New York City — We all knew we were in for something completely different when the inauguration of self-described “progressive” Bill de Blasio as New York’s mayor began with a keynote from pro-Communist activist Harry Belafonte.
The 86-year-old singer has a history of extremism. He has been an infamous house guest of Fidel Castro, called Colin Powell and Condi Rice “house slaves” of the Bush administration, and last year compared the free-market Koch brothers to the Ku Klux Klan.
“We will be no longer a divided city,” he proclaimed as he compared today’s New York to a “Dickensian” nightmare, as departing mayor Mike Bloomberg looked on stone-faced. “We can become America’s DNA for the future.”
He was followed by the Reverend Fred Lucas Jr., whose talk was dominated by slavery metaphors and analogies. He compared New York’s five boroughs to a “plantation” and managed to cram into his short speech other references to slavery, such as “shackles,” “bondage,” “auction blocks,” “the Emancipation Proclamation,” the “Civil War,” and the “Reconstruction Era.”
It was almost a relief to then hear Letitia James, a former Legal Aid Society lawyer who is now the city’s new public advocate. She railed against “a gilded age of inequality,” “stop-and-frisk abuses,” and “land grabs for more luxury condos.” (There’s actually some truth in that last phrase.)
Bill Clinton then rose and tried to strike a little balance. But the crowd was having none of it. When he praised retiring mayor Bloomberg for leaving New York “stronger and healthier” after twelve years in office, there was dead silence.
The cheers were saved for de Blasio, who proclaimed a “new progressive direction” that will “take dead aim at the ‘Tale of Two Cities’” injustices he emphasized in his campaign.
He then recited the key elements of his platform: affordable-housing projects, an end to hospital closures, reform of the “broken” stop-and-frisk policy, and a tax on upper-income earners. After each item, he would say, “We won’t wait, we’ll do it now.”
Not content with promoting his own agenda, he had to take swipes at something called the “far right,” which he zinged for its agenda of “trickle-down economics” and giving “more to the most fortunate.” Luckily, much of de Blasio’s fiscal program will need approval from New York governor Andrew Cuomo and state legislators — who, for all their faults, don’t appreciate the “Bill in the China Shop” approach of the new mayor.
Noah Rothman, a writer for Mediaite.com, was taken aback by the tone and tenor of the speeches. He tweeted that “MSNBC [is] really missing a branding opportunity here. . . . We’re swearing in a new prime time host.” Indeed, we can only thank the schedulers for at least sparing us from having MSNBC’s Al Sharpton at the podium.
The speeches finally over, the crowd went into City Hall to celebrate the arrival of the New Progressivism. I noted that Bertha Lewis, the former national head of the scandal-ridden ACORN “community-organizing” group, was an honored guest. Last fall, the New York Post reported that, according to a Democratic insider, ACORN had long sought to put de Blasio into the mayor’s office. “Without exaggeration, ACORN’s long-range plan since 2001 was to elect de Blasio mayor,” the insider said. “De Blasio was a big ACORN project.”
For his part, de Blasio has always stood by ACORN, releasing a statement during last fall’s campaign that said: “Bertha Lewis is one of the city’s most passionate and effective progressive leaders, and I’m proud to have worked with her for years.”
He will almost certainly be working with her and all her friends for the next four years.
As Bette Davis said in the film All About Eve: “Fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.”
— John Fund is a national-affairs columnist for National Review Online.