Gotham Gazette Thu, 22 Apr 2021 20:04:50 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) 'A Recovery For All Of Us,' De Blasio Pledges in His Final State of the City state city focuses

(photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)

When Mayor Bill de Blasio delivered his State of the City speech last year with a plan to “save our city,” he couldn’t have imagined how prescient his choice of words would be. With less than a year left in office, the mayor now faces his most daunting challenge yet in attempting to usher in New York City’s revival from the devastation wreaked by the coronavirus pandemic. On Thursday, in his final State of the City address, he sought to address that task, releasing a broad recovery plan to jumpstart the economy, reform policing, reopen schools, redistribute wealth, combat the climate crisis, and restore and improve the health of New Yorkers.

In a roughly half hour-long, pre-taped evening broadcast, de Blasio unveiled his plan for "A Recovery For All Of Us," narrating its various aspects over a video montage portraying New York City's resilience through crises, past and present. "Let me tell you a story. A story about a city that bore the brunt of the COVID crisis. A city that was the epicenter, a city that was laid low but refused to be held down," he said. "Let me tell you a story about how things change, about the way we come back, about the way we build something better. Let me tell you a tale of a new city."

The mayor’s plan hinges on his promise to vaccinate 5 million New York City residents against the coronavirus by June. That Herculean task will involve 412 vaccination sites across the five boroughs and a new 2,000-strong Vaccine for All Corps to bolster the 3,900 existing vaccination workers in the city’s health system. De Blasio said the vaccination program will allow the entire city workforce to go back to the workplace by May. "Together, we will drive a recovery for all of us. To do it, we have to aim high," he said. 

Though de Blasio has railed against income inequality since his first mayoral campaign in 2013, the pandemic has forced the ongoing and deep structural racial inequities of the city even further to the surface. In his speech, he proposed interconnected solutions. He made his Task Force on Racial Inclusion and Equity, created early during the pandemic, a permanent part of city government and he reiterated a pledge from last year to convene another Charter Revision Commission focused on racial justice and reconciliation. The Commission is the second created by de Blasio, and the third overall during his tenure, and it will do its work over the course of this year and next, stretching into the tenure of de Blasio’s successor, who will be elected this year.

The speech was full of lofty promises the likes of which the mayor has made and often failed to deliver on even during the best of times. De Blasio promised that the city would recover the number of jobs lost in the last year and even exceed the record-high employment from before the pandemic. The vaccination program alone would ensure 400,000 jobs are recovered by the end of this year, according to his plan, on top of the 100,000 that were saved through the Open Restaurants program that allowed outdoor dining. 

Among his jobs recovery proposals are a Community Hiring First plan for construction jobs in low-income communities that have been hardest hiit by the pandemic. It’s estimated to lead to $1 billion in wages and benefits for those community residents in the first year alone. He also reiterated an earlier announcement that the $210-million New York City Acquisition Fund for building affordable housing would only fund projects under Minority- and Women-Owned Business Enterprises or those where a nonprofit developer owns a minimum stake of 51%. He is also announcing a new City Cleanup Corps which will temporarily hire 10,000 workers this year.

As he has always done, the mayor also called for increased taxes on the wealthy to fund the city’s recovery, which falls under the purview of the state (and federal) government. His plea could be successful this year, however. Though Governor Andrew Cuomo is loath to increase any taxes, his Democratic colleagues who lead the state Legislature have indicated that they are willing to do so, and Cuomo outlined a potential increase on top earners in his contingency-filled budget presentation earlier this month. A lot is riding on federal aid, which both Cuomo and de Blasio are seeking from the Biden administration and Democratic Congress.

A crucial aspect of the mayor’s recovery plan dealing with the conjoined public health and economic crises is his objective of making New York City the “public health capital of the world” with major investments in the life sciences industry. "[O]ur economy increasingly will be based on the notion that healthcare is a human right and the only way to build a strong society is to build a healthy society," he said. He announced that the city would create LifeSci Avenue, from the Pandemic Response Institute in Kips Bay which he announced in December up to East Harlem. In all, he is estimating that the growing industry would bring in $20 billion in federal funds and $10 billion in venture investment over a decade, creating 25,000 permanent jobs in labs and offices and another 26,000 construction jobs. Additionally, his plan would use federal funds to transition the Test and Trace Corps into a permanent 4,000-member Public Health Corps to work in hard-hit neighborhoods. 

As the city’s small businesses continue to struggle to stay afloat, de Blasio offered them a lifeline as well. Besides pledging to reduce fines and red tape, the city will offer $50 million in rental assistance from federal stimulus funding to 17,000 businesses through the Small Business Recovery Tax Credit and will give low-interest loans of up to $100,000 to more than 2,000 small businesses through a $100 million city fund.

If the pandemic made one thing obvious it was that despite being the richest city in the richest country in the world, New York City has a woeful gap in internet access and affordability. The mayor has been promising to bridge that digital divide since his first year in office and has little to show for it. In his plan, he again promised progress, by creating new affordable broadband networks and building 5G infrastructure, particularly in underserved areas. 

He also offered a vague solution to the city’s interminable homelessness crisis. His plan states that his administration will end long-term street homelessness by establishing 1,000 new Safe Haven beds this year, finally ending the cluster shelter program and siting the 90 new shelters he had promised in 2017. 

Handling the schools system has been one of the more challenging aspects of the pandemic for de Blasio and he has promised that the city will safely reopen all schools this year as herd immunity is achieved through vaccination. "They've been the safest places in New York City and they will be again," he said of city schools. But he also aims to address the significant achievement gap that the pandemic created through a new plan that includes a high-quality digital curriculum for every school, a one-stop digital learning hub, expanding professional development, expanding “Parent University,” and providing trauma and mental health services to students. 

He even presented some piecemeal fixes for the city’s historic school segregation problem, which he had vowed to fix but has moved slowly on over a number of years. According to the plan, the Department of Education will support five school districts as they implement District Diversity Plans, and eliminate district priorities for high school admissions and all other geographic priorities this year. He has also promised to implement a new system this year to identify gifted and talented students, another initiative that will then fall to his successor to really move. 

With the backdrop of a major spike in shootings this last year as well as the national movement to reform and cut funding to police, the mayor walked a fine line on public safety and policing. He announced a new Joint Force to End Gun Violence and a “Top 100” strategy focused on 100 city blocks with the highest numbers of shootings. He also pledged to double the number of Cure Violence workers who focus on community-based solutions to prevent crime. 

Evoking former Mayor David Dinkins, who established the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) in 1993 to investigate police misconduct, de Blasio promised to strengthen the CCRB. His “David Dinkins Plan” will broaden the agency’s authority, allowing it to initiate investigations on its own discretion among other measures. The plan will also consolidate the Commission to Combat Police Corruption and the NYPD Office of the Inspector General under the umbrella of the CCRB, effectively placing all police oversight under one agency. The plan will also institute a Patrol Guide Review Committee, to examine and update the NYPD’s patrol guide which governs police officers’ actions. 

The mayor also hoped to bridge the trust gap between communities and police by allowing local Precinct Councils to interview potential candidates for Precinct Commander as well as perform yearly evaluations. Modeled on the CompStat crime tracking program, he announced that the NYPD will also begin disclosing metrics on customer and community service. "The new city we need to build has to be a city where everyone belongs. That new city we build has to be one where everyone feels fairness, and the decency that deserve," he said. "To do that we have to transform the relationship between our police and our communities. We have to change the culture of policing fundamentally."

Though it’s his last year in office, the mayor also pledged long-term measures aimed at combating the climate crisis including building new clean energy transmission connections and banning new fossil fuel connections. He also touted the divestment of the city’s pension funds from the fossil fuel industry, an announcement he made earlier this week with City Comptroller Scott Stringer.  

He is also announcing a first-ever New York City Environmental Justice For All study, which will launch next month, to examine the impact of the climate crisis in low-income communities and communities of color and determine future policy. And he promised new public spaces and amenities this year like pedestrian plazas, open streets and green markets in 30 of the neighborhoods worst affected by the pandemic.

Part of his climate action plan involves expanding the Vision Zero program. That includes a new “Bridges for the People” plan to put bike lanes on the Brooklyn Bridge and Queensboro Bridge, five new bike boulevards across the city and making the Open Streets program permanent.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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'A Recovery For All Of Us,' De Blasio Pledges in His Final State of the City Thu, 28 Jan 2021 05:00:00 +0000
Despite Assurances, De Blasio Yet to Release Recovery Plan for City's Devastated Economy media avail th

Mayor de Blasio at his September announcement (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)

New York City went into partial lockdown in March as the coronavirus ravaged the population, bringing a once booming economy to its knees and leaving the city teetering on the edge. The immense flock of tourists ground to a halt; the flow of suburban commuters reduced to a trickle; an untold number of residents fled the five boroughs; “non-essential” businesses were forced to shutter at least temporarily; and people were told to stay inside but for essentials. Many thousands fell sick or died, more than 1 million jobs were lost and thousands of businesses closed for good.

