De Blasio’s ultimate choice for NYPD commissioner will be judged against the clarity of his campaign rhetoric. Given his belief that stop-and-frisk tactics have antagonized innocent residents of minority neighborhoods, wouldn’t hiring a nonwhite police chief to succeed Ray Kelly be a step toward healing what De Blasio claims is a dangerous rift? “I think the philosophy is the most important thing and the capacity to implement that philosophy,” he says. “So, I want a community-policing worldview, I obviously want to bring policing and the community back together, I want to fundamentally reform our current approach, and whoever can do that most effectively, that’s my priority. It’s less about demographics.” The other high-profile pick a Mayor De Blasio will need to make is for schools chancellor. As a candidate, he’s talked about greatly increasing parental participation in the school system and about reducing the Bloomberg-era breaks given to charter schools. Beyond that, however, De Blasio has been vague about what he considers the best ways to improve the city’s public schools.
In shaping his administration, De Blasio says he intends to borrow a goal from one of his former bosses, Bill Clinton, and strive to assemble a Cabinet that looks like New York. And New York, increasingly, looks like De Blasio’s family, which is one reason he’s stirred such optimism. His household touches more than a hopeful multiracial chord—it also represents the economically beleaguered middle class, a segment of the city that hasn’t been at the center of the Bloombergian universe. De Blasio is a true believer in the importance of unions in bolstering the middle class; he has been close to the movement much of his life—a cousin, John Wilhelm, rose to become president of the hospitality-and-textile-workers union. So De Blasio would enter office with an enormous reservoir of goodwill. He’ll need every ounce of it: The next mayor will be trying to find the money to pay thousands of civil-service workers whose contracts expired as many as six years ago—and who could ask for as much as $7 billion in retroactive raises. Real leaders, though, tell allies things they don’t want to hear; isn’t De Blasio going to need to disappoint some of his union boosters? “You misunderstand the theory I’m putting forward,” he says stiffly. “I’m not here to tell them how much they’re gonna hate me. I’m here to tell them that we are going to get to a deal and balance our budget. The whole campaign and all that preceded it was telling people things they didn’t want to hear. Telling the wealthy they were going to pay more taxes, telling developers they were gonna be required to create affordable housing. Go down the list, and the last time I checked, those are some powerful positions you could have.”
True, but too easy: The wealthy and the real-estate interests aren’t the people who have put you in a position to win the mayoralty. “But, hold on,” he says. “It’s native to me that when you have a sense of mission, you keep pursuing the mission, and you give people an opportunity. Put people around the table and say, ‘Here is our task, here is the budget we have to balance, here’s the money we have, here are the options of how to do it. I need to find cost savings.’ That is usually a phrase that a lot of labor doesn’t like to hear at the jump. But I’m not here to say, ‘Look how big and bad I am,’ because that approach with Bloomberg and many others simply failed. I am here to say, ‘Let’s work together for a common good.’ ” And here’s where De Blasio’s gift for seeing multiple angles helps: Achieving the tax increase on the wealthy could make it easier for him to get labor unions to swallow reductions in benefits.
De Blasio will be a significant shift in tone and style from Bloomberg. The hard part will be how much, and how quickly, he can deliver on the substance of rebalancing city life. Hasn’t his campaign raised expectations unrealistically? “I’ve obviously thought about this issue,” he says. “The combined impact of all the pieces we’re talking about—the early-childhood and after-school plan, the affordable-housing plan, paid sick days, living wage, reprogramming dollars to small business and to CUNY—a lot of pieces packing a lot of firepower. And they’re going to add up to a lot.” Here he nimbly injects a note of caution. “So, is it going to end the problem of income inequality? Of course not. But do I think it will make a noticeable contribution toward progress? Do I think people will feel movement on a lot of different fronts and a real commitment from City Hall to addressing these issues? Yeah.”
One week before I visited him at home, De Blasio had been in the plush corporate boardroom at Viacom, lunching with the likes of Philippe Dauman, the media conglomerate’s chairman, and Rupert Murdoch, whose Post had been running a red-and-black caricature of “Che de Blasio.” Before the talk turned to sticky subjects like taxes and charter schools, De Blasio turned to Lloyd Blankfein, of Goldman Sachs—but also, De Blasio pointed out, a man who’d grown up in a Brooklyn public-housing project and knew what it was like to be among the striving have-nots. It was a smart attempt at connecting; Blankfein, afterward, said De Blasio had made a favorable first impression.
Now De Blasio stomps down the stairs into his endearingly cramped living room, freshly showered and gray-suited and yellow-necktied, ready to head to midtown for another fund-raiser, this one crowded with real-estate executives. Does Chirlane worry that all this wooing of the one percent will change her prole-loving husband? “Bill? No,” she says firmly. “Not in a bad way. People change, because they have to grow in order to live.” Bill de Blasio leans down, kisses his wife, and heads out his rickety front gate and into a mammoth black SUV, slipping into the front seat, next to his NYPD driver, and getting comfortable with his ride to power.