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De Blasio, Marking 100 Days on Job, Says ‘Grass Roots’ Will Drive Agenda

By Michael M. Grynbaum
April 10, 2014

Mayor Bill de Blasio, seeking to recapture the energy that propelled him to victory last November, marked his 100th day in office on Thursday with a rhetoric-heavy speech that called on his supporters to help him create a “people-powered government” in New York.

Looking to begin a new phase of his mayoralty after a bruising winter in Albany, the mayor promised that the “grass roots” of the city would be the driving force of his policy agenda, although he offered few new proposals and little detail about how he planned to carry out his plans for affordable housing, hurricane relief and education reform.

The hourlong speech at the Cooper Union in Manhattan offered a vision of a muscular, left-leaning government that echoed the Great Society liberalism of the 1960s. Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat, peppered his remarks with references to historical figures, including Robert F. Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln and Plato.

“This administration is a product of movement politics,” Mr. de Blasio told a crowd of the city’s most prominent civic figures. “Grass-roots politics, neighborhood politics, tells us that the people are almost always ahead of their leaders.”

In focusing on ideals and values, rather than offering a concrete blueprint for governing, the speech more closely resembled Mr. de Blasio’s favored medium of the populist campaign rally than a policy-laden mayoral address.

Some elected officials said afterward that they were eager to hear more details from a mayor who is in transition from the world of advocacy to the messier work of governance.

“The next 265 days are critical because now he is going to have to put pen to paper,” said Scott M. Stringer, the city comptroller and a fellow Democrat. “He has to enact those priorities. He has to figure out the financing for some of those long-term goals.”

Many New Yorkers remain undecided about Mr. de Blasio’s performance. In a New York Times/NY1/Siena College poll released this week, 19 percent were unable to offer an opinion about him. His approval rating was 49 percent, and 31 percent disapproved.

In the speech Thursday afternoon, Mr. de Blasio pledged not to focus on surveys or skeptics, insisting that he remained an outsider in city government even as he occupied its most powerful perch.

“Some people weren’t quite sure what to make of our progressive agenda to reduce inequality and restore opportunity, but now they’re starting to see,” he said in the speech. “Because politics of the sort that we believe in doesn’t measure success by poll numbers, but by action.”

For supporters of Mr. de Blasio, the event was a way for the mayor to remind the public of the grand ambitions for social change that he has brought to City Hall.

“Was he preaching to the choir in there? Absolutely,” said George Gresham, president of 1199 S.E.I.U. United Healthcare Workers East, a union that is one of Mr. de Blasio’s staunch labor allies. “But I think the choir is larger than most people think.”

Still, some advocacy groups in the city have grown impatient with the mayor, who has focused on a small number of big issues during his first months in office. With the City Hall docket set to expand, the groups are jockeying to ensure their issues get priority.

The League of Conservation Voters held an event on Thursday calling on the mayor to tackle environmental concerns. An hour before Mr. de Blasio’s speech, the Alliance for a Just Rebuilding, which represents victims of Hurricane Sandy, issued a list of policy goals they want the mayor to pursue, and fast. “The sense of crisis in communities still reeling from Sandy is very raw and very real,” said Nathalie Alegre, the group’s coordinator.

Mr. de Blasio has taken steps to curb use by the police of the stop-and-frisk tactic, but even activist groups on that issue hope the administration will do more.

“As much as we’ve seen stop-and-frisks go down, other small arrests have gone up,” said Monifa Bandele, a member of Communities United for Police Reform. She said her group was optimistic about Mr. de Blasio, but she warned against viewing the initial reforms as “mission accomplished.”

The mayor, for his part, called on his supporters to aid his work, saying, “Now more than ever, we need your help,” and suggested that his success would be dependent on the participation of grass-roots organizations.

Speaking with a preacher’s sober cadence, the mayor also ran through a rosy review of his early months in office, citing drops in traffic deaths, murders and shootings.

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