Gotham Gazette

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Trumpeting, both literally and metaphorically, New Yorkers' ability to get through tough times, Mayor Michael Bloomberg revealed a nine-part "recovery package" during his annual State of the City address Thursday, confirming to many attendees that the 2009 campaign season has started.

Meticulously orchestrated and equipped with its own theme ("New Yorkers. Together."), the mayor's address featured a small marching band brandishing the Brooklyn Dodgers label, a chorus from a Brooklyn elementary school and a documentary short courtesy of Ric Burns, which retold stories of triumph against tragedy in New York City.

The address, which the mayor usually uses to lay out his policy agenda for the coming year, focused primarily on getting the city through the current recession, including jump-starting a proposal to bring in 400,000 jobs. The mayor also focused on quality of life crimes, in an attempt to keep the city from reverting back to the 1970s, when core city services were cut amid an economic downturn.

"Our job is to help all those who are struggling -- help them improve their chances for a job, for keeping their homes, for making ends meet and to do it all without new funding -- because the city just doesn't have the money," the mayor said to a crowd of about 2,300.

Creating Jobs

In what could be his most ambitious proposal, Bloomberg suggested rescinding the unincorporated business tax -- a change that would need state approval -- and creating jobs through capital programs, including the construction of the recently approved Willets Point development in Queens. As of 2005, according to the city's Independent Budget Office, 22,900 sole-proprietor businesses were subject to the unincorporated business tax. The mayor's plan would rescind the tax for about 17,000 businesses at an estimated savings of $3,400 each.

Bloomberg also hopes to create thousands of "green" jobs by requiring private buildings to become more energy efficient. He intends on expanding job creation programs to accommodate 20,000 individuals instead of the usual 17,000 and hopes to make doing business with the city more accessible by putting certain permits online.

Many of the capital projects that Bloomberg attributed to future job growth in the city are nothing new, such as the expansion of the number 7 subway line and development of Hunter's Point South in Queens.

"If the speech only had those, it would have been fair to fault it for not having new, new jobs," said Council Speaker Christine Quinn. "But it had more than that."

Many of the mayor's proposals to spur job growth would need either approval from Albany or funding from the federal government, including his call for Washington to pay for new air traffic control systems at the city's airports.

Quality of Life

In addition to job creation, the mayor hopes to keep city streets safe and clean despite the lack of city resources. He wants to identify a dozen habitual quality of life offenders in each borough for "special attention" from law enforcement. He will call them "the dirty dozen."

Bloomberg will also ask the state legislature to approve a proposal making a seventh quality of life conviction in a year a felony. To combat the worst city crime, the mayor proposed to deploy cameras in the three neighborhoods with the highest murder rates.

Keeping in line with his development and education agenda, the mayor said the city would continue to landmark and rezone land in the outer boroughs and would urge the State Legislature to re-approve mayoral control of schools -- set to expire this year. Bloomberg also plans on launching a pilot 311 program, aimed specifically at getting information from the Department of Education to parents.

Cutting Costs

To address the city's skyrocketing pension costs, Bloomberg reiterated his call for pension reform, specifically creating a new tier that would save $5.4 billion over two decades. That proposal sparked applause from some fiscal advocates.

"It’s a very smart approach in our situation to try to do more with less, to try to get the most out of what we have," said Carol Kellermann, the president of the Citizens Budget Commission. "I was very, very happy to see pension reform."

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Some saw the mayor's address, held at Brooklyn College, as a kickoff to the mayoral campaign, when Bloomberg will be seeking a third term after winning a change in the city's term-limit law last year.

Welcoming the audience to his borough, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz said, "Now that term limits have been extended, so many in the city are looking forward to the mayor's massive job creation program -- by the way, it's also known as the Bloomberg re-election campaign."

The comment was met with laughter and applause.

While some attendees and city officials praised the mayor's address, others said the proposals were stale. Comptroller William Thompson, who is a declared candidate for mayor and is stepping up his criticism of the administration, said he has been working on many of the mayor's ideas for some time.

"There were a few things that you wanted to stand up and go, 'Uh wasn't that my idea?'" said Thompson. "I thought a lot of the vision the mayor put forward are things that I've recommended and suggested."

Thompson referred to his support of small businesses and attempting to increase the number of self-employed.

Others said the mayor's address provided evidence that he is equipped, ready and the right person to lead the city for the next four years.

"He reassured New Yorkers that we are going to have a positive approach to dealing with the economy, and we're not going to sit around and wait for the federal government to take charge," said New York University Professor Mitchell Moss.

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