There was always a sense that New York’s progressive Mayor, Bill de Blasio, a grassroots organiser who rose to power with the backing of the labour unions, was going to do things differently than his predecessor, the billionaire Michael Bloomberg.
Two months into his tenure, after being elected in a landslide, his administration is finally taking shape. And, in a departure for the office he holds, the Mayor has chosen to fill his team not with experienced managers, but with liberal campaigners. On Friday Mr de Blasio, himself a long-time advocate for progressive causes, announced the appointment of Steven Banks, attorney in chief of the not-for-profit Legal Aid Society, as commissioner of the city’s Human Resources Administration.
Mr Banks, a critic of past mayors’ policies regarding underprivileged New Yorkers, joins an administration that already includes, in senior positions, former union organisers, leading civil rights activists and top Democrat campaigners. Mr de Blasio reportedly chooses candidates who share his enthusiasm for social change and then finds a role to suit them. The approach is in stark contrast to his predecessor, Mr Bloomberg, who filled his staff with fellow business leaders.
On Saturday, the media tycoon Rupert Murdoch tweeted that New York City was now “totally managed by leftist activists with no experience in running anything beyond protests”. The News Corp boss warned that there would be a “big mess ahead”.
“Old habits die very hard,” Mark Green, another liberal mayoral candidate, told The New York Times. As mayors, Mr Green said, “Giuliani [a former lawyer] was a prosecutor, Bloomberg was a CEO, and so far, Bill’s a political labour activist”. After Mr Bloomberg’s three consecutive terms as mayor, the city’s wealthy residents might have become used to the idea of a business-friendly leader.
But Mr de Blasio has already faced opposition from some quarters for his attitude to the rich, specifically his plan to raise taxes on those earning more than $500,000 (£299,000) in order to fund early education programmes. In January, residents of the wealthy Upper East Side complained when the neighbourhood was left unploughed by the city’s snow-clearers following a winter storm. Mr de Blasio later apologised for the lapse.
Appearing on The Daily Show last week, the actor and New York resident Liam Neeson revealed that he, too, was “a little bit pissed off” with Mr de Blasio for his plan to roll up the city’s historic horse-drawn carriage industry and replace the hansom cabs with vintage replica electric cars. Neeson claimed that critics of the carriages, a popular tourist attraction on the streets that surround New York’s Central Park, have disseminated false information about mistreatment of the animals involved. The actor told The Daily Show host Jon Stewart that the carriage drivers, who number around 170, treat the horses “like their children”.
Stewart also lambasted Mr de Blasio in January, after footage emerged of the Mayor eating a pizza using a knife and fork, like a European.