His feet deep in snow and a shovel in hand as a snowstorm hit New York, new Mayor Bill de Blasio immediately displayed a leadership style contrasting sharply with his predecessor.
Barely a day after he was sworn in, the liberal Democrat with little experience in office faced the first major challenge of his administration in the form of the storm and frigid temperatures that hit America’s biggest city Thursday and stretched into the weekend.
The man who promised a “fairer, more just, more progressive place,” sought to prove he meant it with a packed schedule to help his fellow city-dwellers in need.
At 10:00 pm on Thursday, the 52-year-old mayor visited workers at a city garage in Brooklyn and promptly tweeted about it, thanking the “hardworking team” and “all those who are keeping our city safe tonight.”
At 4:00 am he held a teleconference to decide on school closures, then cleaned up his sidewalk himself in Brooklyn, visited sanitation workers in Queens and held a press conference.
His down-to-earth approach marked a major departure from his austere predecessor Michael Bloomberg, 71, who lived in a 12,000-square foot (1,100-square meter) private residence near Central Park.
‘Man of the people’
Early Friday, the new mayor was spotted removing snow with a shovel outside his small house in the Park Slope neighborhood of New York’s Brooklyn borough, wearing jeans and a black vest.
Towering at six feet, five inches (1.96 meters), he demonstrated before the cameras how to shovel snow properly by bending the knees in order to avoid back pain.
“Rise up with the knees, don’t lift with your back, lift with your knees,” he said.
His 16-year-old son Dante finished the work in the alleyway, with a photo posted on Twitter by his mother Chirlane McCray as proof.
De Blasio gave him an “A for effort and a D for punctuality.”
For a press conference held at a Sanitation Department repair shop in Queens, de Blasio showed up in jeans and a bright blue windbreaker over a collared shirt.
The mayor warmly congratulated the teams of workers who toiled all night to clear the roads.
At his side was Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty, whom de Blasio thanked, hand on his shoulder.
De Blasio urged people to remember the elderly and the homeless in the brutal temperatures, after the thermostat hit 0 degrees Fahrenheit (-18 Celsius), and asked New Yorkers to stay at home.
Bloomberg was harshly criticized for the slow response, especially in Queens and Brooklyn, to a December 2010 blizzard that dumped 20 inches (50 centimeters) of snow on the Big Apple, three times more than on Friday.
De Blasio had been among his arch critics at the time.
The new mayor’s supporters have painted Bloomberg as a man obsessed with efficiency in an almost haughty manner. In contrast, de Blasio takes time to talk and joke with common folk, they say.
De Blasio was surrounded by his top deputies during his first press conferences, letting them take the mic before speaking again, simultaneously serious and relaxed.
When asked how many layers of clothing he was wearing to brave the cold, de Blasio unzipped his windbreaker and struck a pose.
“Do you want me to go further?” he asked jokingly.
High hopes for change
De Blasio’s mixed-race family has appealed to New York’s diverse electorate and he has created high hopes among the city’s Hispanic and black populations, which respectively account for 28.6 percent and 25.5 percent of its 8.3 million inhabitants.
After 12 years of Bloomberg, de Blasio was elected in November by more than 73 percent of voters, promising to reduce New York’s stark inequalities, build more public housing and increase taxes on the richest New Yorkers to finance universal preschool for children from age four.
A relatively unknown figure barely six months ago, he now lifts the spirits of the American left because of New York’s critical importance in national politics.
But his critics point to his limited experience, with his thin resume including stints as the city’s public advocate — first in line to succeed the mayor — and as a member of the New York City Council.
During his inaugural speech, de Blasio vowed to bring swift progress.
He said that he would seek reforms so the city would be recognized “not as the exclusive domain of the one percent, but a place where everyday people can afford to live, work and raise a family.”