After the worst of the spring outbreak and months of being asked about how he intended to spur economic recovery and get people back to work, in September Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the broad strokes of an agenda meant to restore both the public and economic health of the city. “This announcement will kick off a series of policy proposals,” a press release from the mayor’s office said at the time. But both at the time and in the four months since that declaration, de Blasio has offered few concrete policies to usher in “a transformational era” as he promised. Big business leaders, small business owners, jobless New Yorkers, and other experts worry that the mayor’s dithering is delaying the city’s comeback.

Pressed for the whereabouts of his full recovery plan at a January press conference, de Blasio said he would focus his February State of the City speech and agenda on the city’s economic revival. After jumping from just under 4% to over 20%, the city's unemployment rate is at roughly 11%, though it's unclear how many New Yorkers are not included in that figure because they've dropped out of the workforce altogether.

The mayor’s announcement in September -- dubbed “New York City’s Recovery Agenda” -- was big on assurances and scarce on detail. He called it “the pillars of our future” and said the pandemic had made it abundantly clear that “There is no economic health without public health.”

It came after the mayor had been slow to allow restaurants to use outdoor space then dragged his feet for months more before allowing retail stores to do similarly. He made no effort at creative solutions for business or the arts during the summer months when infection rates were low and the weather warm.

The September presentation included new plans to expand lab and testing capacity with the private sector to continue battling the pandemic as new infections had begun to spike. He said the city would invest in new health research and development facilities and establish a Public Health Corps of community workers. He made a vague pledge to “encourage the creation of new, high-quality jobs” and to advance policies to fight economic and health inequities through “better use of public spaces, a more equitable transit system, and small business recovery, all of which are critical to a healthy and thriving city.”

Asked about the limited agenda he was offering after so many months of economic devastation in the city and the relatively calm summer months of virus spread, de Blasio said, “Like every other blueprint in the world, we want to lay out how we get there. To me, you start with a big vision strategy in all great endeavors, and then you put together a blueprint and it gets more and more specific as you go along. So what we'll give you in the coming weeks is the next steps on how we get there and then we're going to learn by doing as with everything else.”

Fast forward four more months to January and little of what the mayor had proposed is September has materialized in any coherent form. A small number of additional announcements have been made, including in recent days, while he has repeatedly pointed to February for his State of the City, which will occur roughly one month before the one year anniversary of the city’s near-shutdown in March 2020 and one year since his last State of the City speech, which included his pre-pandemic “Save Our City” agenda.

Since the September 2020 announcement, the mayor’s office has issued 12 press releases pegged as part of the “Recovery Agenda,” but some are mere continuation of the regular work of his government. They included an announcement on extending outdoor dining year round, guidelines for outdoor dining in the winter, an expansion of open streets and a new open storefront program. But there were also four announcements on bus lane improvements and new protected bike lanes, work that was already underway through the Vision Zero and Better Buses programs. There have been three new initiatives: a $20 million investment in a Pandemic Response Institute, $37 million for small business support in low-to-moderate income neighborhoods, and a solicitation to build a hub of climate-focused businesses and nonprofits on Governors Island (though the process to rezone the island for these purposes began in 2018). 

When asked at a January 5 news conference if he had a comprehensive economic recovery plan, de Blasio said he would have more to present throughout January, at his State of the City speech, and during the rest of 2021, his last year in office. “The bottom line to me is I feel very, very positive about where the city's going to go in 2021 and beyond,” he said. “We're already seeing some very promising signs, real investments coming into the city in our technology community, life sciences, a lot of what is going to indicate the future of New York City.” 

He insisted that the first priority is to ensure a successful program to vaccinate city residents against the coronavirus, fitting a pattern where despite his assurances otherwise de Blasio has shown that he mostly cannot multitask on more than one big challenge at a time. “But we're going to flesh out a detailed plan and not just a plan, a lot of very specific announcements that'll be happening this year about how we build our economy up, bring back jobs, and recover and move forward as a city. I'm very optimistic,” he added.

He previewed part of the State of the City agenda on Thursday, announcing four grants worth $38 million as part of the city’s LifeSci NYC initiative, a $500 million pledge first launched in 2017. And he announced that the $210-million New York City Acquisition Fund, launched in 2007 to build affordable housing, will now exclusively focus on minority- and women-owned businesses and community-based nonprofit developers.

“Recovery – we're going to keep talking about it. We're going to focus on it constantly, because the momentum is growing all the time,” he said. “Every single time a New Yorker gets vaccinated, every shot in the arm is another step towards our recovery. And the recovery is going to come with a lot of energy, a lot of activity, a lot of new jobs, a lot of jobs coming back, a lot of things we need. But it's not, again, just an effort to re-establish the status quo that existed before the pandemic. That is not our mission. Our mission is to create something different and better. Our mission is to address inequity more deeply and create more opportunity for all. This is a crucial element of the right kind of recovery.”

The coronavirus has devastated entire industries, particularly service, hospitality, tourism, and small businesses, and there has been insufficient relief from all levels of government. De Blasio’s $92.3 billion preliminary budget proposal released last week did little to assuage fears that his administration has a clear vision for an uncertain future. The mayor did announce additional funds for the vaccination and test and trace programs, tax relief for homeowners, and disbursements for child care, WiFi in homeless shelters, emergency food assistance, the 311 helpline, social and emotional learning programs, and the restoration of the Summer Youth Employment Program. De Blasio insisted that much of the recovery will depend on additional federal aid and stimulus and if the city can avoid cuts from the state, which has its own budget deficit.

Though urban and economic experts concede that the mayor is juggling multiple crises, they’ve been disappointed with his play-it-by-ear approach. Even their optimism about the city’s prospects under President Joe Biden and the new Democrat-led federal government likely to send more money to the city is tempered by de Blasio’s lack of vision. 

“As hard as it is, the administration does need to fight three intertwined crises: health, economic, and fiscal. It needs to do all three at once,” said Andrew Rein, president of Citizens Budget Commission, a nonprofit fiscal watchdog and policy think tank. “Obviously, the health piece is so proximate that it gets a lot of attention. But New York needs to not only survive the pandemic recession, it needs to thrive after it. So we need the economic piece to be strong.” 

“The workload is heavy. But you have to be able to address what you need to do today and plan for tomorrow, the next month, the next year, frankly the next few years. And we haven't seen enough of that. We just haven't,” he added. 

Rein pointed out what most others have said, that the mayor needs to take an all-of-New York approach that includes stakeholders from big and small businesses, nonprofits and corporations, and every industry and cross-section. De Blasio would have to set aside his contentious attitude towards the city’s biggest businesses and their leaders, which seemed to be acting as a roadblock in the early months of the pandemic. More than 160 top business leaders would later go on to pen an open letter to the mayor in September, offering their assistance and urging him to “take immediate action to restore essential services as a necessary precursor for solving the city’s longer term, complex, economic challenges.”

He dismissed it. 

“So far, we haven't seen that level of wide-ranging, coordinated planning that this will require,” said Eli Dvorkin, editorial and policy director at Center for an Urban Future, a nonprofit think tank focused on the economy, jobs, and equitable opportunity.

The mayor had given an indication he was trying, but it did not pan out as promised. In April 2020, he announced a series of task forces and advisory councils that covered education, public health, labor, surface transportation, businesses, construction and real estate, faith and clergy, nonprofits and social services, arts, culture and tourism. But there’s scant proof that those were more than just lip service to planning, as none of the panels have issued any public reports. Rather, there’s evidence to the contrary, that the mayor has repeatedly ignored his own appointed advisors.  

Politico New York reported in July that City Hall had convened a “Recovery Kitchen Cabinet” of experts and industry leaders to plan the city’s recovery, but subsequently mothballed its report because the panel was “‘terrifyingly monolithic’ — too white and too pro-business, according to an administration official familiar with the matter.” Then, in early September, members of the surface transportation panel released an open letter to the mayor for failing to follow their recommendations. The mayor’s botched attempt to reopen city schools that same month, which was delayed twice at the last minute, was also made against the advice of his education panel, according to a New York Times report. Members of the small business council told Gotham Gazette in October that the panel hadn’t been convened in months and that their voices were falling on deaf ears. 

“These are difficult issues and it's smart to try to get the best ideas from the widest possible range of people. The problem is that once you solicit that input, you have to run with it,” Dvorkin said. He did praise the mayor for taking steps to “stanch the bleeding” from the coronavirus and to bring the pandemic under control. “But we need to see a similar level of focus and execution around the response to the economic crisis,” he said. 

