STORY BY TIM WEBBER
New York City mayor Bill de Blasio spoke about income inequality in Cowles Library on Drake University’s campus earlier this month.
Speaking to an audience of Des Moines community members and Drake students in the Reading Room, de Blasio outlined his vision and plan for reducing the income gap in the future.
“It’s not that this is the first time we’ve ever faced this challenge,” de Blasio said. “It’s that the challenge is sharper, it is bigger than ever before, and it is different than we’ve ever seen before.”
De Blasio’s speech was sponsored by the Harkin Institute for Public Policy and Citizen Engagement and Drake’s Law, Politics and Society program.
Former Sen. Tom Harkin personally invited de Blasio to Des Moines and introduced him to the audience.
“I’m very high on this guy, Bill de Blasio.” Harkin said. “I’ve followed his career for a long time, and when I found that he was coming out to Omaha, I said, ‘Des Moines is really close by. You can also come here.’”
Harkin and de Blasio are both active progressive politicians – a connection that factored into Harkin’s invitation.
“(De Blasio) is one of our great progressive leaders in America,” Harkin said. “A great thinker and also a great doer.”
Economic reform has been a foundation of de Blasio’s time in office.
De Blasio and Harkin spoke at length about the mayor’s successful community programs, especially his pre-K for all initiative. In two years, the program has enrolled over 70,000 children who otherwise would not have received early education.
“What he’s done there is nothing short of monumental,” Harkin said. “It’s something I’ve advocated for for a long time.”
De Blasio referenced the initiative as an example of the progressive policies he hopes to see employed throughout the country, which also include increasing minimum wage while indexing it to the cost of living and hiking taxes on the wealthy.
Throughout his speech, de Blasio targeted Washington, expressing disappointment in their handling of income inequality.
“We’re heading towards an iceberg,” de Blasio said. “We can see it, we can talk about it, it’s visible. And there’s literally nothing emanating from Washington that will change our course.”
De Blasio referenced the Great Depression and warned that the end result could be worse if Washington doesn’t act to rectify income disparity.
“The 1920s were the last time we had an income disparity like today,” de Blasio said. “The difference is this one is galloping forward. It is not being checked. It is not being addressed.”
The continual shots at Washington fueled speculation among audience and media members that de Blasio was considering a presidential run.
That speculation was ignited earlier in the month when de Blasio refused to endorse Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
De Blasio had previously been a campaign manager for Clinton during her 2000 Senatorial campaign.
De Blasio, in the second leg of a Midwestern tour that included his stop in Omaha, did not explicitly mention the upcoming presidential election, although he did express interest in running for re-election as mayor.