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Posted on on January 1st, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (


Contributing Op-Ed Writer


A Guide to Years Ending in 4



War, famine, pestilence and death — the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse — have been well represented in years ending in “4,” but probably not disproportionately so. A look at memorable moments in the last seven of these just might lead to optimism for the one that’s upon us. Or not.

1944 Those of us who don’t remember this year are lucky; a soldier cited in Rick Atkinson’s brilliantly horrifying saga of the last two years of the war in Europe, “The Guns at Last Light,” quotes King Lear: “The worst is not, So long as we can say, ‘This is the worst.’ ” The end of the war was in sight; getting there was the trick, and millions were killed in the interval. Things have not been this bad since.

1954 If there was a golden era of United States foreign policy, it ended here, as Eisenhower warned against involvement in Vietnam while espousing the domino theory. Good: Joe McCarthy’s power began to ebb. Not good: The words “under God” were added to the Pledge of Allegiance.

1964 The last year of the baby boom was mind-blowing. In the 28 months beginning that January, Bob Dylan made five of the best albums of the era — and there were the Beatles.

Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life in prison, and Lyndon Johnson single-handedly sent everyone into a tizzy by signing the Civil Rights Act, sending more “advisers” to Vietnam, talking about bombing North Vietnam and proposing the Great Society. Huh? The first anti-Vietnam War demonstrations and draft-card burnings took place. Pot smoking officially began. (Not really, but sorta.)

The civil-rights workers Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney were found dead; just writing that gives me chills.

1974 The mid-70s were glum. We can gloat about Nixon’s resignation, though don’t forget he founded the Environmental Protection Agency. Gerald Ford gave his predecessor a better deal than he gave draft evaders. He also determined that we needed to Whip Inflation Now, as oil passed $10 a barrel. Everyone made jokes about him, with reason.

Patty Hearst was kidnapped. Ted Bundy disappeared many people. Augusto Pinochet declared himself “supreme chief” of Chile and disappeared many more.

The high point may have been the Ramones’ debut at CBGB.

1984 Big Brother was not (yet) our biggest problem, but this was not a good year. President Reagan, presumably not yet stricken by Alzheimer’s, remarked over an open mike that the bombing of Russia would begin “in five minutes.” Geraldine Ferraro became a vice-presidential candidate, and lost. Margaret Thatcher went to war with miners, and won. Indira Gandhi was assassinated and a Union Carbide leak in Bhopal killed untold thousands.

The virus that causes AIDS was discovered. People started smoking crack. And Marvin Gaye was shot and killed by his father.

1994 Whoa: Not only did Nelson Mandela not spend his life in jail, but he became president. The Brady Law went into effect, and Bill Clinton signed the assault weapons ban. (It expired in 2004.) O. J. Simpson spurred a national obsession. Four bombers were convicted of the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center.

Reagan was implicated in the Iran-contra cover-up, but it seemed more important to torture the Clintons over a bad real estate investment. (Still, Paula Jones wasn’t the Republicans’ fault, was she?) Clinton fired Joycelyn Elders for discussing masturbation.

The first credit default swap was created. Nearly everyone in Rwanda became either a killer or a victim, or so it seemed. And there was that messy thing in “the former Yugoslavia.”

Netscape Navigator was released.

2004 Barack Obama spoke at the Democratic convention and there seemed reason for hope; then John Kerry went windsurfing and W., incredibly, became president again (what were 62 million of us thinking?) several months after endorsing a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, which Massachusetts had already legalized. (By 2013, even Utah is on the right side of this issue.) W. also promised to improve education and access to health care; we all know how that worked out. Lance Armstrong won his sixth Tour de France; we all know how that worked out, too.

The Indian Ocean tsunami killed more than 230,000 people. Martha Stewart went to jail. And Johnny Ramone (born 1948) died.

2014 President Obama is calling this the “year of action.” Here’s hoping he’s not bluffing and begins by demonstrating how popular progressive legislation is by circumventing Congress in areas of food, energy and climate change. The alternative could be a visit by the Four Horsemen.




“De Blasio matters. A lot of us are counting on his success.”