Chiefly, Dvorkin said the city needs to plan for the industries that will spring up after the pandemic is over and how the nature of work will change. The administration, he said, should be investing in apprenticeship programs, workforce development, job training, CUNY and community colleges, and partnering with employers to ensure that New Yorkers have equitable access to those new jobs. “That's planning that should have started at the onset of the pandemic and I would hope that there would be a little more to show for it at this point,” he said.   

“It's pretty clear we can't have an inclusive recovery, if we don't have a recovery in the first place,” said Dvorkin. “In having such a clear focus on the impact of the crisis, it's past time to really focus on how we dig ourselves out of it.”

There are illustrative examples of the mayor’s lagging approach. He announced his Open Storefronts plan at the end of October, months after small businesses and business associations had been calling for it and it would have been especially useful during warmer weather. In the intervening time, businesses were shuttering left and right and people were losing their jobs. When it did launch, business leaders criticized it as far too limited and too late. And as the City Council took steps to support arts and culture by passing legislation in December to create an outdoor arts program, de Blasio has done nothing for the sector, which is an important economic driver for the city. Meanwhile, Governor Andrew Cuomo filled the void and announced a major arts program as part of his State of the State agenda this month, with key planks focused in New York City. 

CBC’s Rein said the mayor needs to present plans of growth for jobs, the economy, and housing as the basis for any recovery, provide direct support to small, medium, and large businesses, and ensure that the city’s schools remain open and attractive. “New York City government has to be a better partner, they need better customer service,” he said, about reducing regulations and red tape for businesses. But, overall, he said, “You need to, in a certain sense, carve out some of your staff, your intellectual capacity, and then your operational time to move on these fronts.”

As the mayor has hemmed and hawed on offering more details, the governor advanced several proposals and programs in his State of the State that will particularly help the city with its recovery. Along with the arts program, that includes several infrastructure projects on the west side of Manhattan, an offshore wind turbine hub in Brooklyn, and a commission to examine the future of jobs, among his broader ideas.

The “Recovery Kitchen Cabinet” had proposed a series of projects and schemes to the mayor, and some appeared especially up his alley like expanding affordable broadband to all NYCHA properties. Several others were long-term initiatives and would involve additional funds that could be hard to spare during the city’s budget crunch. But there are several proposals that the mayor could easily take up, either on his own or with government partners. For instance, legalizing short-term rentals of apartments, organizing festivals and brand campaigns to promote the city, partnering with philanthropic organizations to create an Arts and Culture Emergency Recovery Fund, temporarily increasing filming permits and easing restrictions, reforming nonprofit contracting, suspending fines and fees for small businesses, offering tax holidays, and more. 

Maulin Mehta, a senior associate at the Regional Plan Association, acknowledged the tough hand de Blasio is playing, and said the recovery may well have to fall to the next mayor. “Because we're still in this health crisis, it's going to be very difficult to start actually moving on some of the economic recovery pieces that are important,” he said. Instead, he insisted that de Blasio should try to solicit feedback from the communities and industries that have been hardest hit by the pandemic and set in motion the planning process that his successor can take to the finish line.

“Be the conduit between the public sector, the nonprofit sector, the private sector, and start that kind of planning so that when the new leadership comes in, they can kind of pick up the ball and keep moving with it,” Mehta said. “I think it'll be tragic if a new leader comes in and has to start from scratch to get the ball rolling because we really should start seeing movement once there's a transition.”

Nicole Gelinas, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a think tank, said the mayor’s focus should be on Midtown Manhattan, the core of the city’s business that has been hollowed out but pre-pandemic accounted for a significant portion of economic activity, revenue base, and tens of thousands of jobs, particularly in retail. “It’s a centrifugal force. If we don't emerge from this with a healthy Midtown, in the long term it really does hurt the boroughs and it hurts the tri-state region,” she said. 

Gelinas floated several ideas to balance the need to maintain public health while also encouraging people to return. Workers could come back one day a week, the city could partner with restaurants and retail stores, or offer discounted vouchers for Metro North or the Long Island Rail Road. “Quality of life issues, quality of commute issues, I think that those things should be at the top of the mayor’s mind,” she added. 

She did commend the mayor for taking steps to pursue some surface transportation improvements such as the protected bike lane on 6th Avenue. “We should be doing much more and much more aggressively, the things we did with transportation starting over the summer and giving people an alternative way to get to work if they're kind of leery of using the transit system,” she said. 

One danger on the horizon for which there seems to be barely any preparation, Gelinas said, is the fate of rental housing and how both tenants and landlords will emerge from the crisis. As Gelinas noted, if market rents continue to decline, they will not be able to subsidize the creation of affordable housing under the mayor’s housing plan. And for tenants that have been unable to pay rent for months, it is unclear what will happen or be in place once the eviction moratorium lifts. 

“If people need help getting the aid they're supposed to be getting, then they should be in the system to start getting that help,” Gelinas said. “We should be starting to quantify how many of the people not paying the rent are undocumented immigrants, how many have actually left their apartments and let's get that process started. We have very little information about this...There are a lot of smaller landlords that need this rental money to be coming in. So if this housing sort of becomes abandoned housing, then that's a real problem.”

Governor Cuomo, in his State of the State agenda, has proposed allowing conversions of vacant office and hotel space to housing as one solution to Midtown’s woes. De Blasio said on NY1 on January 11 that the idea “sounds sensible” but “the question is going to be the resources to pay for that, especially in the middle of a fiscal crisis.”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Despite Assurances, De Blasio Yet to Release Recovery Plan for City's Devastated Economy Sun, 24 Jan 2021 05:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: De Blasio's 2020 'Save Our City' Agenda his 7 sotc

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)

February 12, 2020 - Max & Murphy Podcast: De Blasio's 2020 Agenda

PodcastMax & Murphy discussed Mayor de Blasio's "Save Our City" State of the City theme and the outline of his agenda as it relates to his time in office so far.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy," and listen to Max & Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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Max & Murphy Podcast: De Blasio's 2020 'Save Our City' Agenda Wed, 12 Feb 2020 05:00:00 +0000
In State of the City, De Blasio Outlines Agenda to 'Save Our City' from Unaffordability, Underperforming Schools, Unsafe Streets, Unlivable Climate seventh address

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)

Mayor Bill de Blasio, now in his seventh year in office, unveiled his “blueprint to save our city” at his annual State of the City speech on Thursday.

Echoing a similar message from his State of the City speech last year, the mayor sought to highlight the anxiety and uncertainty among New Yorkers who feel the unending pressures of living here, whether it be the cost of doing business, providing a good life for children, worrying about the effects of climate change, or just simply paying the rent.

In a break from past speeches, de Blasio held court in a town hall-like format at the American Museum of Natural History’s Milstein Hall of Ocean Life, known for its iconic model of a blue whale suspended from the ceiling. De Blasio stood dead center surrounded by rows of white chairs, rather than speaking from a lectern, and though he did not field any audience questions, it was more of an interactive performance than prior speeches.

“I felt it was time for something different,” he said of the setup, which eschewed prepared remarks on a teleprompter but used a script projected on a screen as well as slides with bullet points and graphics. “It was time to be blunt. It was time for real talk.”

The mayor spoke of a sense of urgency he says he has for the remainder of his tenure, and of the fears of displacement that he encounters in New Yorkers across the city. “Every town hall meeting I go to, every conversation I have more and more turns to the same problem,” he said. “No one wants to leave but they are being forced out. Or if they haven’t been displaced yet, it’s a constant worry,” he said. “The challenge now is not crime, the challenge now is greed. Greed that is afflicting all of us.”

He pledged new ideas, tweaked existing plans, and additional resources to boost small business, create more affordable housing for lower-income New Yorkers, ensure higher quality schools and safer streets for kids, and limit city carbon emissions that hurt the environment and contribute to climate change.

“From making Pre-K universal, to creating the safest big city in America, we have accomplished so much together, but we need to go much farther," de Blasio said in a statement released just before he took the stage, where he was introduced by his wife, Chirlane McCray. "We must make New York City easier to afford, protect the mom-and-pop businesses that make New York, New York, and hand this city back to the people who make it so great.”

Seemingly taking stock of a storefront vacancy crisis, as small businesses close down in the city, de Blasio announced several measures that he said would aid about 28,000 businesses. He said the city would invest $500 million from the city’s $215.5 billion pension fund system into local businesses. He pledged to push for a Landlord Vacancy Tax before the state Legislature, to pressure landlords into renting their properties to small businesses rather than wait for tenants that can pay higher rents. And he announced that he would create a “Blue Ribbon Commercial Rent Control Commission,” tasked with crafting ways to shield businesses from exorbitant rent increases, with a deadline of delivering recommendations by the end of the year.

The mayor touted the success of his administration’s push to cut fines on small businesses, as much as 40% so far, he said, and promised to continue that effort to reach 50% by the end of his tenure. It will have put $26 million back into the pockets of business owners, he said. 

