These are the peak days for Mayor Bill de Blasio, who took office a day ago and has not disappointed New Yorkers yet. This high point provides an opportunity to reflect on his greatest achievement. No, it’s not that 33 years after the inauguration of Pres. Ronald Reagan, the notion of trickle-down economics has finally trickled out, or that Progressives are emerging from cover, or even that the media sniffs the change in the wind.
The astonishing thing is that de Blasio trusted middle class voters to finally recognize their economic interests. Candidate de Blasio’s stated platform was about standing up for the poor, but the middle class did not feel threatened or excluded. Assisting have-nots (and de-segregating the South) is how the Democrats lost their unassailed majority and they have been scrambling ever since. This time, however, in 2013 New York City, the middle class rallied to support a man whose name they barely knew a year ago because he proclaimed a fundamental truth they recognized: Giuliani-Bloomberg New York was fast becoming Dickens London, a place where only an unrepentant Scrooge could feel secure. This is the New York they have come to know. They are now in as much or more jeopardy than people in public housing.
With 46 percent of New Yorkers at or near poverty after the supposed recovery from the Great Recession, those in the middle have seen proof that they are one job loss, or one serious health crisis, from near-poverty and possible homelessness. Ask a 45 year old who has been out of work for seven months how he or she envisions the future. Most know at least one such person, and having a talk with them is painful indeed.
In contrast, those earning more than $500,000 a year tend to feel threatened when they hear about resources going to the less fortunate. The proof is that de Blasio’s opponent Joseph Lhota prevailed in the wealthiest zip codes, those where average income exceeded $140,000.*
The new mayor hasn’t given up on the wealthy yet — in his inaugural address, de Blasio pointed out that the tax he proposes to levy on them to fund universal pre-kindergarten enrollment would only cost them about three dollars a day. He cajoled that this was the price of a latte. He got a laugh, possibly because such a tariff would cost the rich too little to drive them down to middle class level – unless $500,000 in adjusted gross income is what it takes nowadays to be middle class in today’s New York. This is a point that many do ponder. And a latte is the first thing to go.
The mega-rich have been silent about de Blasio since his blow-out win. The Catholic ones feel on safer ground denouncing the Pope. Billionaire Ken Langone, founder of Home Depot, told Cardinal Timothy Dolan that when Pope Francis warned “Money must serve, not rule,” the rich were offended. One donor was so miffed that he threatened to retaliate by withholding a seven-figure donation to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Langone felt secure enough to offer this sentiment to CNBC.
This is the kind of billionaire mind-set that made middle class New York voters think.
*Click “average income” link in the lower right corner of the link for vote by personal wealth