RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
New York City ushered in the New Year last night with its famous crystal ball, and also the swearing in of a new mayor. Just after midnight, Bill de Blasio was sworn into office in a private ceremony in the yard of his row house in Brooklyn. He's the first Democratic mayor in 20 years. His vision of the city could hardly be more different than that of his predecessor, billionaire Michael Bloomberg, who presided over what many will remember as a kind of gilded age.
De Blasio is a progressive, whose campaign highlighted the gap between New York's haves and have-nots. He was not an early favorite, but ended up winning an historic landslide, a victory seen as a mandate for a new direction. De Blasio's formal swearing in will take place later today at City Hall, and will be presided over by former President Bill Clinton.
For more, we reached WNYC's Brigid Bergin. Good morning.
BRIGID BERGIN, BYLINE: Good morning.
MONTAGNE: Isn't it quite unusual for a former president to play this role? Wouldn't you expect a judge to swear in the mayor?
BERGIN: Yeah. Traditionally, it has been a judge - at least for Mayor Bloomberg and his predecessor, Mayor Rudy Giuliani. So, it's unusual. However, de Blasio's had a long relationship with the Clintons. He worked for the Department of Housing and Urban Development under President Clinton, and he also managed Hillary Clinton's Senate campaign in 2000. And their presence at this inauguration really puts the whole event in the national spotlight, I think, with a little bit of a nod to possible 2016 presidential politics. President Clinton will conduct the ceremony using a Bible once owned by President Franklin Roosevelt, and there, I think, will be plenty of buzz around a Hillary Clinton potential presidential bid.
MONTAGNE: Now, de Blasio's interracial family was very visible in his campaign. And since his election, he's been speaking of his wife, Chirlane McCray, almost as a co-mayor. It's got a kind of two-for-one feel. What's that all about?
BERGIN: Well, it's reminiscent, I think, also, of the Clintons. Every time Mayor de Blasio announces a new member of his administration, the first person he thanks is his wife, Chirlane McCray. It's clear she plays a very important role in helping him identify the policies issues and people to appoint to the administration. He calls her his most trusted advisor. In fact, she's already become the voice for one of his signature policy initiatives. She's actually narrating a video promoting his campaign for universal pre-kindergarten. At this point, she doesn't have a more formal role, but she's certainly going to be an active voice in the administration.
MONTAGNE: And talk about universal pre-k. Fighting income inequality was a big part of de Blasio's campaign. How are we seeing him start to tackle that?
BERGIN: Sure. I mean, he built the entire narrative of his campaign around this "Tale of Two Cities" idea, and it was something that really resonated with New Yorkers. Very specifically, he's got some policies that he's committed to that are specific to income inequality: building and maintaining 200,000 units of affordable housing, promoting business growth in all five boroughs, not just in Manhattan.
He's also talked about passing stronger so-called living wage requirements for businesses that are getting city subsidies. And he also wants to expand existing legislation that provides paid sick days to workers. In those particular areas, he's probably going to face some opposition from the business community. And one of the biggest challenges de Blasio is going to face in the early part of his administration will be negotiating contracts with the city's municipal labor unions. All of the city's labor contracts have expired, and that means negotiating contracts for 150 municipal worker unions.
MONTAGNE: Give us one good example of how much of a break the de Blasio administration will be from the Michael Bloomberg era.
BERGIN: I think you see the break when you look at some of the new people he's appointed to his administration, specially the new police commissioner, Bill Bratton, and his new school chancellor, Carmen Farina. Both individuals are coming to the administration with a new approach to leading those agencies. For Bill Bratton, a former police commissioner in New York City, also was head of the LAPD, he's really focusing on bringing community policing back to New York and ending this era of stop-and-frisk.
In terms of the Education Department, Carmen Farina, who was just announced this week, has talked about really prioritizing professional development and the role of teachers and parents more so than just standardized tests. In both of those examples, you see people are embodying this sort of progressive ideal that Bill de Blasio ran his campaign on, but also people who have a whole philosophy that is different from the people that they are taking over from the Bloomberg administration.
MONTAGNE: Brigid Bergin covers New York politics for WNYC. Thanks for joining us.
BERGIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.