He also promised a slew of measures to assist small businesses, including expanding small business navigators that can help with permits and licenses and providing free legal services and low-interest loans to low-income business owners. 

The mayor has repeatedly touted the success of his housing plan – according to city data, the administration has created and preserved 147,933 units of rent-restricted housing through December 31, 2019 – but amid ongoing criticism that the housing is not affordable enough for low-income New Yorkers and after several resets and course corrections already, he announced yet another on Thursday. Calling it “Your Home NYC,” the mayor outlined several initiatives in the next phase of his housing program.

De Blasio said the city would help keep another 78,000 New Yorkers in their affordable homes, after having already done this for 255,000 people. He said half of all new homes built with city financing would be set aside for families with an annual income of less than $50,000, and that half of those would go to families with an annual income of less than $30,000. He estimated that would create 2,000 additional new units for low-income residents than previously outlined in his 12-year, 300,000-unit plan, though not adding to the sum total.

Exerting leverage over homes financed with city money, the mayor said the city would offer renters the choice to either pay security deposits up front or allow monthly installments through a renter security insurance program, which he said will start with 60,000 homes. 

He also said he would push the state Legislature to expand tenant protections, including the security deposit measure, for the roughly 2.5 million New Yorkers that don’t live in rent-regulated apartments, building on the ground-breaking tenant-friendly legislative package approved last year in Albany.

De Blasio said his administration would further support Community Land Trusts to allow communities to invest in development and build wealth, and said he would push to legalize basement apartments to create 10,000 legal affordable housing units over ten years. He said the city would provide low-interest loans to homeowners choosing to convert their basements.

In a somewhat controversial move, the mayor’s new NYPD Commissioner, Dermot Shea, announced late last month that the department will deploy 300 Youth Coordination Officers across the city as a measure to prevent youth crime. De Blasio touted that initiative in his speech and said he would build on it with several youth safety measures including expanding opening hours at recreation centers and providing free membership to young people, reopening six closed community centers and building seven new ones. He also said the city would install new safe streets infrastructure around schools – 1,000 new stop lights, signs, and speed bumps in total.

He also announced the creation of a new 100-member NYPD Vision Zero unit to increase traffic enforcement and continue to reduce traffic-related fatalities amid an increase in pedestrian and cyclist deaths.

A signature early achievement of the mayor was his universal pre-kindergarten program, which he expanded on with a “3-K for All” plan to eventually provide early childhood education to all 3-year-olds. The mayor boasted of its success, as he noted that the 3-K program will roll out to another four school districts in September, which will mean coverage of half of all school districts. 

De Blasio committed, or rather predicted, that the city’s school graduation rate would reach 86% by 2026, up from 77.3%, surpassing the nation’s average five years after he leaves office. He said the Department of Education would increase its focus on performance metrics to identify trends and send resources where they are required, in part through enhancing the use of the new EduStat program that the DOE has modeled after the NYPD’s CompStat that uses data analysis and accountability through the chain of command. And he announced a goal of placing 1,000 new men of color in teaching positions by 2022.

The mayor also spoke of another early childhood care initiative which was first announced by First Lady McCray on Wednesday – a new $43 million program to provide home visiting services to all first-time parents by 2024. The program is expected to launch in Brooklyn this year and next, before moving to other boroughs. 

The speech contained an ambitious expansion of the de Blasio administration’s “Green New Deal” efforts, first launched by the mayor in April last year, to make the city carbon neutral.

The mayor unveiled several new plans. He said the city will create a new wind power hub at the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal in Sunset Park, for staging, installing and operating turbines. The hub will add 500 green jobs, the mayor said.

The city will also launch an initiative to increase the use of solar power, allowing homeowners to defray costs of installing solar panels by paying out of savings on their energy bills over the course of years. He said the city would help install panels on 50,000 homes, creating 5,000 green jobs.

Using the authority afforded by his office, de Blasio signed three executive orders on the spot – to end the purchase of single-use plastic bottles by city agencies and restrict the sale of those bottles on city property by next year; to mandate that all city vehicles be electric by 2040; and to codify the city’s policy of divesting from fossil fuel infrastructure and ensuring no new fossil fuel infrastructure projects are approved in the city.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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In State of the City, De Blasio Outlines Agenda to 'Save Our City' from Unaffordability, Underperforming Schools, Unsafe Streets, Unlivable Climate Thu, 06 Feb 2020 05:00:00 +0000
In State of the City, De Blasio Promises More from Government to Improve New Yorkers' 'Quality of Life' deblasio appleton

Mayor de Blasio gives his 2019 State of the City (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

Delivered his sixth State of the City address on Thursday, Mayor Bill de Blasio loftily touted his accomplishments of the last five years and pledged ambitious efforts to make New York City “the fairest big city in the country.” Speaking at the Symphony Space on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, the mayor unveiled new ideas aimed at improving the lives of working New Yorkers and reiterated sweeping proposals that he announced earlier this week on everything from health care to paid vacation days, early childhood education to bus speeds, and much more. He also outlined much, if not all, of the agenda he wants passed at the state level this year.

Before a packed auditorium filled with fellow elected officials -- including Attorney General Letitia James, City Comptroller Scott Stringer, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, City Council members, state legislators, and congressional representatives -- de Blasio spent nearly an hour invoking the themes of the “tale of two cities” that first got him elected mayor in 2013, with a newly stated focus on improving people’s “quality of life” and underscoring a call for the redistribution of income.

“Life in the fairest big city in America should never feel impossible,” he said, speaking of the personal struggle that he and First Lady Chirlane McCray faced when raising their children and also caring for their ailing parents. “We shouldn’t feel such pressure on the quality of our lives.”

The mayor articulated how working New Yorkers feel those pressures, and vowed new initiatives to provide relief. “Millions of people in this city, tens of millions across the country, are boxed in to lives that just aren't working for them,” he said. “You haven't been paid what you deserve for all the hard work. You haven't been given the time you deserve. You're not living the life you deserve.”

Among those proposals were two that the mayor announced this week, garnering national attention by releasing the announcements through national media. The first is an expansion of the city’s health care programs to provide care to 600,000 uninsured residents by increasing enrollment of insurance-eligible individuals in the city’s public option, MetroPlus, and by creating NYC Care, which would give undocumented immigrants and those who won’t or otherwise can’t join MetroPlus access to primary and specialty care, mental health services, and more. NYC Care, which aims to provide a health care card to as many eligible individuals as possible and match all of them to a primary care doctor, is expected to cost $100 million annually once fully implemented by 2021.

The second proposal is a push for City Council legislation, sponsored by Council Member Jumaane Williams since 2014, to guarantee two weeks of paid personal time to workers, which the city estimates could affect more than 500,000 full-time and part-time employees who currently receive no paid time off. It would apply to anyone working at a company or organization of more than five employees.

“For decades, working people have gotten more and more productive,” the mayor said. “At the same time, they've gotten a smaller and smaller share of the wealth they create. Here's the truth...there's plenty of money in the world. There's plenty of money in this city. It's just in the wrong hands.”

Though de Blasio has repeatedly called on state lawmakers to increase taxes on higher earners, and he did so again on Thursday, de Blasio has not convinced Governor Andrew Cuomo or state legislators to follow his pleas. Appearing somewhat resigned to that fact, even in a new Albany era where Democrats control the executive and legislative branches, de Blasio laid out a variety of other proposals he believes will foster greater equity.

Riding high on his successive policy announcements, the mayor seemed more emboldened and enthusiastic than during past State of the City addresses, which have at times been more sobering. Last year’s speech contained few novel ideas save for his announcement that he would convene a Charter Revision Commission to explore campaign finance reforms and improvements to voting and civic participation (the commission’s eventual proposals, including lower campaign contribution limits, a new civic engagement commission, and term limits for community board members, were overwhelmingly approved by voters in November). And that speech came on the heels of a successful 2017 reelection campaign in which de Blasio offered almost no new policy plans, largely pledging to deepen and expand ongoing work.

The mayor had more to offer on Thursday, though much of what he discussed also fits under the category of expanding existing programs, like a faster rollout of his 3-K initiative to provide free early education to three-year-olds. He announced a number of new proposals including expanding the mandate of the city’s consumer affairs department. De Blasio rechristened the agency the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection, reflecting its new responsibilities of safeguarding the interests of all temporary and permanent workers, even undocumented ones, with a new focus, he said, on freelancers, nannies, and others who may not have traditional benefits through their employers.

The mayor also signed an executive order on the spot to create a new Mayor’s Office to Protect Tenants, aimed at tamping down tenant abuse and combating predatory landlord practices. He also vowed that in cases of the worst landlords, who fail to rectify their behavior after repeated fines and violations, the city would move to seize buildings and transfer them to nonprofit management. It’s unclear whether the new mayoral office’s mandate would overlap with the Department of Buildings’ Office of Tenant Advocate, which was created by the City Council through legislation passed in 2017.

