He brought the mayoralty back to the Democrats, touched off a new wave of progressive populism and gave voice to New Yorkers who felt shut out of the city’s growing prosperity.
Now comes the hard part.
With a resounding victory behind him, Bill de Blasio must turn his attention to the nuts and bolts of governing: hiring staff, plotting strategy and beginning the arduous process of proving his executive chops.
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He may end up with a historic margin of victory that could help push his agenda -- unofficial returns show him winning by 49 percent over his Republican opponent, breaking the 40.25 percent record for a non-incumbent set in 1973, and coming in at the third-highest margin ever in a city mayoral race.
Among his first initiatives is the central element of his campaign platform: raising taxes on New Yorkers earning $500,000 or more to fund universal pre-kindergarten. His opponents mocked the idea, which depends on support from state lawmakers during an election year, as politically naive. But de Blasio insisted that if he was elected by a large margin he would use that support as a mandate to get the measure approved in Albany.
De Blasio, who met with Mayor Bloomberg at City Hall on Wednesday, acknowledged in his Election Day victory speech that it wouldn’t be easy. But he hinted at the argument he’d make, framed within his progressive ideology.
"When we call on the wealthiest among us to pay just a little more in taxes to fund universal pre-K and after-school programs, we aren’t threatening anyone's success,” de Blasio said. “We are asking those who’ve done very well to ensure that every child has the same opportunity to do just as well as they have."
Whether he succeeds could be the first test of his young administration, and set the tone for the rest of his ambitious agenda, which also includes expanding the city’s new paid leave sick bill and picking a police commissioner who will help him curtail the NYPD’s emphasis on stop-and-frisks. One of his first legal moves will likely be to end the city’s appeal of a federal judge’s ruling that found the tactic unconstitutional.
As a candidate, de Blasio advocated for more government intervention on behalf of the poor, including boosting enrollment in food assistance programs. He criticized the city’s granting of large corporate subsidies. He promised to focus the police and corrections system on rehabilitation, rather than incarceration, of nonviolent offenders. He pledged to resist the real estate industry’s influence on rent stabilization.
His backers will insist that he maintain those commitments.
While he manages the lofty expectations, de Blasio will also face the stark reality of the city’s looming fiscal problems. Most pressing is the need to find a way to pay unionized city workers who have been working without new contracts for years. The tab for retroactive raises could hit $7 billion.
In his speech on Tuesday, de Blasio appealed to the city's reputation as a beacon of opportunity, and asked New Yorkers to bear in mind that they all bore a collective responsibility to nurture it.
"To maintain that greatness, and to ensure that our brightest days are ahead of us, we must dedicate ourselves to progressive ideas that will lift us all up," he said. "It won’t be easy, but it is essential. It is a challenge I know this city is up to."
On Wednesday after meeting with Bloomberg, de Blasio named the two co-chairs of his transition, and indicated he hasn't decided whether to move to Gracie Mansion.
De Blasio said his teenage son, Dante, is concerned about being far from his Brooklyn high school, and that his family hadn't weighed in yet on the issue.