Which city is fairest of them all?
If Mayor Bill de Blasio has his way, by the time he leaves office, the answer will be New York.
That was the major takeaway from his State of the City address, delivered on Tuesday, February 13 right here in Brooklyn — in the stately, gorgeously renovated Kings Theater on Flatbush Avenue in the heart of Flatbush.
“I want us to be the fairest big city in America, and I know we can do it because we are called in a time of vast overt disparities, to do something different, to be something better,” de Blasio said, launching a video whose goal was to encapsulate what City Hall considers the triumphs of his first term — an increase in affordable housing; the decrease in crime making New York, as de Blasio trumpeted, “The safest big city in America;” the launch of ThriveNYC which aims to improve access to mental health support for those who need it: and the kickoff of 3K, providing free preschool to three-year-olds to jumpstart their education, which is supposed to be implemented citywide by 2021.
For his second term, de Blasio turned to the numbers. While his speech was short on initiatives targeted at specific parts of the city, it was long on vision. Noting that, as of the evening of the speech, he had “three years, 10 months and 15 days” to reach his stated goal, de Blasio rolled out a 12-point plan aimed at achieving that.
“We will do it with speed and we’ll do it with urgency,” he told the crowd. “We do this to ensure a better life for all eight and a half million of us. We do this to preserve the social fabric of the most diverse place on earth. We do this to insure that we’re always a place for everyone, that the magical openness that has made New York City great is always protected.”
Part of that goal includes improving access to the ballot box. To that end, de Blasio also introduced a 10-point plan targeted at making it easier for city residents to register and cast their votes as well as to protect the integrity of the city’s voting process.
Throughout, there was a stated and unstated subtext in his remarks — resistance to an America changed by the election of Donald Trump to the presidency, and the “battered democracy” that is emerging.
“We can’t create a more just society if we don’t confront the decline of democracy that we’re experiencing in the city and the state, all over this nation,” de Blasio asserted, adding, “And, equally, we can’t afford to become a pseudo-democracy because of unsustainable and growing inequality.”
To that end, therefore, de Blasio introduced his 12 points, including the necessity of “listening to the voices of the people,” as well as “mak(ing) the safest big city in America even safer.”
Responding to critics who have contended that the reduction of stop-and-frisk and other policing reforms are threatening the city’s safety, de Blasio asserted, “We’re going to prove once again that safety and fairness walk hand-in-hand in this city.” Among his promises — to “extend and deepen neighborhood policing,” “us(ing) precision policing strategies,” and “keep(ing) crime low while keeping arrests low as well,” in addition to making sure all patrol officers have body cameras by year’s end.
With respect to education, de Blasio contended that providing 3K for All citywide would be “seismic,” with a “huge and lasting impact on the children and their families….We’ll tap into their potential far more than we ever have before and this is one of the most basic building blocks of fairness.”
But, that wasn’t the only education initiative he mentioned; among other things, he hinted at another large reform, yet to be unveiled, whose goal is “increasing the number of children reading on grade level by third grade.”
De Blasio also hammered home the goal of confronting the dangers of global warming head-on, contending, “We understand clearly we have to protect our own people from global warming when our national government fails to do so, and we have to aim higher than ever before,” such as requiring an increasing number of buildings to reduce emissions, adding more electric vehicle charging stations, and converting to an all-electric city car fleet.
“The crisis on our subways” was another topic. De Blasio stressed, “Only Albany can pass legislation that can end this crisis.”
He expressed support once again for a “Millionaires’ Tax” to help fund subway repairs as well as provide half fare MetroCards for low-income city residents, though he left the door open for other possible solutions, noting also, “I have only one condition, the money raised in New York City stays in New York City….We need to know the money that is raised will fund improvements to subways and buses in the five boroughs. Period.”
De Blasio also promised to invest deeply in NYCHA housing to improve living conditions for residents, as well as to “fight the opioid epidemic, with the same zeal, the same intensity with which we’ve taken on homicides and traffic fatalities.
“We will throw at it the biggest combined effort ever by our city agencies, increasing prevention and enforcement and treatment, and we’ll work at the grass roots to reach families in the throes of this crisis and to get them the help they need,” he added.
In addition, de Blasio said that the city would invest in a Census outreach campaign, with the goal of making sure the city’s population is accurately counted during the 2020 Census.
“Given the Trump administration’s views of our rich diversity, we must work twice as hard to get a fair shake,” he contended, stressing that both the size of the city’s Congressional delegation and the amount of federal funding the city receives are based on the Census count.
“A lot of that money comes from New York City and doesn’t come back” he pointed out. “So we’d really like to make sure that we get more than we have in the past.”