GAVIN NEWSOM, the lieutenant governor of California and former San Francisco mayor, on the inauguration of Bill de Blasio as mayor of New York City.


De Blasio Sworn In as New York Mayor


Pool photo by Seth Wenig

De Blasio Is Sworn In as Mayor: Bill de Blasio was sworn in as the 109th mayor of New York City on Wednesday morning, at two minutes past the stroke of midnight.


Bill de Blasio was sworn in as the 109th mayor of New York City early Wednesday, at two minutes past the stroke of midnight.

 The oath of office was administered by Eric T. Schneiderman, the attorney general of New York, in a brief ceremony inside the front yard of the mayor’s rowhouse in Park Slope, Brooklyn, where Mr. de Blasio stood with his family behind a chain-link fence and beside a bare-limbed tree.

“I want to say to all of you how grateful we are,” Mr. de Blasio, who wore a black topcoat and cobalt blue tie, told a crowd of journalists and well-wishers, including the actor Steve Buscemi and Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont.

“From the beginning,” the mayor continued, “this has been our family together, reaching out to the people of this city to make a change that we all needed.” He added: “This is a beginning of a road we will travel together.”

The ceremony, which precedes a formal inauguration to take place at noon on the City Hall steps, was the culmination of a campaign in which Mr. de Blasio carefully calibrated his image as a fiery populist, intent on easing the disparities of a gilded city, and a proud husband and father, whose biracial family seemed a paragon of multi-cultural New York.

The mayor chose the symbolic location of his own middle-class home, about four miles outside of Manhattan, to recite his oath; it was the same location where he announced his campaign nearly a year ago.

Mr. de Blasio emerged from his house at 12:01 a.m., followed closely by his wife, Chirlane McCray, who wore a flecked black-and-grey jacket, his 16-year-old son, Dante, in a sweater and zip-up jacket, and his 19-year-old daughter, Chiara, who donned a pointy party hat.

Mr. Schneiderman, in a casual coat, stood nearby. He recited a quote from Paul Wellstone, the former Minnesota senator: “It is the belief that extremes and excesses of inequality must be reduced so that each person is free to fully develop his or her potential. This is why we take precious time out of our lives and give it to politics.”

Mr. de Blasio then placed his hand on a Bible and recited the oath of office, before hugging his family members, one at a time.

Asked for a $9 filing fee, required by the city to register his new office, Mr. de Blasio opted to pay in cash, holding out the bills for the crowd to see. There was much applause.

The city clerk, Michael McSweeney, approached with several papers for the newly minted mayor to sign.

“Here’s the pen, Mr. Mayor,” Mr. McSweeney said.

It was the very first time that Mr. de Blasio had been addressed by his new formal title. The mayor, unable to suppress a grin, let out a happy laugh.

Mr. de Blasio concluded the late-night appearance by wishing the onlookers a happy new year. With that, he threw a kiss to the crowd, and walked back into his house.

De Blasio Draws All Liberal Eyes to New York City


Pool photo by Seth Wenig

Bill de Blasio blew a kiss to the crowd gathered outside his Brooklyn home for his midnight swearing-in ceremony.

Liberals across the country are looking to Bill de Blasio, who was sworn in as mayor early Wednesday, to morph New York City’s municipal machinery into a closely watched laboratory for populist theories of government that have never before been enacted on such a large scale.

The elevation of an assertive, tax-the-rich liberal to the nation’s most prominent municipal office has fanned hopes that hot-button causes like universal prekindergarten and low-wage worker benefits — versions of which have been passed in smaller cities — could be aided by the imprimatur of being proved workable in New York.

“The mayor has a remarkable opportunity to make real many progressive policies and prove their merit,” said Gavin Newsom, the lieutenant governor of California, who as mayor of San Francisco introduced a form of universal health care and allowed same-sex couples to wed.

De Blasio matters,” Mr. Newsom said. “A lot of us are counting on his success.”

New York has long been a lodestar for urban governments the world over. The avant-garde policing pioneered by former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani transformed the way major municipalities fight crime. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s corporate-minded approach to education and feats of social engineering, like the ban on smoking in bars, quickly gained global traction.