De Blasio also announced new public transportation initiatives, including an expansion of the NYC Ferry system, such as connecting Staten Island to the west side of Manhattan, and improvements to the bus system to ensure faster travel time, installing new protected bus lanes and an NYPD tow unit dedicated to keeping those lanes free of parked cars.

He did of course make it clear that the greatest transit priority for the city was funding the MTA to fix the subways -- he reiterated his support for a dedicated additional tax on high earners -- but seemed to acknowledge there’s more momentum for other options like congestion pricing, which he has warmed to without actually expressing support for. He called on his fellow elected officials to lobby the state before the budget is due on April 1. “In the next 80 days, the fate of the MTA, the fate of our subways and buses, will be determined once and for all,” he said.

Boasting of the success of his universal pre-kindergarten program, de Blasio also touted the expansion of prekindergarten to 3-year-olds, which he announced in 2017. The program is expected to reach 20,000 children in the coming school year, he said, outlining several new neighborhoods where the program will open soon. He also announced a new plan to recruit and retain more teachers at schools in the Bronx and an expansion of an existing partnership with Warby Parker to give free eye exams and glasses to kindergartners and first-graders across the city.

Early in the speech the mayor reviewed what he sees as some of his major successes, including early childhood education, higher graduation rates, record-low crime and traffic fatalities, more tenant protection, paid sick leave and a higher minimum wage, and more. He very briefly mentioned areas of significant challenge to his administration, such as management of crumbling public housing and reducing homelessness.

At different points, de Blasio ticked off aspects of what he wants to see from state government this year, especially from now until a new state budget is due April 1, a list topped by MTA funding, but also including criminal justice and voting reforms, an extension of mayoral control of city schools, and stronger rent regulations that help protect tenants.

Toward the end of the speech, de Blasio said the city would help establish retirement plans for all workers who lack them in the city. In 2016, the mayor had attempted to move forward with a “Retirement Security for All” plan but it was eventually hamstrung by federal regulatory changes signed by President Donald Trump in 2017. City Council Members Ben Kallos and I. Daneek Miller reintroduced the legislation before the Council earlier this year and heralded the mayor’s announcement, which follows a new state law with a similar goal. The city plans to help workers set up private retirement accounts and may mandate some businesses to offer the option for workers to make contributions to their accounts, but no public or private money will be contributed to the accounts, only a portion of workers’ income, if they choose to participate.

“This country has spent decades taking from working people and giving to the one percent,” de Blasio said. “This city has spent the last five years doing it the other way around. We give back to working people the prosperity they have earned. And we are just getting started.”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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In State of the City, De Blasio Promises More from Government to Improve New Yorkers' 'Quality of Life' Thu, 10 Jan 2019 05:00:00 +0000
De Blasio Gives Little Mention to Several Major Challenges in State of the City Speech sotcoffice

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)

As Mayor Bill de Blasio touted significant accomplishments of his five years in office and laid out a new agenda for expanding his fight against inequality during his Thursday State of the City speech, he made little or no mention of a number of important challenges facing the city and his mayoralty.

It’s no coincidence, of course, that the mayor barely mentioned the city’s public housing, which is crumbling, mismanaged, and mired in negotiations with federal authorities over its future, or many other issues he must deal with in 2019 and beyond. De Blasio’s opportunity to shape the narrative around the state of the city under his leadership was a chance for him to discuss safer streets, low crime, high employment, and the expansion of city government that he has overseen in his efforts to provide more of a safety net and greater equality. The annual event also afforded him the venue to lay out the next steps of his vision, and he certainly couldn’t address every issue, but after all the tumult around NYCHA in 2018, it spoke volumes how little the mayor spoke about the city’s public housing, as well as other topics of great importance.

“We're also showing public housing residents that we can begin to reverse decades of disinvestment and make their lives better,” de Blasio said, at the start of his sixth year in office. “The New York City Housing Authority has a plan to bring brand new everything to 175,000 NYCHA residents, from new roofs to new kitchens and bathrooms,” he added, but did not mention what is being done for the other 225,000-plus residents, or the issues of lead abatement and heat and hot water outages. He did not try to explain to or sell the city on his recently-released and controversial plan to increase the amount of new housing development on NYCHA land to bring in much-needed revenue to make repairs.

But NYCHA wasn’t the only important challenge he left mostly or completely on the sideline. De Blasio made minimal mention of the city’s ongoing homelessness crisis and what he’s doing about it, though he did discuss plans to enhance efforts to prevent evictions.

“We still grapple with too many people in this town who need our help because they're homeless,” he said, and highlighted that his administration has “moved more than 2,000 homeless New Yorkers off the streets and into a permanent situation where they can be taken care of and they can get the help they need” and that the city has closed 180 shelters. But he did not use the pulpit to reiterate his plan of opening up dozens of new shelters or to remind New Yorkers that all must work together to help those in need, including by accepting the opening of shelters in their neighborhoods.

The limited attention to what de Blasio has repeatedly said is his top failure as mayor reinforces the timidity of his goal of reducing the shelter census from roughly 62,000 to 57,500 over five years, and his refusal to adjust his affordable housing plan to provide more homes to those coming out of shelter.

De Blasio did not talk at all about increases in rape reports, failing to address the issue head on and assure New Yorkers that they should continue to report such crimes and that the city is enhancing its efforts to both prosecute offenders and help survivors. He did not mention police accountability, despite the fact that the officer whose chokehold led to Eric Garner’s 2014 death is about to stand trial at the NYPD and the police commissioner has empaneled a special commission to suggest improvements to the disciplinary system that has regularly led to few, if any, consequences for officers who break the public trust. He did not discuss efforts to reduce racial disparities in law enforcement, even as he touted how arrests and the jail population are down significantly since he took office, while most major crimes are also down.

The mayor made a very brief mention of corporate giant Amazon agreeing to build a new campus in Queens, despite the fact that just two months ago he announced the deal among the city, the state, and Amazon as a major victory for the city and its residents. That deal has been the subject of intense protests from elected officials and activists, with de Blasio distancing himself from some of the subsidies involved and insisting that while it’s a big net positive for New Yorkers, he’ll be working with Amazon on its labor practices, relationship with federal immigration authorities, and more. De Blasio shied away from centering the Amazon deal in his argument for how New York is becoming a more fair city with opportunity for everyone.

Early on in his remarks, he said, “New York City is now one of the world's premiere tech hubs, and all those jobs are now here for the people of New York City. The major new announcements from Amazon and Google show that the world's most innovative companies want to be here, and they want to hire New Yorkers.” And that was it for Amazon.

Even as he repeatedly talked about efforts to make New York “the fairest big city in the country,” de Blasio made no mention of the new Fair Fares program whereby low-income New Yorkers will get reduced-priced Metrocards to more easily ride the subways and buses. The glaring omission of a program the mayor just held a mostly celebratory press conference about reinforces the notion that he has not prioritized Fair Fares, which he rolled out late and in underwhelming fashion.

De Blasio did not address the city’s most-struggling schools, even as more of them face potential closure and his program to rescue them, Renewal Schools, is not showing the results that were hoped for, even promised. He announced an expanded program to get free eyeglasses to young students who need them and additional neighborhoods that will see his 3-K program for three-year-olds, and he talked up the city’s graduation rate, but he did not dive into the most difficult aspects of the education system he runs, like work to integrate the city’s deeply segregated schools, even as he talked about needing state government approval later this year to allow him to keep running it.

De Blasio also did not talk about impending neighborhood rezonings, where the city is aiming to add to its list of communities where it has changed land use rules in order to build more housing, some of it affordable, and make investments as part of the mayor’s much-discussed housing plan.

That housing plan and some of the rezonings that have occurred have been the target of significant criticism as de Blasio has repeatedly dismissed calls for his housing plan to better serve lower-income New Yorkers and people experiencing homelessness, though he has tweaked the plan multiple times. He has also been questioned for almost exclusively upzoning low-income communities of color, as opposed to seeking more housing density, including many affordable units, in wealthier, whiter neighborhoods.

Like on other fronts, it was a missed opportunity to make a very public pitch for his plans, lay markers, and sway public opinion behind them.

While the mayor raised many eyebrows and grabbed some national headlines with something of a reinvigorated approach to his annual speech and several new and exciting proposals -- from increasing bus speeds to mandating paid vacation time, some of which, if implemented well, promise to improve people's lives -- he glossed over several significant crises facing the city, leaving others to give a more sober assessment of its state.

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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De Blasio Gives Little Mention to Several Major Challenges in State of the City Speech Thu, 10 Jan 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Can the De Blasio Administration Really Register 1.5 Million More Voters? Mayor de Blasio voting

Mayor de Blasio voting (photo: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio recently announced a DemocracyNYC plan. One big goal: “to register 1.5 million New Yorkers to vote over the next four years.”
To make this work the mayor will create a new city leadership post: Chief Democracy Officer. How hard will it be for this new chief to meet the mayor’s goal?

