New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio is staking out a critical leadership role in the Democratic Party as a fighter against economic inequality and for climate justice. De Blasio is scheduling appearances in Iowa and other primary states in a conscious effort to build the party's labor and progressive base into a greater force. In doing so, he complements the voice of Sen. Elizabeth Warren and echoes the legacy of past NY mayors like Fiorello La Guardia.
Interestingly, de Blasio has withheld for the moment his endorsement of Hillary Clinton until her populist promises are more clearly defined. The de Blasio-Warren wing, which also includes potential presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, key Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown and nearly half the House Democrats, are positioning themselves to shape Clinton's platform. Clinton's handlers are scrambling to insist that she was "populist" years before any of her progressive critics, but was restrained while serving as First Lady by her more centrist husband.
De Blasio, who was late in taking up the climate crisis, may be ruffling the feathers of some mainstream environmentalists by linking his environmental platform to environmental justice gains. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), among others, is carefully comparing the de Blasio plan with that of billionaire former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose visionary "sustainability" goals were accompanied by a widening equality gap. De Blasio says, “Environmental sustainability and economic sustainability have to walk hand in hand. Some of my brothers and sisters in the environmental movement don't get that yet. A beautifully sustainable city that is the playground for the rich doesn't work for us."
De Blasio wants to end racial/ethnic disparities in the impacts of pollution, create a half-million affordable housing units by 2040, and end poverty for 800,000 New Yorkers in this decade. His plan also will reduce waste disposal by 90 percent in 2030, and sending waste to landfills after that date. Needless to say, national environmental groups based in New York were not used to hearing such plans during the Bloomberg years. How it will work remains to be seen, but de Blasio adds a bread-and-butter dimension to often-rarified environmental platforms, bringing the prospect of a Green New Deal closer.