Let no one say Bill de Blasio lacks a vivid imagination. The mayor sketched out an expansive vision of a fairer and more flourishing future in his State of the City speech Monday.
He sees a city where workers take home a living wage, where students blossom in public schools, where ailing neighborhood hospitals stay open in the face of economic pressures, and where indignities like income inequality and shrinking middle-class fortunes are things of the past.
We’re not complaining about his agenda. Some of the mayor’s ideas are strong. Some are not. Most of them come with their own complex sets of pros and cons.
But de Blasio also wrapped himself Monday in the mantle of Fiorello La Guardia, the progressive Republican mayor who boldly built the foundation for a booming, modern city from the wreckage of the Great Depression.
And the La Guardia cloak doesn’t quite fit de Blasio.
What disturbs us is de Blasio’s apparent desire to put New York out on the ramparts alone, waging an unlikely ideological war to erase income inequality and create a new middle class. He thinks we can do this magic in isolation.
“We cannot wait for Washington to act,” he proclaimed. “We will not let the gridlock there, or the limits of Albany, serve as an excuse for New York City to roll over and ignore our mission.” Yet even as he spoke, Dean Skelos of Nassau County, the State Senate Republican leader, said the mayor’s plan to finance city prekindergarten classes with a tax hike on the rich wouldn’t come to the floor for a vote.
That’s fine. De Blasio has devoted too much of his time to unwarranted attacks on the wealthy.
La Guardia reached across party and jurisdictional lines — to President Franklin Roosevelt and to the feds — to build hospitals, schools, tunnels and an infinite array of other things. He took help where he could find it, and he struck deals. La Guardia was a master of practical politics in the most honorable sense of that term.
He was not Don Quixote. De Blasio’s ultimate goal looks a bit too much like the impossible dream. He could be setting up himself — and his followers — for a fall.