With the swearing-in of unabashed progressive Bill de Blasio as mayor, New York City has become the country's premier social laboratory for liberalism, carrying strong implications for the future of the Democratic party and the 2016 presidential race.
De Blasio campaigned as a proud progressive who would narrow the gap between the rich and the poor, and he repeated this theme at his inauguration Wednesday as New York's first Democratic mayor in 20 years. He called his agenda a "tale of two cities," a reference to the Charles Dickens novel set in Paris and London during the French Revolution.
"When I said we would take dead aim at the tale of two cities, I meant it," de Blasio declared. "And we will do it. I will honor the faith and trust you have placed in me." He added: "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. And that same progressive impulse has written our city's history. It's in our DNA."
For starters, he aims to raise taxes on those earning more than $500,000 a year to pay for early childhood and after-school programs. He favors expanding paid sick leave for employees of businesses with 20 or more workers. He wants to change the police department's stop-and-frisk policy which critics say amounts to racial profiling.
One proposal that has also caused considerable controversy is de Blasio's pledge to end the use of horse-drawn carriages in Central Park. He calls the practice inhumane and "not appropriate for the year 2014." Animal-rights activists say the horses are overworked and endangered by traffic and auto fumes.
De Blasio wants to replace the horse-drawn carriages with electric-powered replicas of antique cars. Opponents of the plan say it's a wrong-headed intrusion into a harmless and popular business activity, and they deny that the horses are mistreated.
Former President Bill Clinton administered the oath of office, and his wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, attended the swearing-in ceremony. She is considered a potential 2016 Democratic presidential candidate and her links to de Blasio could make a difference. Allying herself with De Blasio could energize left-of-center voters in her favor in the Democratic primaries and caucuses and help to weaken any challenge to her from the left.
But it could also alienate centrist and conservative voters. Hillary Clinton's ties to de Blasio are sure to be used by Republicans to undermine her for advocating "class warfare" if she runs for president.
De Blasio ran Hillary Clinton's first Senate campaign in New York, which she won handily.
Hillary Clinton didn't speak at the swearing-in but Bill Clinton told the crowd, "I have to say I strongly endorse Bill de Blasio's core campaign commitment to shared opportunities." The former president added: "This inequality problem bedevils the entire country. But it is not just a moral outrage. It is a horrible constraint on economic growth and on giving people the security they need to tackle problems like climate change."
Liberals hope that success for de Blasio will encourage other politicians to adopt similar policies across the country.
Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" for usnews.com and "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He is the author of the new book "Prisoners of the White House: The Isolation of America's Presidents and the Crisis of Leadership." Ken Walsh can be reached at email@example.com and on Facebook and Twitter.