The speech by our new mayor was a radical departure from past history.
In recent years, inaugural addresses have contained generalities more than specifics, promises to work for a better New York without explaining exactly how.
Bill de Blasio's address was a call to action. And as he invoked the names of the liberal saints of the Democratic Party -- including Al Smith, Franklin Roosevelt, Frances Perkins -- it was clear that major, specific changes were in the air.
He insisted again, as he did during his campaign, that he "would take dead aim at the Tale of Two Cities," a city of the wealthy and the poor. He said: "I meant it and we will do it." He reiterated that he wanted the wealthy, those with incomes greater than $500,000, to pay more in taxes to finance universal pre-K education programs. He said again and again -- about health care, paid sick leave, affordable housing, reforming the stop and frisk policy of the NYPD --- that implementing reform "can't wait." And in other parts of his speech, he used the words "we won't wait" to describe the attitude of the new administration to making reforms.
Looking back at the inaugural addresses of the last 60 years, most of which I witnessed, the rhetoric in the past by comparison to de Blasio's seems almost benign. Thus Robert Wagner promised in 1954 to form a government "dedicated to the best interests of all people." I saw John Lindsay, our 103rd mayor, take office on a day when the city was paralyzed by a subway and bus strike. He pledged "to open the lines of communication between the people and their government." He warned that "if we fail, the implications of our defeat will be assessed throughout the nation, to be proclaimed by the cynics as proof that great cities are no longer governable." Lindsay wanted to prove those cynics wrong but he didn't say specifically how.
Abe Beame, our 104th mayor, was somewhat vague when he laid out his agenda. As the city teetered on the edge of bankruptcy, he said: "I hope to be a matchmaker in the years of my administration, wedding our people to their city, encouraging them to identify with this great metropolis that is their home."
Ed Koch, the 105th mayor, used his inaugural to be a cheerleader for the city, a role he assumed often in the years ahead: "These have been hard times. We have been drawn across the knife-edge of poverty. We have been shaken by troubles that would have destroyed any other city. But we are not any other city. We are the city of New York and New York in adversity towers above any other city in the world."
David Dinkins, the 106th mayor, used much of his inauguration speech to affirm human rights and the need for equality. He said he would be the "mayor of all the people" and said "we are foot soldiers on the march to freedom." He expressed great concern for the people of South Africa and promised that "the bells of freedom" will ring there.
Rudy Giuliani called for a "day of new beginning" when he took office. He denounced those who say that New York is not governable. "The era of fear has had a long enough reign."
Michael Bloomberg took office just after 9/11 and promised: "New York is safe, strong, open for business and ready to lead the world in the 21st century."
One feeling seems to unite de Blasio and his predecessors. All believed, as they began their journey at City Hall, that they could and would make a difference.