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State of the City

by Mark Berkey-Gerard, Jan 16, 2005
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In his annual State of the City address last week, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, in Ronald Reagan fashion, introduced Lieutenant Joseph Ferrera, a 40-year veteran on the New York Police Department, to help illustrate that "New York is among the safest cities in the nation."

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But New York's police officers, who are working without a contract, say they are losing their most experienced people to the suburbs where salaries are higher.

Bloomberg also hailed Tennesee Banola, a student from P.S. 119, who after attending summer school was promoted to the fourth grade.

Yet, the city's school system - still in the midst of the mayor's reforms - remains riddled with problems. Test scores are low, classrooms are crowded, and many parents feel left out of the process.

To Tomas Vallejo, a mail clerk who recently bought his first home in Cypress Hills, Brooklyn, the mayor said, "Tomas, bienvenidos al sueño Americano."

However, New York's housing crisis prevents many from obtaining "the American Dream." The average price of an apartment in Manhattan is $1 million and one out of every four households pays more than one-half of their income toward rent.

The New York painted in the mayor's speech is a place where crime is dropping, schools are getting better, and affordable housing is being built.

But in the city of Bloomberg's critics, each of the handpicked guests meant to put a human face on his accomplishments could just have easily represented what is wrong with New York.

Some have called the mayor's State of the City speech, "the opening round" of a campaign battle that will play out in the city over the next 10 months. It was also an opportunity for Bloomberg's opponents - one Republican and five Democrats - to begin to outline how their plans for New York differ.

So what is the actual state of the city? What is the mayor's view? What are his promises? And what do his critics say he failed to mention?

BUDGET
CRIME
EDUCATION
HOUSING AND HOMELESSNESS
JOBS
PARKS
TRANSPORTATION

BUDGET

What Is the State of the City's Budget? Although the city's fiscal situation has improved since Mayor Bloomberg took office in 2002, the city will still have a $2 billion budget deficit this year and a $3 billion deficit the next year.

Budget experts point to other possible troubles ahead.

One major issue is the state's $6 billion deficit. Governor George Pataki has not said how he plans to address the issue, but many fear the funds for city programs will be cut.

Another question in the city's budget is unresolved labor negotiations with half of the city's workforce, including police, firefighters, and teachers who do not have contracts.

New York City also borrowed heavily to pay for schools, bridges, and roads and now faces the highest debt in the nation. The city also has some of the highest taxes in the country.

What Is Mayor Michael Bloomberg's View? In his State of the City speech, the mayor only briefly mentioned the city's budget issues. He will outline his preliminary budget by the end of January and have to provide more specifics at that time.

He did not mention the state's fiscal problems.

He did not mention labor disputes.

He did not mention growing debt.

What Does the Mayor Promise to Do?
But he did pledge to continue offering some tax breaks. The mayor said he would give homeowners a $400 tax rebate as he did last year. The city also now offers low-income New Yorkers a city version of the Earned Income Tax credit. A family of four that makes less than $35,000 a year can receive up to $215 back from the city.

What Do the Mayor's Critics Say?
Early in the election year, Mayor Bloomberg's opponents are reluctant to explain in detail how they would address critical issues like inadequate state funding, labor negotiations, and debt - and they offered only broad criticism of the mayor's tactics in solving fiscal issues.

Republican Steve Shaw criticized the mayor's "tax-and-spend policies" over the last three years and promises to cut taxes.

For months, City Council Speaker Gifford Miller has argued that the mayor must do more in Albany and Washington, D.C. "It would be nice to have lower taxes, but we can't have real tax relief as long as Republican administrations in Albany and Washington take $18 billion more than they give back in services every year," said Miller.

Miller also notes that the Earned Income Tax Credit was the City Council's proposal, not the mayor's.

Former Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer has criticized the mayor's past budgets and the $400 property tax rebate. "If you're giving me a check in the mail while you're cutting after-school programs, cutting my firehouse, that doesn't make sense," Ferrer said last summer.

CRIME

What Is the State of the City's Crime?
Crime in New York City continues to fall. In 2004, the city had the fewest murders since 1963. New York is now rated among the safest of the nation's biggest cities.

The city also continues to face the mammoth challenge of preventing and preparing for future terrorist attacks.

What Is Mayor Michael Bloomberg's View?
When Rudolph Giuliani left office, many New Yorkers feared that crime would increase. At every occasion, Mayor Bloomberg reminds his audience that crime has continued to go down under his watch.

"To some, these are just statistics, but to me, these numbers represent lives saved and families spared the hurt and anguish of being victimized," the mayor said.

What Does the Mayor Promise to Do?
In his recent speech, the mayor outlined three new public safety initiatives in 2005: - Continue the work of Operation Impact, a special unit that targets high crime areas, and add 1,000 recently graduated police officers to the unit. - Upgrade the city's Compstat system, the high-tech crime tracking system, to provide same-day information on emerging crime patterns. - Deploy an 80-member police anti-graffiti task force.

