By Bill Parry
Mayor Bill de Blasio’s first State of the City address drew a better reaction inside the Performing Arts Center at LaGuardia Community College than it did in Albany.
The mayor sought to tackle income inequality with his speech and he met resistance right away on two key policy proposals that would require state approval: taxing the rich to fund universal pre-kindergarten and raising the minimum wage in the city.
“Next week, we will ask Albany to give New York City the power to raise the minimum wage in all five boroughs. In the process, we will send a powerful signal to the people of New York — that we honor work and that we are committed to making work pay,” de Blasio said.
Less than 24 hours later, Gov. Andrew Cuomo explained that the minimum wage was best handled by the state, which agreed to a three-step increase last year.
“We don’t want to cannibalize ourselves,” Cuomo told an Albany radio station.
On his plan to tax New York City residents who make $500,000 or more to pay for full-day pre-K, the mayor said, “There are some who say that Albany shouldn’t approve our plan because the state government simply cannot raise any taxes right now. We’re simply asking Albany to allow New York City to tax itself.”
De Blasio had not even finished his speech when a co-leader of the state Senate, Dean Skelos (R-Nassau), vowed he would never allow a vote to reach the floor.
“The last thing we need is to see high earners leave New York state because then we lose their tax dollars,” Skelos said.
City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), who chairs the Council Education Committee said, “New York City needs a dedicated source of funding for universal pre-K. For Dean Skelos to say he will prevent a vote is very shortsighted.”
He added that study after study showed that children with childhood education perform demonstrably better later in life than those who do not receive it.
Dromm’s legislation allowing municipal ID cards for undocumented immigrants received the mayor’s endorsement during the speech.
“We will protect the almost half-million undocumented New Yorkers, whose voices too often go unheard,” de Blasio said.
State Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) said, “For immigrant families in New York City whose undocumented status leaves them vulnerable to abuse and exploitation by unethical employers, landlords and scam artists, Mayor de Blasio’s municipal ID card will change lives for the better.”
Adrian Bordoni works closely with the immigrant population as executive director of Woodside on the Move, a grassroots community organization.
“Municipal IDs are a real game-changer. It means undocumented residents will be able to get bank accounts, leases for their apartments, even books from the library.”
The mayor offered many other policy pronouncements that were designed, he said, “to lift the floor to offer every New Yorker a fair shot. Fighting to end the Tale of Two Cities, not just because it’s moral and just, but because it makes all of our lives different.”
He pledged to preserve or construct nearly 200,000 units of affordable housing, reform the overuse of stop-and-frisk, ease access to health care and improve education and jobs programs.
The mayor worked several quotes from Fiorello LaGuardia into his speech and was even introduced by Katherine LaGuardia, the granddaughter of the mayor who guided the city through the Great Depression.
“Mayor LaGuardia called for ‘government with a soul.’ He saw beyond the numbers in a budget, understood that those numbers represented real people who were just trying to live their lives and asked only for a little help and that is what we resolve to do,” de Blasio said.
“It’s very significant that he chose Queens for his first speech,” Bordoni said. “The past with LaGuardia and the present with the new mayor, you really felt the impact. It’s exciting to hear those words after 12 years of business-speak.”
Borough President Melinda Katz was honored that he chose to make the speech at LaGuardia Community College.
“With this plan, Mayor de Blasio has made it clear he will confront the problems that threaten to make our city unaffordable to all but the most wealthy few,” she said. “The mayor has also proven that he doesn’t need a GPS to help him find our borough.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4538.