On Tuesday, New York City elected leftist Bill de Blasio to lead the city into a new era of greater income equality. After 12 years of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and 20 years since the last Democratic mayor left office, de Blasio is expected to try to reverse course of income inequality in New York by taxing the rich to fund services for the poor. But take it from Toronto: We’ve had our Bill de Blasio, also after a period of conservative rule, and despite de Blasio's best intentions he’ll do nothing but break your heart.
Mayor David Miller was our great hope. A member of Canada’s New Democratic Party until his membership expired (he declined to renew it in order to deal with the provincial and federal governments without partisanship), he campaigned and won the 2003 election with a broom as his prop, promising to clean up Toronto both literally (Toronto had a waste disposal problem) and figuratively (accusations of shady dealings in City Hall were rampant at the time). The main similarity between Miller and de Blasio is that both pledged to increase taxes to improve services for the masses. But budget problems threw Miller for a loop: In 2005 the Ontario provincial government cut funding for some provincially mandated social programs, forcing Miller to take money from reserve funds and cut back on social programs. He also promised to improve transit in Toronto, mainly through reforms of the Toronto Transit Commission, Toronto’s public transit system. He had a lot of suggestions: creating a streetcar right-of-way on major arterial road St. Clair Avenue, creating a rapid-transit bus service to and from major areas of the city to act like a low-cost subway, purchasing new subway cars from Bombardier, and finally imposing a parking-lot surcharge to incentivize choosing public transit. There are a whole slew of other things Miller hoped to accomplish, too lengthy to list here.
But it all came to nought. Budget constraints forced Miller to compromise on his ideals. The difference between Toronto in 2003 and when Miller left it in 2010 was negligible, aside from mass dissatisfaction with Miller’s rule and calls for his replacement. The result of the distaste with left-leaning Miller was the 2010 election of conservative Rob Ford, who, much worse than having smoked crack, has been responsible for diminishing workers’ rights (designating paramedics and transit workers as an “essential service,” barring them from legally striking), laying off thousands of municipal workers, and broadly cutting services, all in the interest of a smaller budget and lower taxes.
The state of contemporary North American politics suggests that de Blasio will be to New York City what David Miller was for Toronto: not much of anything. De Blasio has been more or less a career politician since 1989, when he helped coordinate David Dinkins’ mayoral campaign. As a career politician, de Blasio wants to be re-elected — and to do so, he’s going to be forced to compromise on his ideals, and compromise often. Hopefully he can follow up on his campaign rhetoric with tangible results, but my advice is this: Cross your fingers, but certainly don’t hold your breath.