NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio named his transition team and met with outgoing Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Wednesday, a day after he won America’s biggest city back for Democrats with a 49-point victory over his Republican rival.
Following a campaign in which he promised to address economic inequality and transform police practices, de Blasio promised to create a diverse administration to match New York’s ethnic and gender demographics.
“Today is now the first day of an eight-week sprint to preparing our new administration,” de Blasio told a news conference in Manhattan, following what he called a productive one-hour meeting with Bloomberg at City Hall.
He will take office January 1 after defeating Republican Joe Lhota by 73 percent to 24 percent. However, voter turnout was a record low 24 percent, and both de Blasio and political analysts acknowledged he faces substantial obstacles to enacting his sweeping policy objectives.
De Blasio appointed Jennifer Jones Austin and Carl Weisbrod, two long-time civil servants, to lead his transition team as he begins the process of selecting a new police commissioner and schools chancellor and an array of other appointments.
He faces the challenge of delivering on campaign promises such as providing universal pre-kindergarten education, revamping police “stop-and-frisk” tactics that a judge has ruled unconstitutional, and expanding low-income housing.
Criticized by conservatives as a tax-and-spend liberal who would be soft on crime, de Blasio said his most important task would be public safety while maintaining economic growth to fund his agenda.
“We have no illusions about the task that lies ahead,” de Blasio said in his victory speech. “The challenges we face have been decades in the making, and the problems we set out to address will not be solved overnight.”
Political analysts on Wednesday agreed voters would give de Blasio a grace period but will soon start asking if the city is more affordable and if a historic reduction in violent crime is threatened.
A Quinnipiac Poll released a week ago found just 42 percent of voters thought de Blasio would be able to keep his campaign promises, and 43 percent thought he would fail to.
“Income inequality? Jobs? It’s a split between the doubters and the believers,” said Quinnipiac director Maurice Carroll.
De Blasio campaigned on promises to address the “two New Yorks” - one for the rich and another for the poor - and proposed raising taxes on the city’s highest earners to pay for the expansion pre-kindergarten education.
His obstacles are significant. Any tax increase would require the consent of state lawmakers, and 2014 is an election year. Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat who has declined to say where he stands on the issue, is up for re-election in 2014.
“In re-election years, you don’t raise taxes,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a longtime Democratic strategist, adding that, taxes aside, the relationship between the New York City’s mayor and the New York’s governor has always been difficult.
Once taking office, de Blasio will have two months to prepare his first budget plan.
He also faces a demand for retroactive pay increases from public sector unions that the current administration estimates could cost the city $4 billion to $8 billion.
Then there is the issue of stop-and-frisk, a Bloomberg-era police tactic that de Blasio and fellow critics say had led to racial profiling of young black and Latino men.
The issue helped propel de Blasio to victory in the Democratic primary, though its defenders say the tactic is critical to the city’s anti-crime efforts.
The mayor-elect has indicated he will abandon the city’s appeal of a federal judge’s ruling that the tactic is a form of “indirect racial profiling.”
Legal experts have said they expect the new administration will seek to settle the class-action lawsuit by accepting broad reforms to the department’s practices.
In the city’s financial center of Wall Street on Wednesday morning, it was clear de Blasio still had to win over some New Yorkers.
“He’s got a tough act to follow and I predict he’ll have a rocky first year,” said Matthew Kearney, 48, who heads an ad agency. “I like the fact that the previous mayor was independent and that he was a businessman. De Blasio is a politician.”
Additional reporting by Curtis Skinner and Joseph Ax; Editing by Leslie Gevirtz