The mayor also vowed to continue fighting for additional homeland security funding in Washington, D.C.

What Do the Mayor's Critics Say?
Bloomberg's opponents have a difficult time arguing against low crime rates, but they believe more could be done to keep the city safe.

City Councilmember Charles Barron, who represents East New York, argues that neighborhoods like his have not seen the same dramatic drop in crime as much as the city, and he criticizes the mayor's tactics. It was an officer in the mayor's Operation Impact program that shot 19-year-old Timothy Stansbury last year in the hallway of his public housing building last year.

"Complaints against the Police Department are up in my neighborhood," said Barron.

When it comes to homeland security funding 1006, all of the Democrats say Bloomberg should have done more lobbying in Washington, D.C. to make sure that New York gets its fair share of anti-terrorism money.

"I urge the mayor to take his message to Washington and demand more Homeland Security money," Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields has said. "This is a dangerous and ludicrous funding formula that ignores higher-risk target cities."

EDUCATION

What is the State of the City's Education?
The New York City school system has 1,300 schools, 85,000 teachers, and 1.1 million kids. It is the most expensive item in the city's budget.

Three years ago, the mayor began instituting his education reforms, promising to cut bureaucracy, raise test scores, and get parents more involved. While many new initiatives have been put in place, they have not yet produced dramatic results.

Another major issue facing the city's schools is the result of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit.

In November, a court-appointed panel recommended that city schools should receive an additional $5.6 billion a year phased in over the next four years. Next year, the panel recommended an increase of $1.4 billion, but did not say how much should come from the state and how much should come from the city.

If the city's funding equals nearly a quarter of the money, it will have to pay an additional $330 million next year and a total of $1.4 billion by 2009.

What is Mayor Michael Bloomberg's View? In his speech, Mayor Bloomberg boasted, "We are making our school system the best in the nation" and outlined the major efforts of his education reforms.

In the last three years, the mayor has:

But even the mayor admits that his reforms have still taken hold everywhere in the city. "Not every student, not every classroom or school, has improved," the mayor said. "We've only just begun."

What Does the Mayor Promise to Do?
Mayor Bloomberg's major new initiative is the creation of a $14-million vocational program to help 2,600 high school dropouts. The program, called "Learning to Work" will mix classroom and work experience and students can earn a GED diploma.

Bloomberg has said he does not think the city should have to pay any portion of the increase in school funding as a result of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity suit.

What Do the Mayor's Critics Say?
There are plenty of critics of the mayor's education reforms.

City Council Speaker Gifford Miller accuses the mayor of repeatedly vetoing bills passed by the council that would give it greater oversight of the school system. "We want accountability along with [school] control," Miller said.

"Education policy that can best be described as in disarray," said Anthony Weiner. "He should have said he would get to the root causes of the virtual lawlessness in the classrooms…much of it has to do with taking the authority away from teachers and principals."

"We are concerned that the mayor's Department of Education itself sees parental involvement as optional to its efforts to reform city schools," Fernando Ferrer said last year.

HOUSING AND HOMELESSNESS:

What is the State of the City's Housing?
Many believe that housing is the most critical issue facing the city. Vacancy rates are at record lows, 70 percent of New Yorkers pay more than 30 percent of their income for rent, and about 40,000 New Yorkers sleep in homeless shelters each night.

What is Mayor Michael Bloomberg's View?
Mayor Bloomberg says that affordable housing is being built all across the city. He points to new developments in Williamsburg and East New York, and the recent rezoning of the West Side of Manhattan, which will create an estimated 3,300 affordable apartments in the area.

He says that the city has helped more than 28,000 homeless men, women, and children find permanent homes.

What Does the Mayor Promise to Do?
The mayor hopes to create 200,000 affordable apartments by 2008. And he has pledge to "to eliminate chronic homelessness in this city within the next five years."

In order to achieve this, Bloomberg said he would lobby the state government in Albany for funding to build 12,000 units of supportive housing.

The mayor also promised to reform the intake process for homeless families and shut down the Emergency Assistance Unit in the Bronx, a place where in the past, people waiting for housing have slept in hallways and chairs.

What Do the Mayor's Critics Say?
While the mayor has made bold promises about new homeownership, new affordable housing , and an end to homelessness, his critics question the actual results.

"We have heard the plans for tens of thousands of new units of housing, now we need to see those units being built," said Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields.

JOBS

What is the State of the City's Jobs?
The city has made an economic recovery since the months after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Still the city's economic recovery lags behind the rest of the nation. Wall Street employment is flat, salaries are not increasing, and experts do not expect that the city will regain all the 200,000 jobs lost since the year 2000 until the end of the decade.

