By Jonathan Lemire
Bill de Blasio, New York City's first Democratic mayor in a generation, has been in office nearly 100 days, a time marked by political hardball over pre-kindergarten, second-guessing over snowplows and an unfortunate attempt to eat pizza with a knife and fork.
A report card, of sorts, on the new mayor so far:
THE BIG PROMISE:
Most of de Blasio's time and energy was spent on his signature campaign promise — to tax the city's rich to pay for universal pre-kindergarten. That resulted in only a partial victory after the surprise entry of Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who rejected the tax idea and offered to fund pre-k through the state budget.
De Blasio, however, got all the money he asked for — $300 million — and says all will be forgotten when the first of 50,000 4-year-olds start going to class this fall.
"He got pre-k on the agenda and then got it funded, even if it wasn't the way he wanted to fund it," said Kenneth Sherrill, retired politics professor at Hunter College. "He made something happen that wouldn't have happened otherwise."
De Blasio made legislation to expand the number of workers eligible for sick days the first bill he signed into law. He also withdrew the city's challenge to federal oversight of the crime-fighting tactic of stop and frisk, which allows police to stop anyone they believe to be acting suspiciously. Critics say the tactic is discriminatory because those stopped are mostly black and Hispanic men.
"He's been keeping his promises to his base, he's keeping them engaged," said George Arzt, former press secretary to Mayor Ed Koch. "These small victories add up."
His first crisis came when a gas explosion flattened two East Harlem apartment buildings, killing eight people. Observers believe he effectively projected leadership and compassion, devoting city resources to helping those affected by the blast.
De Blasio has been criticized for his sluggishness in appointing members of his senior staff — the Fire Department, for instance, still does not have a new commissioner.
And the new mayor's political shortcomings were exposed when several of his proposals — including a call to raise the minimum wage and scale back charter schools — were scuttled at seemingly every turn by Cuomo and Albany lawmakers.
Then there were a series of made-for-tabloid controversies de Blasio initially dismissed as "sideshows." Under pressure from "Today" show weatherman Al Roker, among others, de Blasio was forced to admit the city did not plow several neighborhoods effectively during one of the winter's many snowstorms.
He called the NYPD to inquire about the arrest of a political ally. He walked out of a news conference after his security detail was spotted speeding through traffic signals. And then there were the photos of de Blasio digging into his pizza with flatware, which he awkwardly explained by saying that's how real Italians (if not real New Yorkers) do it.
De Blasio, a longtime political operative, remains most comfortable in campaign settings while sometimes stumbling on the nitty gritty of governing. But most observers gave the mayor fairly positive marks for what is often called the nation's second-toughest political job, behind only the presidency.
"There's no one born yet who could manage someplace like this on Day One," said longtime Democratic operative Hank Sheinkopf. "He'll grow into the role."
"If I were grading, I'd put him in the B/B+ range," added Sherrill.
"There is a huge learning curve," Arzt said. "It'll take him about a year."
De Blasio, who was not available to be interviewed for this piece, is expected to devote his next 100 days to implementing pre-k, revamping Superstorm Sandy recovery and rolling out an ambitious affordable housing plan.