De Blasio Delivers State of the City Address 2019
The Mayor Recounts a Year of Accomplishment & Seems to Push the Envelope
On Thursday, January 10th, Mayor Bill de Blasio delivered his fifth State of the City Address at Symphony Space on the Upper West Side. To date the Mayor has delivered the address in three of the five boroughs, and this was the third delivered in Manhattan [at Apollo Theater in Harlem in 2017 and Baruch in 2015]. He delivered the third address in 2016 at Lehman College in the Bedford Park neighborhood of the Bronx and his fourth at Kings Theatre in the Flatbush Ditmas neighborhood of Brooklyn in 2018. Queens and Staten Island have yet to host the Mayor's State of the City Address, but he has a couple more years in which to make that happen, should he choose to do deliver his address in all five boroughs.
I arrived on a cold January morning. There was a crowd lined up outside, waiting to pass through security, even though it was well over a half hour before the address was to begin. Inside there was a large crowd mingling, and eventually it looked like it was a full house.
There were the usual warm up speeches and performances, including the Invocation by the NYPD Chaplain, Rabbi Alvin Kass, the singing of 'God Bless America' by NYFD vocalist Regina Wilson and an introductory speech by the First Lady Chirlane McCray.
- CLICK here to read our full report of Mayor Bill de Blasio's State of the City Address 2019.
De Blasio Delivers State of the City Address 2019
The Mayor Recounts a Year of Accomplishment & Seems to Push the Envelope
2019 Heroics of the NYPD, NYFD & NYC Sanitation
The Mayor began by talking about some of the heroics performed by the staff of the NY Police Department in protecting New Yorkers including giving CPR to save a child's life and the donation of a kidney to do the same, the saving of a man's arm by a staff member of the NY Sanitation Department, and the actions of NY Fire Department staff while responding to a five alarm fire in Chinatown. He paused for a moment of silence to honor a member of the NYFD who lost his life on the Belt Parkway in 2018.
Mayor de Blasio's Administration Accomplishments 2019
Neighborhood Policing - NYPD Achieves Lowest NYC Homicide Rate Since 1951
The next portion of the talk was devoted to some of the accomplishments of his administration, including the maintenance of a low crime rate making New York City the safest big city in the United States. NYC had the lowest number of homicides since 1951.
The Mayor talked about how the Neighborhood Policing program had become a reality. The old conventional wisdom of an earlier day said you arrest everyone and imprison everyone until the community is safe. The new approach is to build trust between law enforcement and the community, so that the NYPD - together with the community - catches wrongdoers, brings them to justice, and hopefully rehabilitates the offenders so that they can begin contributing to the community, instead of detracting from it.
To that end, while homicides went down - so did arrests - as there were 141,000 fewer of them [arrests]. Simultaneously, the prison population is down to around 8,000 - the lowest since the 1970's. The Mayor talked about how he wants to end mass incarceration, and eventually close the Rikers Island Facility by reducing the size of incarceration units, and dispersing them throughout the boroughs, so that family and friends can more easily access / visit those in prison, thus continuing important social relationships, which become critical to the transition back into civilian life, following an inmate's release.
Vision Zero Program Achieves Lowest Traffic Fatalities Since 1910 - Horse & Buggies
Vision Zero saw improvement this year, as traffic fatalities in NYC fell to a level not seen since 1910. The Mayor told us that back then there were more horses and buggies than automobiles.
Affordable Housing Program Hits Record Level of Retains and Adds
There appeared to be more good news in the de Blasio Administration's efforts to combat the affordable housing crisis, as he noted that more affordable housing units were preserved and erected since the statistics were first collected.
One of the approaches the de Blasio Administration took, was to put in place a unit that provides tenants with direct access to attorneys who can help them hang onto their unit, when a landlord uses illegal means to try to harass or evict them out of their homes.
Mayor de Blasio noted that NYCHA, the New York City Housing Authority, is in the process of remodeling 175,000 NYCHA units, to update the kitchens and bathrooms built decades ago.
Homeless Growth Stopped / Now to Roll Back the Previous Displacements
As for the homeless, the Mayor said that his Administration had succeeded in moving 2,000 homeless people out of shelters and into affordable housing. He also said they had closed 180 shelters because they did not meet NYC housing standards.
[Editor's Note: Homelessness had about doubled during the Bloomberg Administration, and it was on an accelerating ascent as de Blasio took office. While homelessness continued to rise in the first couple of years of the de Blasio Administration [you can't solve homeless that easily or quickly], the Coalition for the Homeless population charts show that the de Blasio Administration has effectively halted the growth, but not yet made substantial inroads in remedying the legacy problem left to him by prior Administrations - see Coalition for the Homeless chart.]
