Shaken by President Donald Trump’s antics in Washington and freed from the constraints of running for reelection, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio set his sights no lower than the preservation of democracy itself in his State of the City address Tuesday, proposing a series of ideas to “re-democratize a society that’s losing its way.”
Here are four takeaways from his speech Tuesday night at the ornate Kings Theatre in Brooklyn.
Launching Democracy NYC
De Blasio wants to get more people voting, more people running for office, and more people knowing and caring about politics in the city. He introduced a ten-point plan, simply titled Democracy NYC, to do it.
Part of the plan was marked by uncontroversial initiatives like increasing civics education in city high schools, and registering an additional 1.5 million more New Yorkers to vote. But de Blasio also took aim at a notoriously ineffective agency, criticizing the New York City Board of Elections for its voter outreach efforts, saying the board “has no coherent vision for how to make voting an easy and positive experience,” and asking for some of its duties to be handed over to the mayor’s office.
But the most remarkable parts of the plan seemed like efforts by a mayor who truly believes in good government trying to distance himself from allegations of money buying influence in City Hall. De Blasio is launching a lobbying disclosure website, listing all meetings his commissioners and other administration officials have with registered lobbyists. He’s also calling to revise the city charter to allow for even deeper public financing of elections.
“Nothing restores the faith of the people more than by getting big money out of politics,” he said. “Our goal is to have elections funded primarily by public dollars.”
That plan already has one prominent critic on procedural grounds, as City Council Speaker Corey Johnson wondered aloud on Twitter why the City Council could not pass the changes without a charter revision commission.
Don’t look at me
The state government holds enormous power over New York City, and de Blasio vowed to take a number of fights to Albany this year, including asking for greater funding of city schools under the Campaign for Fiscal Equity ruling. De Blasio said he’ll redouble his efforts to get the state legislature to pass a millionaire’s tax, with the new revenue going to fund the MTA. He pointed to Albany to help close Rikers Island by passing bail reform and speedy trial legislation, and demanded action on election reforms to improve voter access as part of his Democracy NYC initiative. “Enough is enough,” de Blasio said. “Let’s make this a place where we can vote again.”
Mirror, mirror on the wall
De Blasio wants to be the fairest of them all, centering his speech on a catchphrase that seems to be the guiding light of his second term: making New York “the fairest big city in America.” Most of the speech was taken up by a litany of ways the mayor’s administration has improved equity in the city, from expanding early childhood education, to continually reducing historically-low crime rates, to building and maintaining affordable housing. De Blasio also took a shot at Trump for withdrawing the United States from the Paris Agreement., noting that New York City has been at the vanguard of fighting climate change.
“This is one of the clearest examples of how we and other cities and states need to be the antidote to broken policies in Washington,” he said, reiterating the city’s plan to divest its pension fund from fossil fuel companies and the mayor’s lawsuit against petroleum companies.
Eight million stories to tell
Like in past years, de Blasio’s State of the City address started with a slickly produced video featuring profiles of New Yorkers who represent various de Blasio administration initiatives – the preschool teacher in a class with three-year-olds, the NYPD officer who does neighborhood policing in Bed-Stuy, where she grew up. De Blasio also pulled from the presidential State of the Union playbook, pointing out everyday heroes in the crowd, like the Staten Island sanitation worker who’s been on the job for 52 years, and the family of Emmanuel Mensah, who died in December trying to save his Bronx neighbors from a fire.
De Blasio also singled out Jean Souffrant, a correction officer who is recovering after being assaulted in a Rikers Island jail on Saturday night. As de Blasio vowed to hold the attackers fully accountable, the mayor received the only disruption of the night from an otherwise welcoming crowd. A protestor shouted “You’ve got to do more! You’re not doing enough!” while being escorted out of the theater, echoing complaints of the correction officers union, who want more protections.
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