In Mr. de Blasio, a wily, image-conscious strategist who had lagged far behind in polls just weeks before the Democratic primary, advocates on the left see a unique aligning of the stars: a champion of their values who is also a shrewd and cunning practitioner, stepping into office at a time when the national debate over inequality and social justice has reached a fever pitch.

His administration could be a redemptive moment for a national left whose policies were often blamed for the crumbling of urban centers in the 1960s and 1970s, yet has now started to reassert itself in smaller jurisdictions with bold new approaches on issues like income equality and poverty.

But Mr. de Blasio must also grapple with the restraints placed on local executives: He is barred from unilaterally setting income tax policy, meaning he must persuade legislators in Albany and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to approve his proposal to raise taxes on the wealthy. And he has never experienced the day-to-day demands and compromises of managing an enterprise anywhere near the size of the city he will now lead.

Even supporters excited about the prospect of a liberal mayoralty in New York are urging patience to the grass roots, and cautioning that the mayor will have to manage expectations of an audience to whom he promised sweeping change.

“Do I expect him to keep every one of his promises? Absolutely not,” said Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont, who ran his own insurgent liberal campaign in the 2004 Democratic presidential primary.

“This is the truth of mayors and governors: Until you sit in the chair, you don’t really know,” said Mr. Dean, an early backer of Mr. de Blasio who attended the midnight swearing-in ceremony at the mayor’s home in Park Slope, Brooklyn. “He’s going to find out that he can’t keep all of his promises, through no fault of his own.”

The stakes are high for Mr. de Blasio, who entered politics as an aide to former Mayor David N. Dinkins and has seen firsthand the consequences of a failed left-leaning administration.

The waves of crime and racial tensions that plagued Mr. Dinkins’s tenure nudged Democrats into the city’s political wilderness for two decades, as the lengthy tenures of Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Bloomberg ushered in an era of hard-nosed, business-minded executives in City Hall.

Fans of Mr. de Blasio hope he can repair the reputation of mismanagement and corruption that had tainted liberal administrations back to the 1960s.

“My sense is, he is going to be very intent and dedicated to showing that he can construct this new model of municipal governance,” said Katrina vanden Heuvel, the editor of The Nation, a left-leaning periodical that has dedicated a journalist full time to covering the early days of the new administration.

“He needs to deliver, and he understands that,” Ms. vanden Heuvel added.

So far, liberals have been buoyed by the relatively undiluted nature of Mr. de Blasio’s platform. After winning the Democratic primary, Mr. de Blasio did not back away from his left-leaning proposals, confounding those who suggested he would tack to the center during the general election campaign.

And he takes office at a time when liberalism is rising again in the nation’s city halls, galvanized by widespread worries over spiraling costs of living and a shrinking middle class. Seattle’s new mayor supports a $15 minimum wage, matching one of the highest in the country. Portland, Ore., recently required that many employers provide paid time off for sick employees.

Mr. de Blasio, who led a group of newly elected mayors gathered at the White House this month, is by far the most prominent member of this new municipal cohort, and he is already making plans to pass an expanded sick-leave bill in New York and mandate higher wages for more employees on city-funded projects.

Moreover, aides to Mr. de Blasio say his intent to push back against the data-driven focus on standardized testing, school closures and charter schools, if successful, could help reset national priorities on education reform.

Still, some of Mr. de Blasio’s early moves have raised concerns in certain corners of the activist left. His pick for police commissioner — William J. Bratton, a veteran of the Giuliani administration — generated consternation on some liberal blogs. The announcement that Bill Clinton, the former president, would administer Mr. de Blasio’s oath of office also was taken as a sign that the mayor is a Democrat of a more pragmatic mode than some progressives may prefer.

Cornel West, the professor and political activist who recently returned to New York to teach at Union Theological Seminary, said the mayor represented “a sigh of relief from the reign of Bloomberg.”

But he invoked his own disappointment with President Obama in sounding a note of caution.

“There’s got to be a connection between vision and speeches, and execution and policy,” Dr. West said. “Our beloved president — that brother gives beautiful speeches, but he is milquetoast oftentimes when it comes to execution.”

Dr. West allowed himself a laugh. “We don’t want de Blasio going down that Obama lane, or we’ll be in trouble,” he said.

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