NYC Public School System Achieves Record Graduation Rate & Record Higher Level Enrollments
The Mayor seemed to be full of good news. He told us that the New York public school system had achieved an all-time high graduation rate last year, with 75% of students graduating on time. He noted that prior to Mayoral control [this dates back to Michael Bloomberg winning Mayoral control in 2002] the graduation rate was under 50%. De Blasio also noted that 59% of all graduates went on to matriculate at institutions of higher learning - an all time high.
NYC Job Market is Robust - Cites Unemployment, Wages, Amazon Deal & Google Growth
On the job front, Mayor de Blasio noted that in 2018, $10 billion in contracts were awarded to MWBE [Minority and Women Owned Business Enterprises] businesses. Of course the big news was the NYC / NYS win of the Amazon HQ2 bid, along with ongoing accommodation of Google expansion in New York City. De Blasio noted that there are now over 4.5 million jobs located in New York City, a new record.
De Blasio went on to note that not only was unemployment down, and wages rising, but that an additional 500 thousand more New Yorkers are now able to access paid sick leave, a fair work week [this means predictable hours and predictable paychecks - eliminating the 'on call' that had reportedly been used in the retail and fast food industries], and a $15 per hour minimum wage.
Ecologically - Bans Styrofoam a Landfill Bloater
On the environmental front the de Blasio Administration took on the fast food industry to have Styrofoam banned and won. The Mayor said the next step was to address the use of plastic bags and straws. He also noted that the city was divesting itself of investments in the fossil fuel industry to the tune of $5 billion, while re-directing some funds into renewable energy.
Healthcare - Sue Big Pharma for Opiod Crisis
In healthcare Mayor de Blasio said that his Administration had sued the Big Pharma companies that had caused the opiod crisis, wherein there are so many people dying from overdoses. He also said the city was opening up overdose crisis centers in order to attempt to save those who overdose from dying.
Ballot Referendums Passed Regarding Matching Funds & Donor Caps
De Blasio noted that there were several ballot issues in the Fall of 2018 that passed. One was for participatory budgeting, and another to get big money out of politics via caps and by enabling little money to have a bigger impact via matching funds.
Beat Back Trump Administration Effort to Withhold NYPD Federal Funding
The Mayor noted that New York City had used the courts to beat back an effort by the Trump Administration to hold back funding for the NYPD, if the NYPD wouldn't aid the Trump Administration in identifying and incarcerating illegal immigrants.
Americans Not Sharing in Productivity Gains is a Problem
The Mayor then showed the audience a chart showing how productivity and the average American's share of the gains from it began diverging right around 1980. [Editor's Note: The Reagan Administration had just come into office and gave the rich a huge disproportionate share of a tax cut that was financed by issuing debt that America's children would have to pay. In the photo is Ronald Reagan with media mogul Rupert Murdoch who began operations in America two years prior to Reagan's victory in 1980.]
Mayor Bill de Blasio's Agenda Going Forward 2019
In the next segment of the Mayor's speech, he described his vision for the city. He started with a list of things he'd like to see done in New York City and then expounded on them.
Guaranteed for All - Healthcare as Human Right - not Luxury
The first was to guarantee healthcare for all, not as a luxury, but as a human right. He noted that even after Obamacare, there are still 600K people in New York City who do not have healthcare. This statement received enthusiastic applause, resulting in a standing ovation.
He went on to say that he supported Medicare for All - for which he will lobby the government officials in Albany; and that he supported a Single Payer Health Plan - for which he will lobby government officials in Washington, D.C.
The Mayor also said his first effort to provide healthcare for all, would be by extending the City's Metro Plus insurance to individuals who qualify. He also said something about extending healthcare to undocumented residents? He pointed out that using the Emergency Room as a healthcare plan didn't work, and that something called NYC Care will be offered to residents on a sliding scale, the fees of which will be inversely related to income.
Improving Productivity by Improving Quality of Life - Paid Time Off
He wanted workers in New York City to be entitled to two weeks paid vacation / personal time. To this end the Mayor talked about expanding the role of the DCA [Department of Consumer Affairs] to include Worker Protections. Specifically he said the DCA would help enforce the payment of paid sick leave, as well as to provide support to enforce fair payment to people at risk such as freelancers, drivers, home health aides, nannies and housecleaners - the people most at risk who worked hard and didn't have the means to enforce their rights.
The Mayor said that people who get time off are more productive, safe and healthy. He noted that other western democracies have done this with success and that the right to "life, liberty and pursuit of happiness" is in the preamble to the United States Declaration of Independence.
Protecting Tenants by Offering Legal Aid & Enforcing Penalties
He wanted to take buildings away from landlords who don't adhere to the laws. To this end he was signing an Executive Order establishing an Office within the Executive branch of NYC, to protect tenants via fines, penalties - and in extreme cases of non-compliance - to seize the building from the landlord and turn it over to a non-profit organization to run it.
