New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio went all the way progressive during his State of the City address last week. Going by the aftermath of his speech at Symphony Space on the Upper West Side, his ploy could possibly work.
De Blasio’s appeal to working-class New Yorkers, tenants, retirees and school children pointed to the progressive wave that continues to roll in as a result of the actions of President Donald Trump’s administration.
The mayor wanted to let the crowd in attendance know that housing is a top priority for him.
“We’re also showing public housing residents that we can begin to reverse decades of disinvestment and make their lives better,” said de Blasio. “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.”
De Blasio also said the city moved 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 we closed more than 180 shelters that didn’t meet our standards for health and safety, and we will close more,” he asserted. “Now, making housing better, making it safer, making it affordable is not the only way we become the fairest big city in America.”
Along with his desire to create a city-managed retirement fund for workers who can’t access employer-sponsored ones, de Blasio signed an executive order to add an Office to Protect Tenants to help New Yorkers who find themselves at the mercy of unscrupulous landlords.
New York State Attorney General Letitia James praised the mayor for his tenant office proposal.
“As my previous work as public advocate documented, for too long, landlords have used tenant harassment, neglect and unjust eviction as a business model with almost complete impunity,” stated James. “Creating an office to strengthen and better coordinate enforcement against these unjust and illegal activities will teach landlords that those practices must end, and will provide tenants with much needed support.”
But some feel that the mayor is only trying to secure cool points with the left and that his actual actions speak more. Johnathan Westin, executive director of New York Communities for Change, said de Blasio’s declaration to protect workers is at odds with what he’s displayed.
“The mayor’s support for Amazon runs in complete contradiction to the vision he laid out. You can’t support redistribution of wealth when offering Amazon, one of the richest companies, and Bezos, the richest person on Earth, a multibillion dollar deal behind closed doors,” stated Westin. “Just look at what happened to income inequality in Seattle.”
De Blasio and New York State Gov. Cuomo announced last year that Amazon would call New York home and set up its new headquarters in Long Island City. Amazon will construct a 4 million square foot commercial space along the LIC waterfront while taking over a 500,000 square foot space at One Court Square in the meantime. The deal will allegedly create 1,300 direct construction jobs each year through 2033 and fill at least 25,000 jobs by 2029 and up to 40,000 by 2034.
De Blasio said the recently renamed Department of Consumer and Worker Protection will be in charge of protecting the rights of workers in industries without traditional job protections and benefits, protecting people such as nannies and freelancers.
“Millions of people in this city, tens of millions across the country, are boxed in to lives that just aren’t working for them,” said de Blasio during the address. “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. And here is the cold, hard truth—it’s no accident. It’s an agenda.”
The mayor announced the expansion of a program with Warby Parker that provides free eye exams and glasses to low-income students in public schools. He also reiterated his proposals to expand health coverage for low-income New Yorkers under the “health care for all” banner and a mandate of at least two weeks of paid vacation days for private-sector workers in the city.
“Imagine a city where New Yorkers can live their lives more fully,” said de Blasio. “That’s the quality of life I want for every New Yorker.”
The health care proposal met the praise of DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido.
“At a time when hundreds of thousands of city residents cannot access the care they need because of underfunding and uncertainty in Washington, D.C., the mayor’s plan puts NYC Health + Hospitals and its tens of thousands of dedicated public health workers, including over 18,000 DC 37 members, on the cutting edge of comprehensive health care delivery,” stated Garrido. “The approach announced by the mayor ultimately makes the system more efficient, cost effective and, most importantly, will result in a healthier city.”
But others, such as Republican City Council Member and New York City Public Advocacy Candidate Eric Ulrich, believe that the mayor’s proposals are part of a ploy with de Blasio keeping one eye on the presidency.
“Today’s speech should have been titled the State of My Presidential Campaign rather than the State of the City,” stated Ulrich. “The mayor has been sprinkling buzzwords and programs for a few days now, leaking information to national press who aren’t focused on his mismanagement [or] the concerns of New Yorkers, all to avoid local scrutiny of New Yorkers who are suffering from his lack of attention.”
Ulrich referred to the Office to Protest Tenants as “repetitive tenant bureaucracy” and the paid-vacation mandate as “job killing.”
“Bill de Blasio has never met a tax he didn’t like,” continued Ulrich, “and he displays a complete disregard for hardworking New Yorkers and small-business owners whom he expects to tax and regulate out of existence.”
Although it wasn’t an outright endorsement of him, New York City Council Member and Public Advocate Candidate Jumaane Williams said that although “the mayor of 2018 was not the mayor I endorsed in 2013” he saw some optimistic signs in his State of the City address.
“It’s been encouraging to see the mayor put his support behind a number of progressive plans to address the state of our city,” stated Williams. “What we need now is to hold the administration to account for these bold promises and ensure that they deliver for New Yorkers.”
Williams continued, “What’s also clear is that we need to continue a push to make sure that people and issues are not left behind. NYCHA residents need real commitment that doesn’t have to come from the terms of a consent decree. People struggling in our city’s affordable housing and homelessness crisis need us not to continue a failed inadequate system but to re-structure the way we work on the issue and re-prioritize our solutions.”