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Eight-year legacy of NYC Mayor de Blasio is a mixed one

Ringing in the new year with a new mayor offers a chance to look back to his predecessor's time in office — goals achieved, and where he fell short.

MANHATTAN (CN) — New Yorkers who watched the ball drop on New Year’s Eve spent the first moments of 2022 watching Mayor Eric Adams take his oath, officially taking the reins from Bill de Blasio and ending his eight-year term. 

Amid a surge of Covid-19 infections from the highly transmissible omicron and delta variants, Adams opted to move his inauguration to Times Square, just after midnight on January 1, after canceling his planned celebration at Kings Theatre in Brooklyn, where the new mayor was formerly borough president. 

De Blasio, now 60, is a year younger than his successor is today. He took office at the beginning of 2014 on a platform of ending income inequality in New York that he routinely compared to something out of the Dickens classic "A Tale of Two Cities." De Blasio promised progressive policies like more affordable housing and universal pre-kindergarten programs, with increased taxes on the rich to make them happen. 

A look back at de Blasio’s track record demonstrates where some of those goals came to fruition and others fell short. 

Universal pre-K 

De Blasio brought free universal pre-K programs to New York in the first of his two terms, accomplishing what many consider to be the highlight of his eight years in office. 

His plan to accomplish the measure through a redistribution of wealth, drew objections from then-Governor Andrew Cuomo and ultimately it was funded by the state. 

Whether the plan must be credited for broader early education reforms is debatable, but President Joe Biden included a nationwide provision similar to de Blasio's in his Build Back Better Act after the country’s most populous city made the plan a reality. 

Affordable housing and homelessness

If extending pre-K was a major high point for de Blasio, it’s contrasted by the former mayor’s self-described biggest disappointment: New York’s homelessness crisis. 

“I’m happy to say that after some absolute early misunderstandings and missteps on my part, that I’ve owned up to,” de Blasio said on MSNBC’s "Morning Joe," claiming a decrease in shelter populations since he took office. “We’ve found some strategies that are working much better to get people off the streets.” 

But advocates sharply criticized the city’s response to homelessness, including de Blasio's decision to transfer nearly 300 men out of the Lucerne, a luxury hotel in Manhattan’s Upper West Side, amid pressure from residents. 

Through a plan called Housing New York, de Blasio set a goal of building or preserving 300,000 affordable homes by 2026, and reserving 50% of housing for low and extremely low-income families. The administration expanded the target from its original 200,000, saying it was ahead of schedule — but with the deadline set after the mayor’s term is over, the mayor can’t yet be graded on his success. 

All told, families living in shelters decreased by 30% to 29,100, The New York Times reported. Single adults, however, saw a 65% increase. 

Job creation 

From the start of his term, de Blasio cited a need for more, and higher-paying, jobs across the city. 

“Good jobs that pay decent wages are all too scarce,” he said during his first address as mayor, pitching ideas like connecting graduates of the City University of New York with career opportunities.

In 2017, he pledged to create 100,000 “good-paying jobs” over a decade. In June 2020, the number was far short of that — just 8,669 jobs fit that category  — according to a report by the city. Overall, the city claimed to have created more than 10,000 jobs and “unlocked” a projected 50,000 jobs. 

Covid response 

For better or worse, New York City in many ways led the nation when it came to Covid-19. The city was transformed early on by illness and death rates that overwhelmed hospitals and necessitated temporary morgues to manage.

Both the city’s and the state’s responses gained national attention. Governor Cuomo’s daily Covid updates won him an Emmy award, though he was later stripped of the honor after resigning from office following sexual harassment allegations and an in-depth report by the state attorney general. 

For de Blasio’s part, focusing on widespread vaccination, including mandates for kids and adults in public spaces, has helped the city battle the latest stages of the pandemic. The workforce is now 95% vaccinated, according to de Blasio, and challenges from municipal workers to required vaccination have been shot down in federal, state and appeals court.

Eric Adams is sworn in as mayor of New York City on the stage of the New Year’s Eve celebration in New York’s Times Square on Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Robert Bumsted)

Police reform

Like many cities across the country, New York City was gripped by protests following the May 2020 killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. In a city with diametrically opposed views on policing — those who call for significant reforms and defunding the police, and others who would like to see more cops patrolling the streets and subways — de Blasio set out saying he planned to protect police officers while strengthening trust in communities.

Random police stops, like the notoriously racist stop-and-frisk, decreased by 93% during de Blasio’s term. But stops still disproportionately affect Black and Latino men, and a federal court monitor said officers may be underreporting stops. 

Looking ahead, criminal justice and policing is set to be a cornerstone of the city’s new administration. Adams, 61, who is New York’s second Black mayor, frequently points to his 22-year run as an NYPD officer as informing his views. 

He publicly reinforced his trust in police response on his first day on the job, calling 911 to respond to a fight at a subway station. Adams also pledged to reverse de Blasio’s stance on solitary confinement at the infamous Rikers Island jail complex. And he supports bringing back stop-and-frisk, with some changes to the practice. 

In addition to citing his police experience, Adams talks about being the victim of police brutality as a teenager. He is a vegan, and pitches himself as the city’s first blue-collar mayor. The new mayor's lively rhetoric is at times confusing, leaving many to wonder what exactly is in store for the next four years.  

“I genuinely don’t think he’s going to be in the box of being a conservative or a progressive,” Christina Greer, a political science professor at Fordham University, told The New York Times. “Adams is excited to keep people on their toes.”

As for de Blasio, some have speculated a run for governor this year may be on the table, but the outgoing mayor had little to say when recently asked about it on NBC’s "The Today Show."

“I will be traveling New York state in just a matter of days,” he said, “so I'll have more to say then.”

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