[Editor's Note: In a discrimination case against the Trumps in the middle of the last century, a settlement was reached whereby the screening of tenants in one [or more] of Fred Trump's [Donald's father] buildings, was assigned to a non-profit to ensure that the screening process would be fair and not discriminatory. It seems the Mayor is suggesting a similar solution here, in cases where landlords do not treat their tenants with respect.]
Use NYS Majorities in Albany to Remove Vacancy De-Control Loophole
De Blasio noted that for the first time in a long while the Democrats have control in both legislative bodies and the Governor's office in Albany. He noted that if there ever was a year to expect real change in rent reform, this would be the year. Rent reform would impact the lives of 2 million New Yorkers living in 1 million rent stabilized or rent controlled apartments. He particularly noted that vacancy de-control should be repealed.
Encourage Voter Participation by Making Voting more Accessible
He also said that New York State voting laws should be modified to encourage voter participation by enabling early voting, voting by mail and same day registration.
Expand 3K to more Neighborhoods & NYC wide Eventually
The Mayor talked about how he wanted to expand 3K [kindergarten / pre-school for three-year olds] to all children in the city. If I heard him correctly, he said there are already 20,000 kids in 3K as of this 2018 - 2019 school year. De Blasio said that this year he wants to expand it to the South Bronx, Washington Heights, East New York, Staten Island, Bushwick and Soundview. He mentioned what that policy meant to one woman in Ozone Park, where they already have 3K, telling us that this woman was now back in school, studying to become a Medical Assistant.
The Mayor also said his Administration was redoubling its efforts to improve the quality of education in the South Bronx by working on retention of teachers [not sure I got this right]. He also said that NYC had cut a deal with Warby Parker to provide kids in PreK and first grade with eyeglasses.
Revamp Criminal Justice System so it doesn't Penalize the Poor
The Mayor told us that he wants to expunge criminal records for pot when making marijuana legal, and to enable the 'grassroots' to be able to participate in the pot economy - not just the big companies - when NYS legalizes marijuana which may happen as early as this year . De Blasio went on to say that he was supportive of bail reform and speedy trials.
[Editor's Note: Oftentimes bail is set so that poor people cannot get out of jail until their trial, which in many cases has caused the alleged offenders trouble with their employers, landlords and families. A May 2017 report in the Gothamist noted that of the 7,633 pre-trial detainees held at Rikers on an average day [excluding the 2157 post trial detainees held on short sentences], 52% of them were unable to post bail in 2016. And sometimes they are held, prior to going to trial, for a very long time. African American Kalief Browder was detained when he was 16 years old, accused of stealing a backpack. He was held at Rikers for three years prior to receiving a trial. Many of the three years spent at Rikers were in solitary confinement. After he was released, he reportedly never recovered from the experience, and at age 22 he hung himself.]
Expand Access to Retirement Plan Options
De Blasio wanted there to be a universal retirement plan, so that all people can set aside enough to tide them over in their old age. He said that NYC would set up / enable a retirement plan, for those who don't have one, so that contract workers, free-lancers, part-timers and whatnot can squirrel away some money to aid them in their retirement.
NYC Transit - Ferries, Buses & Accessing Revenue to Address Problems
And the Mayor talked about NYC transit. He said that the NYC Ferry system had been expanded to Soundview in the Bronx and the Rockaways in Queens in 2018, and that this year he was planning expansion from Staten Island to the Upper West Side, from Coney Island to Downtown Manhattan, and from Soundview to Ferry Point which is adjacent to the Trump Golf course in the Bronx.
The Mayor said that he would double bus green light priority, while encouraging the NYPD to step up policing activity to keep cars out of the bus priority lanes. He said that the budget is due in Albany on April 1st [no joke] and that left 80 days for legislators to find a way to fund improvements to the MTA. He said that 70% of New Yorkers favor a millionaire's tax, that marijuana could bring in sizeable tax revenue, a bond offering could be initiated, or possibly congestion pricing [click link for a prior report we did into that proposal, which shows that it's a very expensive method of taxation, unfairly burdens all but the rich, and ultimately doesn't solve the problem which is that investments in new infrastructure are needed], and that we cannot wait another year to begin addressing the NYC transportation infrastructure problem.
[Editor's Note: The MTA is controlled by the Governor and NYS through a board which NYC and the Mayor have input, but not control.]
The Mayor summed up some of what he said before ending, again saying that he wanted to make New York City the fairest big city in the nation.
After the speech I heard a fair amount of talk about whether the Mayor would launch a bid for the Democratic nomination for president for 2020. Supporters noted that the Mayor has held an Executive position and has a solid record of achievement executing the kinds of Progressive programs that most candidates can only talk about, as the NYC Mayor operates a budget that is larger than the budgets managed in 45 of the 50 states. Only California, Texas, New York, Florida and Washington have larger budgets than NYC according to Wikipedia.
By Michael Wood.
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