Let’s do some rough math, based upon recent enrollment, census, and vital statistics data:

According to estimates in the most recent American Community Survey, there were 5,402,352 citizens of voting age in New York City in 2016 (plus or minus 22,325).

According to the state Board of Elections, in November of 2017 there were 5,053,842 registered voters in the city. That’s 93.5% of the eligible citizens.

Let’s make two initial assumptions to maximize the number of potential additional registrants among those of voting age now to make the CDO’s job more possible. First we’ll put aside reasons for disqualification other than age that would further reduce the number of those eligible but not registered (in prison or on parole for a felony, judged mentally incompetent by a court, voting elsewhere). Second, we’ll add that 22,325 to the estimate – that is, make the high side assumption of the number of age- eligible citizens while remaining within the statistical range of error.

That results in 370,835 citizens who are of voting age now and not registered.

Additionally, there are about 372,000 teenagers in New York City who will reach the age of 18 in the next four years. Of all people in the city over the age of 18, about four in five (80.5%) are citizens. The percentage of citizens among younger people, many born here of immigrant parents, is likely higher. They are not all citizens, but again let’s count more rather than fewer as likely to be eligible to register to vote: 9 in 10 of them. That would be 334,800.

That brings the available target total of potential new registrants to 705,635.

People from elsewhere in the country or living abroad (but not new immigrants) will move into and out of the city during the mayor’s second term. For now let’s just consider those moving in. Some will be children. Some won’t be citizens. A high side assumption from past experience of the number who can be registered: 200,000.

That brings us to 905,635 potential registrants.

Uh oh. We are 594,365 short.

Of course there are all those people who move within the city. They change their addresses. They need to re-register. Maybe the mayor meant to include them; he did not say the Chief Democracy Officer would have to find “new” registrants. So let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. Again we have to watch out for kids, non-citizens, and those already included in our count as not registered. Estimating from federal statistics on people moving annually within and between counties for 2011-2015, it looks like 483,000 is a reasonable number.

Still not there: 1,388,022 (OK, though, we’re getting within shouting distance). To meet the mayor’s goal the Chief Democracy Officer must find about 112,000 more people eligible to register in the next four years, and register them all. Where?

But wait a minute, that’s just the additions. How about the subtractions?

The Empire Center and others have noted that New York City’s population continues to grow every year because immigrants from abroad outnumber the many already living here who are leaving. Less noticed, most of those leaving are voters or vote-eligible, while those who are arriving are non-citizens. A conservative estimate is that 189,000 actual or potential registrants will move out of the city over the next four years.

Finally, there’s mortality. About 212,000 New Yorkers will die during Mayor de Blasio’s second term, more than 95% of whom are voting age. Of course, some - probably a smaller portion than for the city population as a whole - will be non-citizens. A reasonable, conservative estimate is that death will reduce New York City’s potential electorate by 171,000.

One-hundred-eighty-nine thousand plus 171,000 equals 360,000. Departure and mortality will reduce the city’s potential electorate in the next four years by about 6.5%.

-Registering 1.5 million people to vote in New York City over the next four years is an impossible dream.

-Registering all of the age-eligible citizens now in the city won’t significantly expand the current electorate; it will keep it about the same size.

-The largest pool of potential registrants during Mayor de Blasio’s second term is comprised of people living in the city who are already registered, but changed their addresses.

-It would be truly extraordinary if the city’s voting roles grew by half-a-million registrants in the next four years.

The bottom line: If I were asked to be the new Chief Democracy Officer, the first thing I’d do is some serious counting. Then I’d call the mayor, to renegotiate the voter registration goal.

Gerald Benjamin is Director of The Benjamin Center at SUNY New Paltz.

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Can the De Blasio Administration Really Register 1.5 Million More Voters? Tue, 06 Mar 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Analyzing De Blasio's State of the City Address mxm logo

Ben Max, left, of Gotham Gazette, and Jarrett Murphy, right, of City Limits

February 14, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Analyzing De Blasio's State of the City Address

johnmollenkopf 150x150

John Mollenkopf has been studying and writing about New York City politics and government for decades. Mollenkopf, who is a distinguished professor and director of urban research at the CUNY Graduate Center, joined the podcast to analyze Mayor Bill de Blasio's 2018 State of the City speech, and assess where de Blasio is in his quest to make New York "the fairest big city in America." While he calls de Blasio a friend and agrees with much of the mayor's approach, Mollenkopf gave clear-eyed assessments of de Blasio's speech and politics, while also helping to put de Blasio's tenure, speech, and policies in historical perspective.

Listen to the full conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the episode through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts.

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Analyzing De Blasio's State of the City Address Wed, 14 Feb 2018 05:00:00 +0000
De Blasio Promises Fairness, Democracy in State of the City Address De Blasio State of the City 2018

Mayor de Blasio delivers his 2018 State of the City (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

Mayor Bill de Blasio delivered his first State of the City speech of his second and final term at the Kings Theater in Brooklyn on Tuesday evening, mostly retreading old ground on policy while exploring new ways to improve the city’s “battered” democratic and electoral processes.

De Blasio, a Democrat, made few new policy announcements as he enumerated a 12-point “gameplan” to make the city fairer and safer while improving the lot of the most vulnerable New Yorkers. In resolute tones, the mayor reiterated a variety of major accomplishments and programs from his first term, promising to build on them as he counts down his remaining time leading the city. He did announce plans to call a charter revision commission to evaluate the city’s campaign finance and election systems, and plans to infuse more civics into city schools.

“Three years, ten months, and 15 days. That’s how long this administration has to ensure New York City becomes the fairest big city in America,” de Blasio said, using what is now a common refrain, though a relatively new one for the mayor.

“My mandate to my entire administration is this: Make every decision, whether about policy, or budget, or personnel, with this simple question in mind: Will this action help make us the fairest big city in America?” he said. While de Blasio has still not explained if New York lags behind other cities, large or small, or what policies from elsewhere the city should adopt, on Tuesday night he fleshed out a bit more of what fairness means to him.

As he often does, de Blasio spoke of the city’s unprecedented drop in crime and promised to expand neighborhood policing and the use of body cameras on police officers to make the city even safer while improving police-community relations. Following the success of universal pre-kindergarten, he said his administration is on an “aggressive path” to expand the program to all three-year-olds in the city, citing racial inequities built into the education system. He did not discuss integrating the city’s exceedingly segregated schools.

De Blasio did promise that in the weeks ahead he would address one specific goal of his Equity and Excellence education program -- getting all children reading at grade level by the third grade, when state standardized testing begins.

The mayor touted his ambitious affordable housing program as well, with its goal of preserving and creating 300,000 units of affordable housing by 2026, and emphasized the city’s efforts to ensure that current residents are the ones who benefit from expanded affordability by receiving jobs that pay well. His administration has set out to create 100,000 jobs over ten years that pay at least $50,000 per year each.

The mayor doubled down on what he sees as the city’s role in being “the antidote to broken policies in Washington” on climate change by taking action at the local level including stronger efforts to reduce carbon emissions and transitioning to an all-electric city car fleet.

Although de Blasio sparingly mentioned President Donald Trump and made no direct reference to Governor Andrew Cuomo except to praise him for an early voting funding proposal in the governor’s budget plan, he issued clear warnings about the “big fights ahead in Albany and Washington,” including for education and infrastructure funding, and made several calls on New Yorkers to pressure state leaders for policies like bail and voting reforms.

De Blasio vowed to push the state to provide full education aid to the city under the state Supreme Court’s Campaign for Fiscal Equity decision, and again advocated for a millionaire’s tax to fund the city’s subways and provide half-priced MetroCards to low-income New Yorkers. He made reference to congestion pricing, which he has repeatedly opposed as a “regressive tax” over the last year, but recently warmed to when the governor’s panel made its recommendations. “I believe in progressive taxation,” de Blasio said Tuesday. “That will always be my first goal when it comes to finding revenue. But I will sit down with leaders in Albany, any time, anywhere, to find solutions to the subway crisis.”

The mayor said his “one condition” on congestion pricing is that “the money raised in New York City stays in New York City,” and reiterated his calls for a “lockbox” provision in any new law that installs new fees for traveling into a Manhattan congestion zone.

He called for bail reform and speedy trial reform to pass in Albany, which are crucial to his administration’s goal of reducing the city’s jail population to about 5,000 and closing the Rikers Island jail complex. Later, he emphasized the need for election and voting reforms such as easier absentee voting and same-day voter registration, which would have to be approved by the state legislature.

Though the mayor has little influence in Washington, D.C and on the larger national stage, he nonetheless pledged to fight for the 30,000 New Yorkers and 700,000 Americans who are Dreamers, undocumented immigrants who came or were brought to the country as young people, have lived here for years, and currently face the threat of deportation under Trump.

