"Are you spending enough time with your kids? When was the last time you and your partner could go out on a date? Do you see your life getting better this year? Or are you just holding on?" Those questions were at the heart of Mayor Bill de Blasio's State of the City speech on Thursday.
In his sixth annual address, de Blasio made the case that the city should be instituting policies that lift residents up—offering them a better quality of life at work and at home. Even though the mayor led with his accomplishments (140,000 fewer arrests than when he took office, fewer than 8,000 people in jail, fewest traffic fatalities since 1910, highest high school graduation rate), he said the lesson of these accomplishments is that there is still more to do.
The other lesson evident in the speech: the mayor’s shift in rhetoric. The mayor was tacking left, adopting a message of empathy that echoed the likes of progressive superstars like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the one-time bartender who connected with working class voters by noting that she was one of them. De Blasio talked about the struggles his family endured when he and his wife Chirlane McCray’s mothers both fell ill at the same time, and used that frame of a struggling family to lay out proposals that were intended for an audience that extended beyond New York.
Listen to WNYC’s Brigid Berlin discuss the State of the City on All Things Considered:
"Millions of people in this city and across the country are boxed into lives that just aren't working," de Blasio told the capacity crowd at Symphony Space on Manhattan's Upper West Side.
"There is plenty of money in this city, it's just in the wrong hands. You deserve a city that gives you the share of prosperity that you've earned," he said.
In a stark contrast to the rhetoric coming from the White House where an ongoing government shutdown hinges on funding for a southern border wall, the mayor sought to present an alternative vision of a government—one that is focused on keeping families together, giving them more time with each other and preventing abuse at work and at home.
At one point, the mayor invoked the president by name when he talked about the city sending lawyers to the border to assist with detention issues.
"We didn't sit back and watch what Donald Trump was doing to our country. We took him on," de Blasio said.
Since the start of his mayoralty, de Blasio has made fighting income inequality a central theme of his administration. He has also benefited from the ongoing economic health of the city, allowing him launch signature programs like pre-kindergarten for all 4-year-olds and expand the city's workforce, including hiring thousands more police officers.
Now he says the city will take steps to improve the health and welfare of each New Yorker, including expanded healthcare and a paid leave proposal announced earlier this week. He also announced new programs including a rebranded Department of Consumer Affairs, now the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection.
In a bit of municipal theater, the mayor announced he planned to sign an executive order to create the Mayor's Office to Protect Tenants, a place that de Blasio said will crack down on the city's most abusive landlords. Then de Blasio whipped out the order and signed it on stage.
"The city's worst landlords will have a new sheriff to fear," de Blasio said.
The mayor also began to lay out his legislative agenda for Albany with an emboldened sense of optimism now that Democrats control both legislative chambers. For rent regulated tenants, the mayor said he will push to repeal vacancy decontrol. He also plans to lobby for voting reforms like early voting, same-day registration and no-excuse absentee voting along with criminal justice reforms like guaranteeing speedy trials and bail reform. He also pledged to fight to extend mayoral control of city schools, a fight he’s been forced to wage repeatedly in Albany with Governor Cuomo signing a deal to extend it for two years in 2017.
De Blasio also promised to take on Albany to ensure that lawmakers address the subway crisis by the April 1st budget deadline. But to make some commutes easier, he also said the city plans to add ferry routes connecting Staten Island to Manhattan's West Side, Coney Island in Brooklyn to Lower Manhattan and an extension of the Soundview route to Ferry Point.
We’re so excited! NYC Ferry will now serve all five boroughs!
⛴ Staten Island route will launch in 2020
⛴ Coney Island route will launch in 2021
⛴ Throgs Neck stop will launch in 2021
⛴ Brooklyn Navy Yard stop will launch in May 2019 pic.twitter.com/OtcmcfNkWk
— NYC Ferry (@NYCferry) January 10, 2019
On education, the mayor said the city will continue to build out his 3K initiative offering the full day program in Washington Heights, the South Bronx, East New York, Staten Island, Bushwick and Soundview.
Despite his platform of improving New Yorkers' quality of life, he gave the dilapidated conditions at the New York City Housing Authority only passing mention. The mayor said NYCHA has a plan to renovate apartments for 175,000 people, “from new roofs, to new kitchens and bathrooms.” That pledge is part of an ongoing program to fix the severely distressed housing. Meanwhile, the city is still trying to negotiate a settlement with federal prosecutors who sued the city over the deplorable conditions at NYCHA complexes.
The speech lasted just over an hour and was the earliest State of the City the mayor has delivered while in office. Many of the details for how the new programs will be paid for are expected to come in the next few weeks, during his upcoming preliminary budget presentation.