Calls for ‘A Fair Shot for Everyone’
By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Roughly a month after taking office, Mayor Bill de Blasio on Monday in his inaugural State of the City address at LaGuardia Community College, laid out a progressive agenda with a major emphasis on fighting the city’s increasing income equality gap.
Introduced by Fiorello LaGuardia’s granddaughter Katherine LaGuardia, Mayor de Blasio invoked the legacy of the beloved “Little Flower” while describing his vision, which he called “A Fair Shot for Everyone.”
De Blasio recapped initiatives already undertaken during his snowy first month in office, from launching the “Vision Zero” program to eliminate traffic fatalities, to introducing paid sick leave legislation benefitting 500,000 New Yorkers, to settling the legal battle over stop-and-frisk.
Reiterating his campaign theme of ‘A Tale of Two Cities,” the Mayor described an inequality gap “that fundamentally threatens our future.”
To bridge the gap, De Blasio committed to provide “living wages” for workers on city jobs, boost the city’s students tech skills, provide every child with free, full-day pre-kindergarten and increase afterschool programs. He also will work towards a municipal ID for New Yorkers who do not have a valid state ID.
He pledged to seek authorization to increase the city’s minimum wage, and, within eight years, hire city-educated workers for the majority of NYC’s tech jobs.
To increase affordable housing, de Blasio said the city is looking to require developers “to build affordable homes for everyday people rather than simply multi-million dollar condos for the most fortunate among us.” His goal is to preserve or construct nearly 200,000 units of affordable housing, he said.
De Blasio also promised accelerated Superstorm Sandy recovery programs to residents still waiting for relief.
De Blasio described his pre-K proposal, which would be funded by taxing city residents earning more than $500,000.
“We’re not asking Albany to raise the state income tax by a penny to pay for universal pre-K and after-school programs here in New York City. We’re simply asking Albany to allow New York City to tax itself – its wealthiest residents…those making a half-million or more a year.” De Blasio said he would ask those residents to pay roughly $970 a year towards universal pre-K.
Governor Andrew Cuomo, opposed to the Mayor’s tax, has said the state would provide money for universal pre-K, though the amount promised is less than the Mayor’s proposal would bring the city. Mayor de Blasio said on Monday that if that money exists, the state should use it to pay city schools the funds it is already legally obligated to provide.
“If there are extra resources in the state budget, we must remember that the State Court of Appeals ruled – in the landmark Campaign for Fiscal Equity decision several years ago – that the children of this city deserve billions more in educational resources, and now is the time to provide it,” de Blasio said.
Many Brooklyn residents were looking for some sign from de Blasio on the borough’s increasingly chaotic hospital crisis, an issue which helped propel him into the Mayor’s office.
In Monday’s address, de Blasio said he would not retreat on the issue, but “continue the battles we’ve won over the last several months.”
“For months, I joined with deeply concerned neighborhood residents to stop the closures of our community hospitals in Brooklyn. Many days, it seemed like we might not prevail. But we did,” de Blasio said, referring to the fight to save Interfaith Medical Center and Long Island College Hospital, two major Brooklyn hospitals teetering on the edge of closure.
“We made it clear that we will no longer accept a reckless pattern of closing hospitals without regard to the people who need the medical services they provide,” de Blasio said.
“Instead of watching hospitals shuttered and simply sold off to the highest bidder, we will continue the battles we’ve won over the last several months – requiring alternatives that put the health of our people ahead of profits. And on that, we will not retreat.”
Despite his upbeat message, de Blasio warned that the city is “in the midst of an unprecedented budgetary challenge. We are faced with a federal government in gridlock. There is uncertainty with the state budget. And we have over 150 labor contracts that are unsettled. When you take all these factors into account, we are facing an uncharted path.” He added, “But we will not turn away from the challenge.”
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams commented after the Mayor’s speech, “Mayor de Blasio laid out a number of proposals in his speech that I plan to work with City Hall to support and implement, including constructing and preserving quality affordable housing, training our high school and CUNY students for STEM and health care-oriented careers, addressing and prioritizing the health care issues of our communities and accelerating recovery efforts from Superstorm Sandy.”
Council Member Carlos Menchaca (D-Sunset Park, Red Hook), said in a statement, “I applaud and welcome Mayor De Blasio's commitment to provide all New Yorkers access to municipal identification cards." He added, “Immigrants, homeless individuals, youth, elderly residents and members of the LGBT community are among the many groups that will finally be able to enjoy the same access to basic programs and services that all New Yorkers deserve.”
Republicans on Monday declared opposition to de Blasio’s pre-K plan. Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos told reporters that he would block a vote authorizing New York City to raise its own income taxes in order to for the program.
A number of New York City officials responded to Skelos' comment late Monday.
“Not only is Senator Skelos wrong, but his obstructionism is yet another example of why New York City must control its own destiny on important local issues, ranging from Universal Pre-K, to minimum wage, to housing laws,” said New York City Public Advocate Letitia James.
Assemblyman Karim Camara (Crown Heights, Lefferts-Gardens, East Flatbush) said, "We owe it to every child to put this to a vote. The need for Universal Pre-K has never been clearer. The achievement gap we see in lower income neighborhoods needs to be closed. The cycle of poverty, which is directly related to education, needs to end. A child from Crown Heights in Brooklyn or Mott Haven in the Bronx deserves the same opportunities to compete in school as a child from the wealthiest parts of the City. But by middle school, they are so far behind that college and career seem unreachable. That’s not right. We know it’s not right; and it’s certainly not right to stop such an important piece of legislation from coming to a vote.”
The City Council's Women's Issues Committee Chair Laurie Cumbo (Clinton Hill, Fort Greene, Bedford-Stuyvesant) said, "Mayor de Blasio was elected on the promise to expand pre-kindergarten through a tax on the wealthiest individuals. The voters of the largest city in the state of New York mandated it. It is disgraceful for Senator Skelos and his minority coalition to disregard the will of the people, and it is simply immoral to choose the wealthy over our children."
While de Blasio did not address charter schools in his address, NYGOP Chair Ed Cox, former Chair of SUNY's Charter School Committee and founder of an organization which pays for inner city high school students to attend Catholic schools, issued a statement saying, “Shame on Bill de Blasio for talking about equality of opportunity while overtly waging a ‘War on Charter Schools,’ a proven means of closing the achievement gap.”
The Mayor’s plans also include:
- Dropping “big giveaways to a select few companies,” and substituting incentives for small businesses in emerging industries;
- Creating an Entrepreneurship Fund for low-income New Yorkers, and a Fashion Manufacturing Fund;
- Advancing a dedicated Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) program at CUNY, plus health-related programs in high schools and job-training programs for those without college degrees.