In a reference to the recently passed federal tax code overhaul, de Blasio also added, “One day, one day soon, after an election or two, we will fight to rescind the Trump giveaways to the wealthy and big corporations.” The mayor’s somewhat cryptic reference to future elections won’t do anything to convince people of his repeated attempts to dispel the notion that he might explore a run for the presidency in 2020.

The mayor also said he would expand ThriveNYC, First Lady Chirlane McCray’s signature mental health program, promising mental health care access to all, and would redouble efforts to combat the opioid epidemic that has touched parts of the city by “increasing prevention, enforcement, and treatment.”

Although de Blasio did not mention the most recent scandals over lead paint and heating failures that have engulfed the city’s already ailing public housing system, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), he touted his administration’s focus on NYCHA and promised to invest further in the system. “Our public housing residents are a priority for me and this administration, and the City Council as well,” he said in forceful defense, during the twelfth of his 12 initial points.

Among a few other specifics, the mayor also promised to ensure gender pay equity through the Commission on Gender Equity and the Commission on Human Rights.

The novel elements of the mayor’s speech came near the end, as he delved into a ten-point “DemocracyNYC” agenda to "shake the foundation of the broken status quo right here in our state and our own city.”

Taking direct aim at the state’s “exclusionary” electoral system and the consistently low voter turnout in the city, de Blasio proposed a plan to reduce the effects of money in politics and to better engage city voters. “We must re-democratize a society that is losing its way,” he said.

De Blasio said he will call a Charter Revision Commission to create a plan for expanding public financing of city elections and reducing donor contribution limits to candidates. Typically, the City Council has legislated reforms to the city’s campaign finance system, which includes generous public matching, already incentivizes small-dollar donations, and is considered a national model. A charter commission would propose ballot referenda for New Yorkers to vote on, and the mayor plans to have them done in time for this year’s election in November, he said.

The commission will also be tasked with finding ways that the city government can disseminate information and conduct outreach for elections, which is currently the purview of the Board of Elections, a quasi-state agency that has long been criticized for its dysfunction. Noting that the BOE has resisted an offer of $20 million from the city for reforms, de Blasio repeated a few of those critiques, including the BOE’s failure to inform voters of poll site changes and lack of translation services for the city’s massive immigrant population. “And in the digital age, the best our Board of Elections will do to encourage you to vote is send you a postcard,” he derisively joked (though he later asked those in the audience to fill out a postcard pledging civic action).

Warning of the Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, de Blasio also set aside $500,000 to bolster the BOE’s cybersecurity efforts.

In coming weeks, the mayor said he would appoint a Chief Democracy Officer charged with registering 1.5 million voters over four years, particularly by targeting 17-year-olds in high schools and voting-eligible students in the city’s colleges. He also announced a Civics for All education initiative for city schools that will include “rapid response lesson plans” to help students process current events, and, taking a cue from the New York City Council, announced a “participatory budgeting” component in which high schools will receive $2,000 that students can decide how to use. De Blasio also announced an online portal to inform New Yorkers about elections to local office.

The mayor also spoke of new lobbying disclosure requirements for city agency heads and officials that report directly to him, which will take effect March 1. De Blasio touted the measure as a transparency advancement, though the pledge, along with his campaign finance reform plans, also serve as reminders that the mayor has hid correspondence with outside advisors he dubbed “agents of the city,” gave extraordinary access to his campaign donors, and created a political nonprofit that accepted millions of dollars in contributions from entities with city business.

democracynyc postcardFinally, the mayor announced a massive outreach campaign to ensure all New Yorkers are counted in the 2020 Census. “Getting accurately counted can make all the difference for the size of our congressional delegation and the amount of the funding we get from Washington,” he said. “It’s about getting our fair share.”

De Blasio ended on a note of hope, holding up the postcard for his DemocracyNYC initiative, one of which was handed out to each attendee. The card included a checklist for how New Yorkers can choose to engage with city government and make their voice heard more broadly.

“We are poised at the beginning of a new age with a new and bolder chapter to be written,” he said, gesturing to the audience, “and its author will be you.”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

De Blasio Promises Fairness, Democracy in State of the City Address Tue, 13 Feb 2018 05:00:00 +0000
The Week Ahead in New York Politics, February 12 New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

Mayor Bill de Blasio will give his 2018 State of the City address this week, on Tuesday evening. The first of his second term, de Blasio is expected to talk more about his newly branded quest to make New York City “the fairest big city in America.”

Budget hearings continue in Albany this week, and the Legislature will also hold session days to introduce and pass legislation on Monday and Tuesday, before taking its usual mid-February break. The Legislature will be back in session in Albany on February 27 and 28. Then, things will get busier as March is home to many more session days leading into the April 1 start of the new fiscal year, by which time state leaders are supposed to have a new budget worked out.

There is a great deal of uncertainty surrounding that budget as Governor Andrew Cuomo continues to consider what exactly to propose in terms of overhauling the state tax system in response to the new federal tax code, which has especially significant ramifications for New York, and in terms of a congestion pricing plan for New York City. There are also top line items such as exactly how to close the state budget deficit (among other measures, Cuomo is proposing several cost-shifts and funding cuts to New York City, as well as several new taxes and fees), the structure of MTA funding responsibility, and more.

Speaking of MTA funding, Riders Alliance transit activists are leading a rally and lobby day in Albany Monday to push Governor Cuomo and legislators to pass a congestion pricing plan and fund the MTA. Several lawmakers will participate in the rally -- see below for details, and read: Transit Advocates to Storm Albany for MTA Action.

Meanwhile, in the city, the new City Council continues to hold its first committee hearings of the new term, where new chairs and members begin to hold city agencies accountable, consider legislation, and discuss important issues facing the city. There are also two full City Council “Stated Meetings” scheduled for this week, at which the Council votes on bill that have passed through committee and new bills are introduced. See details below.

And this week leads into “Caucus Weekend” in Albany, where the Black, Latino, Asian and Puerto Rican Caucus of the state Legislature hosts events and meetings, among others that will occur in the capital.

There are a variety of events to be aware of this week - see our day-by-day rundown below.

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
e-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max:***

The run of the week in detail:

At the City Council on Monday:
--The Committee on For-Hire Vehicles will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “TLC enforcement practices.”
--The Committee on Standards and Ethics will meet at 10:30 a.m. for a rule 10.80 hearing regarding Council Member Andy King.

At the State Legislature on Monday:
--The Senate Standing Committee on Local Government will meet at 9 a.m. in Albany to “listen to local governments, local elected officials, and local government advocacy organizations regarding shared services and discuss how Albany can better partner with localities.”
--There will be a joint legislative hearing on the executive budget proposal as it relates to health and Medicaid at 10 a.m.
--The Assembly Standing Committee on Real Property Taxation will meet at 11:30 a.m. in Albany for a budget implementation hearing.

The State Legislature will be in session on Monday in Albany.

On Monday, Riders Alliance, transit advocates, and elected officials will hold a rally at 12:30 p.m. and lobby day in Albany “to demand sufficient revenue to modernize subway signals and replace cars to the State budget.” Participants will include “Assembly Corporations Committee Chair Amy Paulin, Assembly Members Carmen Arroyo, Robert Carroll, Carmen De La Rosa, Michael DenDekker, Jeffrey Dinowitz, Catherine Nolan, Luis Sepulveda, and Jo Anne Simon, and Senators Leroy Comrie, Martin Malave Dilan, Michael Gianaris, other members of the Senate and Assembly, grassroots members of the Riders Alliance.” [Read: Transit Advocates to Storm Albany for MTA Action]

The New York State Board of Regents will hold its monthly board meeting on Monday and Tuesday in Albany.

At 8 a.m. Monday, Public Advocate Letitia James and Comptroller Scott Stringer will deliver remarks at the New York Urban League Champions of Diversity (COD) Awards Breakfast. At 11:15 a.m., Stringer will host a press conference at 111 West 115th Street in Manhattan. At 1 p.m., James wll deliver remarks at the Police Athletic League Business Luncheon Honoring Cardinal Timothy Dolan.

On Monday at 9 a.m. at City Hall, “NYC taxi drivers and taxi-base owners will hold vigil at City Hall to raise awareness about TLC’s excessive fines and abusive enforcement, and in memory of recent taxi driver deaths.” “Leaders will call for action to stop the industry-wide crisis.”

At 10 a.m. Monday, Administration for Children’s Services Commissioner David Hansell will announce the expansion of ACS’ Medical Consultation Program at the Nicholas Scoppetta Children’s Center in Kips Bay.

