It was a cold awakening for former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who spent his first day as a civilian listening to speakers skewer his legacy, as he looked on, stone-faced in the winter chill at his successor’s inauguration ceremony.
Mr. Bloomberg, who departed City Hall last night with a triumphant walk through a receiving line of enthusiastic cheers, today returned for Mayor Bill de Blasio’s inauguration, where he was met with a chilly reception as speakers lamented the current state of the city, especially when it comes to race relations and the growing gap between the rich and the poor.Among them was performer Harry Belafonte, who said Mr. de Blasio was a mayor–presumably unlike Mr. Bloomberg–”who would not let this city remain a community divided.”
“New York, alarmingly, plays a tragic role in the fact that our nation has the largest prison population in the world,” said Mr. Belafonte in a pointed shot against Mr. Bloomberg, who spent recent weeks on a legacy tour where he celebrated driving down the city’s incarceration rate as one of his crowning achievements.
“Much of that problem stems from issues of race perpetuated by the depth of human indifference to poverty. Changing the stop-and-frisk law is … only the tip of the iceberg in fixing our deeply Dickensian justice system,” added Mr. Belafonte, citing the controversial police tactic that Mr. Bloomberg staunchly defended.
Rev. Fred Lucas Jr., who was among several chaplains who spoke, further compared the city to a “plantation,” while newly-elected Public Advocate Letitia James bemoaned what she framed as the former administration’s tendency to prioritize luxury housing over helping the disadvantaged, calling for a government that “cares more about a child going hungry than a new stadium or a new tax credit for a luxury development.”
“We live in a gilded age of inequality where decrepit homeless shelters and housing developments stand in the neglected shadow of gleaming multi-million dollar condos,” she said, according to her prepared remarks, “where longtime residents are priced out of their own neighborhoods by rising rents and stagnant incomes, where stop and frisk abuses and warrantless surveillance have been touted as ‘success stories’ as if crime can only be reduced by infringing on the civil liberties of people of color.”
It was only after more than an hour, when former President Bill Clinton took to the stage, that Mr. Bloomberg’s name was mentioned, after 12 years of leading the City of New York.
“I also want to thank Mayor Bloomberg, who has committed so much of his life to this city,” said Mr. Clinton, eliciting warm applause. “He leaves the city stronger and healthier than he found it, more people are coming here than leaving. With all of our challenges, people know, somehow, deep down inside there’s something special bout New York. So, I’m grateful to both mayors: Mayor Bloomberg for his years of service and for the legacy he will leave, and to Mayor de Blasio for his good and caring hands.”
When it was his turn to speak, Mr. de Blasio seemed compelled by sympathy to give Mr. Bloomberg–who was sitting in the front row–an added boost.
“Thank you, Mayor Bloomberg. Please, let’s acknowledge the incredible commitment of our mayor,” he said–the latter line not part of his prepared remarks–before narrowly commending Mr. Bloomberg’s efforts relating to the environment and public health.
“To say the least, you lead our city through some extremely difficult times. And for that, we are all grateful. Your passion on issues such as environmental protection and public health has built a noble legacy. We pledge today to continue that great progress that you’ve made in these critically important areas. Thank you, Mayor Bloomberg,” he said.