February 14th, 2017
WILLIAM NEUMAN and J. DAVID GOODMAN
Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York laid out his priorities for the final year of his first term and beyond, saying in his State of the City address on Monday that he would focus on creating thousands of new jobs to attack the city’s crisis of affordability — but offering few details of how he would deliver on the promise.
In choosing to give his annual speech at the Apollo Theater in the Harlem section of Manhattan, Mr. de Blasio was clearly speaking to his most loyal base, among minorities, whose continued support is paramount to his re-election this year.
Mr. de Blasio cited work he had done to build or preserve affordable housing and said he would now turn to what he called the other half of the equation of making the city more affordable.
“We have to drive up incomes,” he said. “And that means actually helping people get the kind of jobs that allow you to afford to live in New York City. Good-paying jobs,” he added, defining them as those that paid at least $50,000 a year.
He said that job creation “will be the new front line in the battle to keep New York City affordable.”
Toward the end of the speech, the words “This is your city” were projected on a large screen — suggesting a possible theme and slogan for his re-election campaign.
All that echoed his longstanding theme of economic equality — and in that way, he trod familiar ground rather than laying out a bold new vision. In a change from other years, there were no flashy new projects mentioned in the speech.
The mayor also dodged addressing some of the knottiest problems of his administration. He said that later on he would reveal new plans to address homelessness, one of the biggest stumbling blocks for his administration. He also promised to announce plans later to deal with opioid addiction and street congestion. There was virtually no mention of police reform except to repeat an earlier announcement that by 2019, all patrol officers will wear body cameras. And there was no mention of the challenges of the troubled jail at Rikers Island.
Mr. de Blasio mentioned the new president, Donald J. Trump, only once by name, although he alluded to him and to the Republican-controlled Congress several times. In that regard, the speech showed a mayor who sees both the challenges of grappling with a potentially hostile new administration in Washington and the potential political benefits of using Washington as a foil to cast himself as the paladin of New York liberalism and the city’s vast immigrant population.
In years past, Mr. de Blasio used the annual speech to push big-impact campaign promises of universal prekindergarten, the construction of thousands of units of affordable housing, and infrastructure initiatives like a major expansion of ferry service and a light rail line along the Brooklyn and Queens waterfront.
In Monday’s speech, Mr. de Blasio appeared content to offer repackaged or slightly expanded versions of programs that have thus far defined his administration, demonstrating the shift in a mayor who once saw himself as a promoter of high-minded ideas and a national progressive leader but has repeatedly encountered limitations in the day-to-day grind of running a big city.
He pledged to add 100,000 “good-paying” jobs over the next decade, including 40,000 in the next four years. But the projects he mentioned seemed to fall well short of those numbers.
He cited plans to create an industrial and manufacturing center in the Sunset Park section of Brooklyn, called the Made in NY campus, which would seek to attract the fashion and food production industries, among others, and create 1,500 permanent jobs. He also pledged to train a total of 3,000 workers over the next three years to retrofit buildings to make them more energy efficient. He mentioned several other previously announced economic development initiatives, but the timing involved was not clear, nor was it clear whether he was referring to new jobs or jobs that had already been created.
In addressing affordable housing, Mr. de Blasio said that he would expand an existing program to provide lawyers to poor New Yorkers facing eviction in Housing Court and that he would dedicate more affordable housing units than he had previously proposed for New Yorkers earning less than $40,000 a year. Both initiatives were announced in the days ahead of the speech.
The mayor repeated a plea for the state to establish a so-called mansion tax on residential sales of more than $2 million in New York City, which he said would generate $336 million a year and could subsidize rent payments for 25,000 older residents. But the tax must pass the Legislature in Albany, where it is sure to face a very high hurdle in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Mr. de Blasio’s speech represented an opportunity for him to make his case to voters that he deserves to be given a second term.
Yet caution, characterized by a reluctance to present bold new policy ideas that could be attacked by critics, may be a workable strategy at the moment because no experienced politician has emerged to challenge the mayor.
His likely Democratic challengers are waiting for the outcome of a bevy of overlapping state and federal investigations into Mr. de Blasio’s fund-raising and actions as mayor, including whether he or his aides broke campaign fund-raising rules or did favors for donors. If Mr. de Blasio or one or more of his top aides were to be indicted, several prominent Democrats might jump into what could become a primary free-for-all.
That might include the city comptroller, Scott M. Stringer; the public advocate, Letitia A. James; the Bronx borough president, Ruben Diaz Jr.; and United States Representative Hakeem S. Jeffries of Brooklyn.
The setting of the speech spoke volumes about Mr. de Blasio’s re-election strategy. He chose to speak in Harlem at one of its most iconic venues — a clear gesture to his black supporters. To drive the point home further, a few hours before his speech, he announced the renaming of the 115th Street library in Harlem for Harry Belafonte, an actor, singer and civil rights leader who was born in the neighborhood.
For the second year in a row, Mr. de Blasio chose to hold the speech at night, believing that New Yorkers would tune in to watch him on NY1, which broadcast the event, or online on a stream provided by the mayor’s office. That is part of a broader media strategy to take his message directly to voters, ignoring traditional protocols in which such a speech would be scheduled earlier in the day to allow journalists more time to prepare their coverage or parse his words.
The event started 15 minutes behind schedule, a reminder of criticism that Mr. de Blasio drew early in his term for arriving late to events. The mayor did not take the stage until an hour after the 7 p.m. scheduled start time, after numerous introductory speeches, songs and the blessing of an imam, a pastor and a rabbi.
Although he promised a short speech, Mr. de Blasio spoke for 1 hour 5 minutes. His aides said there were no prepared remarks, which, at times, gave the address a plodding rhythm as he frequently checked his notes. And when it appeared to be over, and many in the audience rose to leave, the mayor implored them to stay seated. Still to come was 10 minutes of introducing city workers: police officers, firefighters and sanitation workers who had acted heroically in the last year.