‘It’s not class warfare ---it’s arithmetic’
By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
On Friday, New York City mayoral frontrunner Bill de Blasio described his vision to leverage the city’s strengths to tackle income inequality and end its “Tale of Two Cities,” at a speech before the influential Association for a Better New York.
Last year before the same group, de Blasio had proposed a modest tax on those earning more than a half-million dollars a year to fund pre-K and afterschool programs. While the proposal was not met with much enthusiasm last year, de Blasio's popularity has skyrocketed and his ideas received a warmer welcome this year.
On Friday, De Blasio reiterated the need for pre-K and afterschool programs, and went on to sketch out his overall blueprint to beef up the city’s economy and tackle the city’s “crisis of affordability.”
De Blasio’s proposals include funding STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs at CUNY and city high schools; major film, post-production and animation centers; new economic development hubs across the city; changing zoning laws to encourage high-tech manufacturing; investment in maritime, transit and digital infrastructure; and workforce development programs.
Several of these ideas are modeled on successful Brooklyn programs, such as the Brooklyn Navy Yard development and the Brooklyn Tech Triangle.
De Blasio also proposed a number of new measures to bolster small businesses and encourage entrepreneurship, including loans and ending fines for minor violations.
And he promised to look out for low-wage workers in the city, with higher wages for city workers and more sick days for employees.
While he gave the outgoing Mayor Michael Bloomberg credit for adding a quarter million jobs to the economy, de Blasio pointed out that the vast majority of those jobs are in low wage sectors like retail and food service, which pay less than $28,000 a year. “Meanwhile, we’ve shed more than 50,000 middle class jobs in that same time frame.”
Noting that nearly half of the city’s residents live at or below poverty level, he said, “I don’t accept this as our destiny. I am committed to tackling this crisis.”
A city’s economic might “isn’t measured solely by the number of millionaires who call New York home, but by the promise that every family has a shot at living and working and raising children in our five boroughs,” he said. “There is nothing divisive about acknowledging the struggle so many New Yorkers face,” he added. “It’s not class warfare. As my old boss Bill Clinton would say, it’s arithmetic.”
De Blasio lauded Mayor Bloomberg’s efforts to build affordable housing but said it fell short of the city’s needs. He also gave Bloomberg credit for expanding New York’s research universities, “growing” the tech sector, encouraging the film and television industry, and spurring manufacturing.
“But while all of those efforts were necessary, alone they are not sufficient to meet today’s economic crisis,” he said. “Where these policies have come up short is that they have failed to provide meaningful opportunities for the majority of New Yorkers.”
De Blasio acknowledged that the ballroom full of New York City’s high earning movers and shakers might have some doubts about his progressive vision. But he appealed to their better natures.
“Look, I know not everyone in this room agrees with every part of my plan.
“But I know we all share a set of values -– that every child deserves a first rate education; that everyone who works hard and plays by the rules should be able to earn a wage that can support a family; that people should be able to live in the same neighborhoods they’ve spent their lives.”
Details of de Blasio’s Proposals
Besides funding universal pre-K and afterschool programs for middle school students, details of de Blasio’s economic proposals include:
- More investment in CUNY, including a two-year CUNY STEM program; a scholarship that encourages tech graduates to stay in the city; 14 additional Career and Technical Education high school programs; high school – college/company partnerships
- A new film, post-production and animation school at the Brooklyn Navy Yard; tripling the enrollment in the Made in NY Production Assistant Training Program; a new “Film & TV Lab;” and more film production in Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island.
- Advance the Brooklyn Tech Triangle plan; replicate that model to build new economic development hubs across the city.
- Strengthen the city’s 16 Industrial Business Zones; change zoning laws to meet the demand for live-work spaces and mixed-use development; and replicate the Brooklyn Navy Yard on other city-owned industrial land.
- Invest in maritime and transit infrastructure and digital connectivity, and scale up workforce development programs like Brooklyn Workforce Innovations.
- Integrate community-based organizations into a city-wide workforce development system; expand apprenticeship programs in major city construction and service contracts.
- Establish a job creation coordinator to oversee all workforce development programs in the city.
- Create economic development hubs in at least twelve immigrant and low-income neighborhoods.
- Establish a $100 million revolving loan fund for neighborhood entrepreneurs, and give local businesses a “second-shot” at city contracts, which would let local firms match the price offered by a lowest responsible bid.
- End City Hall’s “fine assault” on small businesses by banning quotas, utilizing warnings instead of financial penalties for first-time and minor violations.
- Expand the Paid Sick Leave law to include hundreds of thousands of working New Yorkers not currently covered, and support efforts to raise wages and improve conditions in low-wage sectors like the fast-food and carwash industries.
- Build or repair 200,000 new and preserved housing units over the next decade.