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The Mayor New York Deserves
If New Yorkers don’t think de Blasio’s pitch is tired and juvenile, they deserve it.


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New York City’s Sandinista-loving mayor couldn’t decide whether he was ushering in the new or reviving the old during his inauguration speech last week.

“Today, we commit to a new progressive direction in New York,” Bill de Blasio proclaimed grandiloquently. “We need a dramatic new approach — rebuilding our communities from the bottom up, from the neighborhoods up.” Yet this “new” progressive “impulse” is also a longstanding one, according to de Blasio: It has “written our city’s history. It’s in our DNA.”

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So is de Blasio’s mission of “fight[ing] injustice and inequality” a novel experiment, turning New York into a “laboratory for populist theories of government,” in the words of the New York Times? Or is de Blasio simply recycling old ideas whose effects are already wholly predictable?

The latter. De Blasio’s “new” inequality agenda borrows heavily from the old War on Poverty, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this week. And no city has poured more money into government anti-poverty programs — to negligible results — than New York.

Candidate de Blasio constantly vaunted his plan to offer free pre-kindergarten to all, to be funded by yet higher taxes on upper incomes. Such a program, he claimed, would reduce inequality and break the cycle of poverty. He was, however, assiduously silent about the granddaddy of all War on Poverty programs: “Head Start.” And for good reason. De Blasio’s universal pre-K plan is simply an expanded version of that 1965 “culturally competent” classic, which has been repeatedly shown to have no long-term effects on academic performance or social development. A large federal study published in 2012 merely confirmed the obvious: Head Start has been a $150 billion sinkhole of taxpayer resources. De Blasio’s claim last Wednesday that “study after study has shown” the success of pre-K and other such compensatory programs was either a bald-faced lie or a sign of how cocooned “progressive” true-believers are. (Of course, President Obama and the rest of the federal bureaucracy have just as blithely ignored the federal Head Start study and want to expand it by $75 billion over the next decade.) Over the last 50 years, two — count ’em, two – early-education experiments arguably produced some slight lasting benefits, but those boutique programs enrolled a mere handful of students and wrapped them in expensive, high-quality services and personnel that could never be (and never have been) reproduced on a large scale, as Manhattan Institute fellow Kay Hymowitz has explained.

The rest of de Blasio’s platform is similarly familiar. He wants to co-locate social-service agencies in schools (a chestnut dating from the early 1960s Gray Areas program in New Haven), create more “affordable housing” (a perennial favorite of New York’s governing class), and subject the city’s successful public exam schools, which select students by a color-blind entrance test, to heavy-handed “diversity” pressures. He supports “critical thinking” over so-called “rote learning” (i.e., knowledge) and actually views private-sector experience as a disqualifier for a job in his administration. As New York’s public advocate, de Blasio helped eviscerate New York’s welfare-fraud protections; now, he has promised to reverse the city’s policy of asking welfare users to work in exchange for their benefits. The city’s 1.9 million food-stamp recipients — 21 percent of the population — is at least a quarter million recipients too low, per the new mayor.

New York has been down this road before, and it ended in New York becoming the welfare capital of America, supporting one-tenth of all welfare recipients nationally. The contemporary “inequality” agenda differs from the War on Poverty only in a barely perceptible reorientation toward the working poor, as opposed to the non-working underclass. But the best wealth-booster for both groups is the same, and similarly ignored by old- and allegedly new-school progressives: Above all, avoid having children out of wedlock, then apply yourself in high school, work full-time, and stay away from drugs and gangs. The Bloomberg administration outraged the city’s poverty advocates last year by publicizing the social and economic toll of teen pregnancy; don’t expect the de Blasio team to dare anything so honest.

The scariest aspect of de Blasio’s inauguration speech was not its dreary policy prescriptions, however, nor even its megalomaniacal self-regard (“We are called to put an end to economic and social inequalities”). Conservatives undoubtedly sound just as repetitive and just as laughably grandiose to liberal ears. The most disturbing part of his address was rather the revelation of just how blinkered he is.


De Blasio Inauguration
Bill de Blasio was sworn in as the new mayor of New York City on January 1, and while he delivered an energetic speech about his campaign promises, the tone of some of the other speakers drew rebukes from political observers and even some de Blasio supporters. Here’s a look.
Former President Bill Clinton was on hand to deliver the oath of office to de Blasio, one of several Democratic party luminaries in attendance, including Hillary Clinton, New York Senator Chuck Schumer and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.
In his speech de Blasio asserted: “We are called to put an end to economic and social inequalities that threaten to unravel the city we love. And so today, we commit to a new progressive direction in New York.”
Washington Post writer Melinda Henneberger described the ceremony as “not just a progressive jamboree but a 90-minute pummeling of outgoing mayor Michael Bloomberg.”
The New York Times observed that the inauguration was filled with “an unusually open airing of the city’s racial and class tensions” and “fierce denunciations of luxury condominiums and trickle-down economics.”
Singer Harry Belafonte denounced what he called the “Dickensian justice system” behind the city’s stop-and-frisk police policy, which de Blasio has vowed to end. Belafonte also claimed: “New York alarmingly plays a tragic role in the fact that our nation has the largest prison population in the world.”
Youth Poet Laureate Ramya Ramana lamented a New York City plagued by “classism” and a racial schism with “brown-stoned and brown-skinned playing a tug of war.”
Letitia James, the city’s new public advocate, pounded home de Blasio’s campaign themes in accusing the city of living in a “gilded age of inequality where decrepit homeless shelters and housing developments stand in the neglected shadow of gleaming multimillion-dollar condos.”
Added James: “The growing gap between the haves and the have-nots undermines our city and tears at the fabric of our democracy.”
Reverend Fred Lucas, the senior pastor at the Brooklyn Community Church, in his invocation referenced the “plantation of New York City.”
Lucas’s comments drew quick rebukes on Twitter. Columnist Linda Stasi wrote: “Cleric Fred Lucas Jr., calling NYC a plantation in his "prayer" is a disgrace! Isn't this supposed to be a day of uniting?”
Brooklyn Democratic district leader Betty Ann Canizio was not impressed with the tone of the inauguration, tweeting: “I find these speakers offensive. It appears to be reeking of racism. Didn’t know we had a plantation, nor am I shocked at prison pop.”
It was left to former President Bill Clinton, who delivered the oath of office, to strike a note of comity during the ceremony, saying: “I also want to thank Mayor Bloomberg, who has committed so much of his life to New York City … He leaves the city stronger and healthier than he found it.”
Even the stalwartly liberal New York Times could not abide the tone of the speakers, criticizing several by name. Wrote the Times in its editorial: “Too bad the speakers on stage with him didn’t get the unity part, marring the event with backward-looking speeches both graceless and smug.”
The Times slammed Letitia James for using a 12-year-old girl as a prop: “Ms. James turned her into Exhibit A of an Inauguration Day prosecution: the People v. Mayor Bloomberg.”
The Times also deemed Belafonte’s remark about a burgeoning New York prison population in New York an “utterly bogus claim.”
The paper even defended Bloomberg, to a point: “Mr. Bloomberg had his mistakes and failures, but he was not a cartoon Gilded Age villain. He deserved better than pointless and tacky haranguing from speakers eager to parrot Mr. de Blasio’s campaign theme.”
The following day, an unrepentant de Blasio defended the harsh words directed at Bloomberg, telling the Times: “I’m very comfortable with all that was done.”
Updated: Jan. 03, 2014

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