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Bill De Blasio Sworn In As New York City Mayor

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (from left) arrives with his family Chiara de Blasio, Chirlane McCray and Dante de Blasio to take the oath of office on the steps of City Hall on Wednesday.
Frank Franklin II
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (from left) arrives with his family Chiara de Blasio, Chirlane McCray and Dante de Blasio to take the oath of office on the steps of City Hall on Wednesday.

Bill de Blasio was sworn in as the 109th mayor of New York City on Wednesday, marking the return of a Democrat to City Hall for the first time in two decades.

The public ceremony, which took place on the steps of City Hall, followed a formal swearing in at de Blasio's Brooklyn home at two minutes past midnight.

The new mayor took the oath of office from former President Bill Clinton with his hand on a bible once used by Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He rode the subway to the inauguration with his family.

De Blasio's November election victory signaled the end of an era in the nation's largest city. Running on a populist platform that highlighted issues of income inequality, the former city public advocate explicitly rejected the business-oriented approach of his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, who held office for 12 years.

Bloomberg served as the city's dominant political presence in the post-Sept. 11 era and was widely recognized as a municipal innovator in areas ranging from transportation to public health. But on the campaign trail, de Blasio repeatedly referred to the city's relative prosperity as "a tale of two cities" — a message designed to underscore the gap between the city's rich and poor.

"My fellow New Yorkers, today you spoke out loudly and clearly for a new direction for our city," de Blasio said at an election night party. "Make no mistake: The people of this city have chosen a progressive path, and tonight we set forth on it, together."

That path to victory positioned de Blasio as a national herald of a new brand of liberal city governance, a role the 52-year-old mayor has embraced.

"We know that our mission reaches deeper. We are called to put an end to the economic and social inequalities that threaten to unravel the city we love," said de Blasio in his inaugural speech. "So today we commit to a new progressive direction in New York. And that same progressive impulse has written our city's history. It's in our DNA."

After the tenets of big-city liberalism were rejected by a generation of mayors — both in New York and elsewhere — the idea of a revival on a grand stage animated the speakers and officeholders who preceded de Blasio.

Public Advocate-elect Letitia James hailed a "wave of progressive victories" and criticized what she called "a gilded age of inequality."

"We can become America's DNA for the future," said Harry Belafonte, the singer and de Blasio supporter who opened the inaugural ceremonies.

In his address, de Blasio promised to expand the paid sick leave law, require more affordable housing from developers, reform the city's stop-and-frisk policing policies and offer full-day universal pre-K and after-school programs for every middle school student by taxing the wealthy.

"We do not ask more of the wealthy to punish success," he said. "We do it to create more success stories. And we do it to honor a basic truth: that a strong economy is dependent on a thriving school system."

De Blasio's immediate challenge could be more prosaic: A snowstorm is in the forecast for Thursday, presenting the new mayor with his first test.

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Charles Mahtesian is NPR's Politics Editor.