignored the foreordained news. De Blasio spoke at the tail-end of primetime, giving his standard stump speech without too much oomph (although yes, at the end the family did do their patented “Smackdown” dance, and yes, Dante’s Afro remains sublime as ever). The event—sterile-seeming, with politicians in suits and lapel-pins, and decked-out police officers, and celebrity endorsers (Steve Buscemi, Susan Sarandon), and union volunteers—was over not long after 11.

Will de Blasio’s governing style be similarly milquetoast? This is the question. Over the past two months, as de Blasio has ruthlessly played the frontrunner, raising lots of money and making few ripples, we were reminded of the operative he indeed is (among other things, he managed Hillary Clinton’s 2000 Senate campaign). Yet, with a few minor adjustments, the message has stayed pretty resolutely left-wing. And that is not even counting the prominent New York Times article reporting that de Blasio made pro-Sandinista trips to Nicaragua in his younger and more vulnerable years, which provoked Lhota to call him a Marxist and the New York Post really to take it to the next level. (Want a treat? Check out #deblasiosnewyork, which responds to the left-wing rep once most prominently stoked by Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson. “Even bodega prices become regulated.” “Ritual billionaire floggings begin at dawn.”) “But make no mistake,” de Blasio declared, at once conjuring and superseding his famous “tale of two cities” creed. “The people of this city have chosen a progressive path. And tonight we set forth on it together as one city.” 

As de Blasio puts together his cabinet (and, in a fraught decision, selects a new police chief, having ruled out Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s man, Ray Kelly) and prepares to be sworn in on New Year’s Day, the fun begins. Because de Blasio was not the only victor yesterday: the organized New York City left and its other candidates were, too. A source from the left-wing, labor-backed Working Families Party said it was a big night: “First ever Working Families mayor” (the party was unable to endorse in the primary due to conflicting union endorsements). “Top threee office holders are all Working Families Democrats,” the source said. “Beyond that, a dozen new Working Families Democrats on the City Council, meaning a bigger and more muscular caucus than ever before.” 

Which is great news for de Blasio, unless it turns out to be terrible news. “After eight years on the Council and four as public advocate, de Blasio will finally hold real clout—and after a generation on the outside, his core supporters are eager to see it used,” argues the New York Daily News’ Harry Siegel.What’s more, there will be little political pressure on his right flank but plenty on his left. The other two citywide offices are held by a Democratic regular and a WFP stalwart”—that’s Comptroller-elect Scott Stringer and Public Advocate-elect Tish James, the first woman of color elected to citywide office, as she noted in her victory speech—“and the Council looks to be dominated by its progressive caucus. The dog has caught the car, so to speak. Now we’ll see what he can do with it.” I will be merciful this time and let the reader extrapolate as much or as little as she chooses from what de Blasio does to the fate of insurgent, populist-tinged progressivisim in American cities, the Democratic Party, life, the universe, and everything.

I caught up with one of the very most important people in the room, who wandered about in a pinstripe suit, seemingly recognized by surprisingly few. Sheldon Silver, 69, is a longtime assemblyman representing lower Manhattan (he was born and lives on the Lower East Side) who will have been Assembly Speaker—the John Boehner of the state of New York—for 20 years as of 2014. As such, he will be absolutely crucial to the success of maybe de Blasio’s most prominent plank: An income tax hike on those making more than $500,000 per year, with the proceeds slated for universal pre-kindergarten and after-school programs.

“I think it’s a great victory for progressive Democrats,” Silver, who said he knew de Blasio at least since the Clinton campaign, remarked of the result. “We haven’t had a mayor in the city for 20 years.” Though he suggested that the incoming mayor’s top priority should be negotiating new contracts with unions representing hundreds of thousands of city employees, he did address the tax plan: “I’ve said publicly that I’m in favor of it. I think his job as mayor is going to [be to] go out and convince the people who are going to be affected by it that it’s better for the entire city, and hopefully better for them.” But there are some who would trust Silver for roughly the distance that they could throw him. We shall see.

So there is legitimate grounds for excitement and legitimate grounds for trepidation. For the de Blasio family, there is legitimate grounds for exhaustion; for Lhota, legitimate grounds for settling down with a nice right-wing think tank; for City Hall reporters, legitimate grounds to prepare for the first new chief executive in 12 years, the first Democrat—in New York City!—in 20.

And for a cluster of neighborhoods, legitimate grounds to feel proud. What does Silver think of the seeming ascendance of an outer borough? “I have no problem with it,” he replied. Judging by the outro music, nor does the de Blasio mayoral campaign, which, incidentally, has earned a congratulations from us all: