If you only read the tabloids, you’d think that things in the city are spinning out of control and Bill de Blasio can do nothing right. But let’s take a look at who’s whining. It’s the usual suspects – right wingers, some developers, and representatives of the 1 percent, those who have had things their own way over the past two administrations.
Their main complaint is actually that de Blasio – who has been mayor for little more than two months - is doing exactly what he said he’d do when he was running for the city’s top office. I suppose the whiners assumed that he would forget his campaign promises as mere rhetoric, to be ditched once in office. Instead, the mayor has moved ahead on several issues just as he said he would.
In the area of affordable housing, the mayor negotiated a deal on the redevelopment of the Domino Sugar refinery site on the waterfront in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The developer agreed to increase the number of apartments affordable to New Yorkers with low and moderate incomes. He also agreed to increase the number of two and three bedroom apartments, which will accommodate more families than studios or one bedroom units.
In addition, those affordable apartments will remain affordable rather than revert to market rate rents sometime in the future. They will be permanently affordable.
In exchange, the developer will get a zoning change, allowing him to build up to 55 stories, about 20 stories higher than current zoning permits. And he’s already getting a number of subsidies and tax breaks from both the city and the state.
The mayor has already been up to Albany to advocate for the funding of universal pre-k. This was one of his bedrock issues during the mayoral campaign. Pre-k has been shown to be particularly important for young children from low-income households.
The mayor wants to fund pre-k and expand after school programs by raising taxes on wealthy New Yorkers. Governor Cuomo would rather make it part of his budget. But the budget is an annual document, subject to the whims of the Legislature and the state’s economic situation. The mayor’s way would ensure that pre-k was properly funded into the future.
Focus on Charters
Candidate de Blasio championed the city’s public schools, noting that they are being shortchanged in the face of an expanding and competing charter school system. In fact, the mayor recently did allow most charter schools to move into school buildings. But those supporting charter schools are upset that de Blasio revoked $200 million in funding for charters and denied three charters space in public school buildings.
Charters are now a part of the public school landscape. And offering parents a school choice is important. But the original premise of the charter school movement - to be laboratories for innovative models and ‘best practices’ that could be replicated in the larger school system – is a forgotten and unfulfilled promise. Instead, what we witnessed over the Bloomberg years was preferential treatment toward the charter sector in terms of access and resources, particularly for the large charter networks backed by Wall Street dollars.
The proliferation of charters, arguably, has come at the expense of improving and serving the larger public school system. The mayor campaigned on returning the focus to the other 95 percent of the students in the system, and he's keeping his word.
We have also read a lot about the politics of people joining the de Blasio administration. Bill de Blasio ran as a progressive, but when progressives are appointed to positions in his administration, some pundits are alarmed. Again, what did they think he was going to do – reverse his politics once in office?
A prime example of an appointment that probably raised hackles among right wingers is that of Steven Banks as commissioner of the city’s Human Resources Administration (HRA). As the attorney in chief of the Legal Aid Society, Banks has been a long-time advocate for low-income New Yorkers.
Over the past several years, we at the Community Service Society have advocated to increase the opportunities for young people on public assistance to participate in full-time education programs. HRA policy essentially blocked this. We look forward to seeing a reversal of this policy by a leadership that sees HRA’s role as helping those in need, not punishing them.
For many years, $75 million annually out of the New York City Housing Authority’s inadequate operating subsidy went for police services. The mayor ended that in his preliminary budget. Now that money will now be retained by NYCHA for operations and repairs.
Also, Mayor de Blasio has followed through on dropping the city’s appeal on the stop-and-frisk case, keeping another campaign promise. Along with Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, the mayor continues to maintain that the correct usage of stop-and-frisk should be within the bounds of the Constitution.
I know that the cynics among us expect public officials to say one thing and do another. But Mayor de Blasio was given a mandate by the voters. So far, he’s acting on it just as he said he would.