What is Mayor Michael Bloomberg's View?
In his speech, Mayor Bloomberg pointed to the good news: 34,000 jobs were created in 2004, and he expects 50,000 new jobs to be created in 2005.

And he sees job growth in all five boroughs.

In the Bronx, the mayor says the new Hunts Point fish market will create 500 new jobs.

In Staten Island, he plans to redevelop the industrial area known as "The Homeport."

In Brooklyn, a new cruise ship dock in Red Hook will create an estimated 600 new jobs.

In Queens, the mayor looks to new business improvement districts to help boost the local economy.

In Manhattan, the mayor promises to continue the revitalization of downtown.

What Does the Mayor Promise to Do?
One of the mayor's biggest job creation strategies is his Hudson Yards plan, which includes the rezoning of the West Side of Manhattan, building a new stadium for the New York Jets, and expanding the Jacob Javits Center.

"The re-development of the Far West Side will create 230,000 new construction jobs alone," Bloomberg said. "And I think all New Yorkers should have a fair chance at these jobs."

He promised to create a "Commission on Construction Opportunity," made up of developers, contractors, union representatives, and politicians like U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel to help ensure that people of color have access to new jobs.

What Do the Mayor's Critics Say?
The mayor's critics say Bloomberg is not doing enough to create real jobs for average New Yorkers.

And all of the potential challengers are opposed to the West Side Stadium.

"[Bloomberg] sees stadiums as top priorities, but I guarantee not one in 100 New Yorkers would consider publicly financed sports stadiums priorities," said Republican Steve Shaw.

"We all want Wall Street to thrive, but we want our neighborhoods and the families who live there to flourish, too," said Fernando Ferrer. "And in a city where so many working families are struggling to keep their heads above water, the mayor offers a myopic vision and misplaced priorities."

And C. Virginia Fields did not seem impressed with the mayor's pledge to get African-Americans jobs in the construction industry. "We know about the 50 percent unemployment rate for African American males in New York," said Fields. "Now we need to know what is being done to reduce those numbers."

PARKS

What is the State of the City's Parks?
The city has made a renewed effort to build new parks in recent years, particularly along with Manhattan waterfront.

But overall funding for parks has not increased, and there are wide disparities in the condition of city parks. In a recent evaluation by New Yorkers for Parks, half of the city's parks received an "A" or "B," but a quarter received a "D" or "F."

What Is Mayor Michael Bloomberg's View?
Last year, the mayor says he added 150 acres to the city's park system, primarily along the waterfront. This year, the city will begin construction of the Harlem Piers, adding another access point to the Hudson waterfront. He will soon agree to the final plans to build a park on top of the Fresh Kills Landfill, which will be the largest park built in the city in 100 years.

What Does the Mayor Promise to Do?
In his speech, Mayor Bloomberg highlighted his commitment to spend $220 million to improve park system in the Bronx.

"It's the biggest investment in the city parks in nearly 70 years," the mayor said, "and it will produce an incredible green legacy throughout the Bronx."

What Do the Mayor's Critics Say?
Although the Bronx will enjoy millions of dollars in improvements, it comes at a price: a water filtration plant built in the middle of Van Cortlandt park.

The $220 million the mayor has promised was part of a deal with local Bronx politicians to get their approval for the plan.

City Councilmember Charles Barron was one of only six council members to vote against the filtration plant, arguing that the project would bring noise, traffic, and pollution, but no real benefit to neighborhood residents.

TRANSPORTATION

What is the State of the City's Transportation?
There are currently
$17 billion worth of new transportation projects being proposed for the city, including the Second Avenue subway, a rail link from lower Manhattan to JFK airport, an extension of the number 7-subway line to the West Side of Manhattan.

But state and city funding for projects is shrinking and no one is sure how to pay for them.

What is Mayor Michael Bloomberg's View?
Of all of these projects, Mayor Bloomberg only mentioned one in his State of the City address - the rail link from JFK airport and Long Island to lower Manhattan.

"In 2005, we will succeed in converting unused federal tax benefits into funds for that purpose," the mayor said.

What do the Mayor's Critics Say?
While most of Bloomberg's opponents think a rail link is a good idea, they stress that it is not the only - or even the most crucial new transportation project.

C. Virginia Fields and Gifford Miller are campaigning for the Second Avenue Subway.

Anthony Weiner wants ferry service to Queens and more express bus service in the outer boroughs.

Related Links:
Gotham Gazette's Campaign 2005 Mayoral Race
Text of Bloomberg's State of the City Address 2005
Anthony Weiner's Response
Gifford Miller's Response
Fernando Ferrer's Response
C. Virginia Fields' Response
Charles Barron's Response
Steven Shaw's Response

Past State of the City Speeches:
Text of Bloomberg's State of the City Address 2004
Text of Bloomberg's State of the City Address 2003
Text of Bloomberg's State of the City Address 2002


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