Across the Gap

Mayor de Blasio Faces Off With Donald Trump On Immigration

David Stone
Mayor Bill de Blasio hosts a roundtable with clergy and faith leaders, earlier this week.
Mayor Bill de Blasio hosts a roundtable with clergy and faith leaders, earlier this week.
Photo courtesy of the Mayor's Photo Office

New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio told President-Elect Donald Trump, is "the ultimate city of immigrants, a place that has succeeded because it was open for everyone, a place built by generation after generation of immigrants," according to a press briefing after he became the first opposition leader to meet in Trump Tower since the election.

An Isle of Diversity Within a Sea of It

There was more, but the Mayor's affirming the vitality with which immigration fuels our city has special resonance for Roosevelt Island. In an urban area settled over layers of immigration, Roosevelt Island stands out for several reasons.

Making my way to the Tram from Manhattan Park, including the elevator ride down to the lobby, I sometimes count the number of languages I hear along the way. There have been times when I didn't hear English unless I used it first and a neighbor thoughtfully adjusted to my limited skills.

Here on the river, our community is enriched by the United Nations, foreign embassies and consulates, and most recently by our city's top rated schools. People set up housing because Roosevelt Island is a relative bargain in a pricey city. They stay because they fall in love with the place.

One friend, now back home in Italy, refuses to visit because her heart was broken when a job reassignment forced her to move away. She doesn't want to reawaken the sorrow.

Roosevelt Island continues to be defined by the diversity we see on Main Street, on crowded Red Buses and in Tram cabins.

We're so diverse that you only have to drive twenty-five miles to feel like you're in a different country, one where everyone looks and thinks a lot alike.

Mayor Bill de Blasio Talks Back

"I reiterated to him (Trump) that this city and so many cities around the country will do all we can to protect our residents and to make sure that families are not torn apart," de Blasio said in defiance of Trump's aggressive plans, somewhat relaxed since the election, to deport undocumented immigrants.

The mayor who Trump calls the worst in New York City's history, in a conversation he described as "candid," said, "My job as Mayor is to be (city residents') voice and to give him perspective on what New Yorkers are feeling right now, what their concerns are, what their fears are."

Trump deserves credit for making available an hour's worth of time made precious by the demands of working through the massive transition process.

And de Blasio, too, for fixedly pursuing detente with his adversary, for the good of the city, beginning the day after a devastating election.

The mayor was determined to stand firm on our city's long-established values, even as he reached out an "open hand" for working with Trump's administration.

In his first formal media availability following Trump's election, de Blasio was blunt.

"We here in New York City, we have a lot of ability to protect people and to insure that our values are the ones that affect people’s lives."

He continued with a small lesson in governance, "Remember we come – we’re part of a nation that was founded on a federalist approach, where a lot of power devolves to the State level and then down to the local level."

While eager to work with Trump's administration on areas of mutual interest, like upgrading infrastructure and fixing an unfair tax code, he wasn't getting weak in the knees or reeling from the loss.

In Perspective

Presidents don't have anywhere near the power that hopelessly oversimplified mass media reports suggest. If they did, we'd have gotten single-payer universal health care eight years ago, and we'd have a ninth Supreme Court Justice, today.

"Poor Ike," President Harry Truman was said to have observed, using the President-Elect's nickname, when Dwight Eisenhower won the 1952 presidential election. America's triumphant military leader in World War II would come to Washington, imagining that he'd give orders and civil servants would actually follow them.

It just doesn't work that way.

Governing at any level means compromising to get things done.

For sure, those who believe progressive values exemplify the best of American ideals are likely in for a rocky ride. But Mayor de Blasio has powerfully put his foot down in defense of his vision of what New York City is, a place irreversibly defined by the steady, muscular flow of immigrants and their contributions, one well worth protecting.

After de Blasio's meeting with Trump, it feels a little better, a little more optimistic, in town than it did on November 9th.


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