For his eighth and final State of the City, Mayor Bill de Blasio delivered a strange speech for strange times. The annual address focused on the city’s recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic and offered dozens of policy ideas borne out of the crisis: vaccination goals, restoring jobs, expanding bike lanes, and reopening schools.
In the 20-minute videotaped speech, announced publicly just hours before it was broadcast on Thursday evening, the mayor sought to highlight the city’s resilience and focus on his plans to build a recovery that addresses the needs of all New Yorkers.
“Let me tell you a tale of a new city,” said de Blasio, over background music, giving a nod to his 2013 campaign that aimed to “end the tale of two cities.”
As his second term draws to a close — with the pandemic shuttering businesses, reshaping the streetscape, and bringing deep inequality across the city into plain sight — the speech offered the mayor one final chance to state what his administration stood for, what he aimed to do, and how he’d do it.
Among his top priorities, the mayor said he wanted to hit a target of 5 million vaccinations by June, relying on the city’s 412 vaccination sites, including larger 24/7 centers and dozens of community health clinics. The ambitious target, accounting for more than half of the city’s population, is predicated on the city receiving an adequate supply of the vaccine, an uncertain prospect at a time when the city has had to cancel thousands of vaccination appointments.
It also assumes the city solves the problems raised recently about accessibility at its vaccination sites, where people have complained about a lack of information in multiple languages and stark racial disparities over who has been able to be vaccinated.
If that goal is achieved, the mayor said the city can then move to the next phase of recovery, including bringing people back to work. He said they would aim to bring all city workers back to their offices by May of this year. Higher vaccination levels would also set the stage for job recovery across the private sector including industries like restaurants and hospitality and arts and culture, both gutted by losses during the pandemic.
Taking stock of the Covid-ravaged economy, de Blasio set the goal of restoring and surpassing 2020 employment levels, before the pandemic wiped out 900,000 city jobs. He also said the city would join the campaign to lobby state lawmakers to increase taxes on the wealthiest New Yorkers, a policy he has repeatedly proposed to no success in varying forms since the start of his mayoralty.
He said the city would provide more support to small businesses. One proposal, NYC Small Business Recovery Tax Credit, would offer $50 million in rental assistance for up to 17,000 small businesses in hard-hit industries like the arts and hospitality. The credit would be good for $10,000 if the businesses retain their current workforce. Like the tax on the wealthiest New Yorkers, this program would also require state approval.
While education is one of the policy areas that will likely define de Blasio's legacy, with the expansion of early childhood education to 3 and 4-year-olds, his final plans included a series of proposals he’s already announced: opening schools to all students at the start the next school year, helping students address learning gaps, expanding mental health services, and implementing additional district diversity plans to address the problem of segregation.
His only new proposal centered on training the next generation of school administrators through a program set to launch this spring. The 10-month program will train tenured principals with a record of driving student achievement in diverse communities. De Blasio has clashed with administrators over reopening plans, and received a “no confidence” vote from the principals’ union last summer.
The speech also included additional proposed reforms for the New York City Police Department, including plans to address the spike in gun violence through community-based outreach, give communities a say in the selection of their precinct commanders and address the issue of police discipline.
As part of that goal, the mayor pledged to expand the power of the Civilian Complaint Review Board, the agency responsible for civilian oversight of the NYPD, and bring two other oversight functions under its umbrella: The Commission to Combat Police Corruption and the NYPD Office of the Inspector General.
Calling it the David Dinkins Plan — named for the late mayor who created the independent CCRB — the mayor said the agency will have the right to initiate investigations without an individual complainant and have timely access to information needed for those investigations. This includes body-worn camera footage and officers’ disciplinary and employment histories for substantiated cases. It will also enable the agency to investigate instances of “biased-based policing” misconduct and to review the NYPD’s Patrol Guide to find instances where the policies are potentially problematic.
The agency is already facing a backlog of cases, and has been criticized for how effectively it can investigate misconduct complaints. This week, four former employees filed a lawsuit against the police watchdog. They claim they were dismissed from their jobs for raising concerns with how investigations were being handled and with what they saw as an inability among senior leadership to assert independence from the NYPD.
Among the most concrete proposals to emerge from the speech is a plan to transform car lanes into bike lanes on the Brooklyn and Queensboro Bridges. The idea was greeted with praise from safe street advocates and bikers. City councilmember Brad Lander, a candidate for city comptroller this year, said he’s been pushing for this change since 2012, when proponents were told it would take millions in design and construction and years of engineering studies.
“Apparently all it took was a little political will and some green paint,” Lander told Gothamist / WNYC.
More 2021 State of the City proposals:
- Make the taskforce on Racial Equity and Inclusion permanent through executive order
- Establish two-year Charter Revision Commission to identify sources of structural racism in New York City and recommend changes that will root it out
- Increase access to 5G Intenet access
- Create 10,000 jobs through the City Cleanup Corps focused on cleaning and beautifying city neighborhoods
- Secure a deal this year to connect to Canadian hydropower and other renewable electricity sources
- Ban fossil fuel connections in new construction by 2030
- Create new public spaces in more than 30 of the neighborhoods hit hardest by COVID-19
- Establish a Life Science Avenue stretching from the Pandemic Response Institute in Kips Bay through to East Harlem in the North, with neighborhood clusters in Long Island City, Sunset Park, Central Brooklyn, Hudson Square, Manhattan’s West Side, West Harlem, Upper Manhattan, and Morris Park.