NEW YORK (AP) — Mayor Bill de Blasio, aiming to have a larger national profile as a leader of liberal causes, gathered a group of progressive elected officials and civic leaders on Thursday to fashion a call for solutions to the nation's growing income inequality.
The group, which included Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and author Toni Morrison, will reconvene in Washington next month to unveil a set of progressive goals it hopes will be adopted by Republican and Democratic politicians alike. De Blasio also said the group would host a forum for all declared presidential candidates this fall.
De Blasio, a first-term Democrat, chastised Washington, saying "real solutions are not on the table" to combat the growing number of people being left at society's margins.
"This is a profound threat to this country and its future," he said. "It must be addressed in the context of the next two years before the 2016 elections."
No specific plans were unveiled, though every attendee who spoke to reporters after the closed-door meeting stressed the importance of income inequality at the ballot box in 2016. Others who attended included Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva; Jonathan Soros, head of the liberal think tank The Roosevelt Institute and son of liberal billionaire George Soros; and Maria Elena Durazo, of the UNITE HERE labor union.
Speaker after speaker praised de Blasio, who along with his wife, Chirlane McCray, had organized the meeting. The gathering comes as de Blasio deliberately moves to increase the volume of his voice in national political debates.
News of the gathering was not leaked to one of the local papers but rather was given to The Washington Post, the first read of many political power brokers. De Blasio has taken a more active role in a group of U.S. mayors and recently joined them in Boston for a speech by one of the nation's other most visible progressives, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. And this week, the mayor's office confirmed he will deliver lectures on income inequality this month in Nebraska and Iowa, site of the first presidential caucus.
The day before the gathering at the mayoral residence, Gracie Mansion, McCray appeared at a Brooklyn child development center with the presumptive favorite for the Democratic presidential nomination, Hillary Rodham Clinton.
The event underscored the close ties between Clinton and de Blasio, who managed her 2000 U.S. Senate campaign, even though she is not as liberal as he is on most issues. De Blasio, who is expected to be a valuable liberal surrogate for Clinton, would not address a possible Clinton candidacy on Thursday but said that while he would hope that any presidential candidate would support the progressive platform he would not use it as a "litmus test" for his endorsement.
From 2009 through 2012, income for the wealthiest 1 percent of U.S. households surged 31 percent, according to research by economist Emmanuel Saez, of the University of California, Berkeley. For everyone else, income inched up just 0.4 percent.
De Blasio stressed the need for bipartisan solutions to the income inequality problem but would not comment on whether any Republicans had been invited to the gathering.