At 10 a.m. Monday, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul will outline the Women's Agenda at Mohawk Valley Council on Women and Girls Meeting in Utica. At 12:15 p.m., Hochul will discuss the FY 2019 Budget at the NYCOM Winter Legislative Meeting in Albany. At 1:15 p.m., Hochul will tour expansion plans of REDC-funded fresh produce nonprofit Capital Roots in Troy. And at 2 p.m., Hochul will tour REDC-funded Troy coworking space, Troy Innovation Garage.

At 12:30 p.m. Monday in Albany, there will be a “press conference to call on Governor Cuomo to pass progressive tax policies, invest resources to fund Assembly Member Hevesi’s proposed Home Stability Support plan and expand access to the HIV enhanced shelter allowance.” Participants who will gather at the Capitol include “members of the Albany Can End Homelessness in New York State campaign; members of the State legislature—including Assembly Members Andrew Hevesi, Michael Blake, Kimberly Jean-Pierre and others; faith leaders; and homeless New Yorkers in need of housing assistance. A crowd of about 30 will gather for this news event.”

On Monday at 3:30 p.m. in the Bronx, National Action Network is organizing a “rally at Middle School 224...where teacher was told she could not teach black history.” Participants will include “Rev. Kevin McCall, Crisis Director, National Action Network; Minister Kirsten John Foy, NE Regional Director of National Action Network; Mercedes Liriano Clarke, Teacher who was told she could not teach Black History at MS 224; National Action Network Youth Huddle; Parents and students at MS 224.

At 6 p.m. Monday, U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler will hold a congressional town hall meeting at the Rosenthal Pavilion at NYU’s Kimmel Center.

On Monday evening, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer will be among those to attend the Department of Education “Public Hearing on Health Careers and Science High School, George Washington Educational Campus.”

Mayor de Blasio will make his weekly Monday evening appearance on NY1’s Inside City Hall with host Errol Louis during the 7 and 11 p.m. hours.

At the City Council on Tuesday
--The Committee on Youth Services will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss proposed laws relating to runaway and homeless youth services.
--The Committee on General Welfare will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing “examining efforts to reduce hunger in New York City.”
--City Council Speaker Corey Johnson will deliver remarks at the beginning of both hearings.

At 10 a.m. Tuesday on the steps of City Hall, "NYC Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, New York City Department of Transportation, elected officials, Car Free Day Partners, and environmental advocates will hold a press conference to officially announce the third annual Car Free Day NYC. Council Member Rodriguez will share more details about plans for Car Free Day this year."

At the State Legislature on Tuesday: There will be a joint legislative hearing on the executive budget proposal at it relates to mental hygiene at 9:30 a.m.

The State Legislature will be in session on Tuesday in Albany.

"The New York State Senate Majority will be holding a press conference tomorrow, February 13, 2018, at 10 a.m. in Room 124 of the Capitol in Albany to unveil a 2018 “Jobs and Opportunity” Agenda that would provide significant tax cuts for businesses, cut red tape, reduce regulatory burdens, invest in workforce development, and strengthen New York’s economic development programs. Senate Majority Leader John J. Flanagan will be joined by his colleagues in outlining the second part of the Senate’s “Blueprint for a Stronger New York,” an action plan that will guide the conference during upcoming budget negotiations."

"New York State Senator Kemp Hannon (R-Nassau) will be joined by survivors of sexual assault, Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria), and other legislative colleagues from both sides of the aisle for a press conference on Tuesday, February 13, 2018, at 11:30 a.m. in Room 124 of the Capitol in Albany. The event will focus on three measures currently before the houses that advance state protections and rights of sexual assault survivors: S.6428A / A.8401A- which establishes a Sexual Assault Survivor Bill of Rights and requires unreported sexual assault evidence kits be maintained for 20 years in a secure, centralized location; S.6947A – which establishes a Sexual Assault Forensic Examination (SAFE) Telemedicine Pilot Program; and S.6964A – which ensures sexual assault forensic exams performed by hospitals are free of charge to the sexual assault survivor. Legislators will be joined by survivors and advocates from Rise, the Joyful Heart Foundation, and local SAFE providers."

At 1 p.m. Tuesday at the Capitol in Albany, "Senate Democrats To Announce Legislation To Reform New York’s Criminal Justice System."

"The New York State Legislature will begin the bi-partisan interview process of the New York State Board of Regents on Tuesday, February 13, 2018, at 1:30 p.m. in the Assembly Parlor, 3rd Floor Capitol, Albany."

At 9 a.m. Tuesday, the New York City Board of Corrections will meet at 9 a.m. at 125 Worth Street. [This meeting has been cancelled in light of a serious attack on a corrections officer.]

On Tuesday morning, Public Advocate Letitia James and Comptroller Scott Stringer will deliver remarks at the New York Immigration Coalition Annual City Legislative Breakfast, at Tribeca Grill.

At 5:45 p,m., James will deliver remarks at the New York National Association of Securities Professionals Foundation 20th Annual Wall Street Hall of Fame Gala, at UFT headquarters.

At 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, the New York City Board of Elections will hold a commissioners’ meeting.

At 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, "Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman will announce the takedown of a major Hudson Valley organized crime ring," at 44 South Broadway, White Plains.

At 4 p.m. Tuesday, Black Lives Matter activists will rally in front of the Department of Education to deliver a list of demands to Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, which include ending zero tolerance programs, ending “black teacher pushout,” and a mandatory K-12 black history curriculum.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, TransitCenter will host “A Bid for Better Transit,” discussing the potential benefits of competitive private contracts for operating transit systems, at One Whitehall Street in Manhattan.

At 7 p.m. Tuesday, Mayor de Blasio will deliver his 2018 State of the City Address at the Kings Theatre in Flatbush, Brooklyn.

The full City Council is scheduled to hold a Stated Meeting at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday at City Hall. Council Speaker Corey Johnson is expected to host a press conference beforehand.

Also at the City Council on Wednesday: the Committee on Finance will meet at 10 a.m.

At 8 a.m. Wednesday, Alphonso David, Counsel to Governor Cuomo, will join Crain’s New York Business at its “Business Breakfast Forum” at the New York Athletic Club. David will discuss “the Cuomo administration budget, legislative and regulatory priorities for 2018.”

At 9 a.m. Wednesday, the Center for New York City Affairs will host “Monitoring the Minimum Wage” at the New School’s Theresa Lang Student Center, featuring local business and community leaders discussing the impacts of of the minimum wage increase and steps for stakeholders to take in adjusting. Civic Hall founder and CEO Andrew Rasiej will moderate a panel consisting of Adria Powell, President of Cooperative Home Care Associates, and Katy Gaul-Stigge, President and CEO of Goodwill Industries NYNJ.

At 10 a.m. Wednesday, the City Planning Commission will hold a public meeting at Spector Hall.

At 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, the Assembly Standing Committee on Environmental Conservation, the Assembly Legislative Commission on Toxic Substances and Hazardous Wastes, and the Assembly Long Island Task Force will meet jointly at the William H. Rogers Building in Smithtown, Suffolk County for a public hearing to discuss the “impacts of the proposed federal offshore drilling authorization on New York.”

At noon Wednesday, Riders Alliance will hold a rally on the City Hall Steps calling on Mayor de Blasio to be the “bus mayor,” and to “make buses run faster on our streets for 2.5 million riders.”

At 4 p.m. Wednesday, the Civilian Complaint Review Board will hold a public board meeting.

The full City Council is scheduled to also hold a Stated Meeting at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday at City Hall. Council Speaker Corey Johnson may also host a press conference beforehand.

At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, the state Senate Joint Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction will meet at Pace University’s Pleasantville campus for a public hearing to “gather information and testimony regarding sober homes and existing regulations, or lack thereof.”

At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Empire State Indivisible will host its monthly “What’s Happening in Albany” panel at the Fourth Universalist Society on the Upper West Side. This installment will focus on voting reform, with a panel consisting of Ari Berman, Mother Jones’ voting rights reporter, Susan Lerner of Common Cause/NY, Naila Awan of Demos, and State Senator Brian Benjamin.

Friday and the weekend
At 9 p.m. Friday, City & State and the New York State Association of Black and Puerto Rican Legislators will host a Caucus Weekend kickoff reception at the Albany Marriott.

Mayor de Blasio is expected to make his weekly appearance on WNYC's The Brian Lehrer Show at 10 a.m. Friday.

At 8 a.m. Saturday, State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli will host the 47th Annual NYS Association of Black and Puerto Rican Legislators Conference at the Albany Capital Center. Honorees include Association chair Latrice Walker, Assembly sergeant-at-arms Wayne Jackson, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, 1199SEIU Secretary Treasurer Maria Castaneda, and Syracuse NAACP president Linda Brown Robinson.

Monday February 19 is Presidents’ Day, a federal holiday. Our next Week Ahead will be published that night (instead of on Sunday night).

Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

by Ben Brachfeld and Ben Max

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, February 12 Sun, 11 Feb 2018 05:00:00 +0000