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In the land of politics, it’s that wonderful time of the year when we opine about the state of things. Last month, President Obama talked about the state of the country, Governor Cuomo discussed the state of New York state, and Mayor Bloomberg chatted about the state of the Big Apple.
Last night, Runnin’ Scared packed into an auditorium at the New York Historical Society on the Upper West Side to hear about the state of the most important place on the planet, the center of the universe. Y’know, Manhattan.
Mayoral hopeful and current Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer delivered his sixth annual State of the Borough speech to a crowd of electeds and reporters (and regular ole’ politically-active Manhattanites?), presenting a set of initiatives aimed at supporting the city’s middle and working class residents.
Stringer began by announcing some of the distinguished guests who dropped by for the speech — starting with the three pols who are expected to go up against him in the 2013 mayoral race. City Comptroller John Liu, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio sat side-by-side in the front row, watching the borough president deliver a speech that sounded somewhat mayoral in its citywide scope.
“I know that Scott is destined for bigger things, and I know that we are all eager to hear what he has to say tonight,” said Sarah Chu, a community board member and Community Education Council member who introduced Stringer.
“People work harder and harder, but fall further and further behind. The gap between the rich and poor grows ever wider,” Stringer said near the beginning of his speech. “We still have not recovered from the great recession — with job growth in the five boroughs now substantially lower than the rest of the nation.”
“The middle class squeeze is becoming a chokehold. For me, that’s not just a problem. It’s a crisis. Because when New York stops being a middle class city, it stops being New York,” he continued, earning applause. “That’s the challenge I want to talk about tonight — reclaiming the middle class and this city for all of us to enjoy. This is what it’s all about. It will not be easy, and it won’t happen overnight, but it has to start now.”
Stringer unveiled a series of initiatives designed to represent his overarching appeal to the middle class.
His first major call was for a “Middle Class Tax Reform” plan that would cut taxes for families earning less than $300,000. Those making more than a million dollars a year would be taxed at a higher rate — a change of merely .5 percent. He tipped his hat to the governor for creating three new income brackets and cutting taxes on families making less than $300,000. (A reporter at Bloomberg’s budget address yesterday asked him about this kind of tax reform, and the mayor replied that the city needs to remain competitive, so that residents don’t move out in response to tax changes: “At the state and city level, you’re in competition with the guy across the river.”)
The borough president also called for the creation of a $250 million fund to transform foreclosed units through an initiative that would allow the city to offer a mixture of loans and grants to nonprofit developers and others to renovate buildings. The housing would be put back at the market with limits that would keep them affordable, he said.
The third part of his agenda was “empowering small businesses” through several initiatives, including an effort to provide loans to businesses through a new source he called the New York City Small Business Growth and Retention Fund. (NYCSBGRF, perhaps?) He also announced that his office is underwriting a new tech-incubator for upper Manhattan in partnership with the City University of New York’s Grove School of Engineering.
In a push that clashes with Christine Quinn’s stance, he urged the City Council to pass Paid Sick Leave legislation — a policy which would give a minimum of one hour of paid sick time for every thirty hours worked by an employee. (Critics say it would be financially too tough on businesses).
After the speech, Runnin’ Scared managed to track down two folks for some response — a potential competitor for Stringer in the mayoral race, and a City Councilman who has his eye on the borough president seat.
In the crowds of electeds schmoozing, we first found Comptroller John Liu, who only offered words of praise for Stringer: “I thought Scott delivered a great speech — a lot of good ideas, a lot of vision for the future.”
When we asked him if he disagreed with any of the initiatives, he said, “No, I think it was a comprehensive speech and a good vision for Manhattan going forward.”
Then we found City Councilman Robert Jackson, who represents parts of upper Manhattan and plans to run for borough president (so long as Stringer doesn’t run for re-election.)
“Listen, I think that Scott put forward a lot of dreams and aspirations of all New Yorkers and that’s what we have to have. We have to have hope. That’s what Obama said in 2008,” Jackson said. “Then reality has to set in and can we, not he, can we accomplish all the dreams and aspirations as soon as possible? When can we do that?”
Jackson said he wasn’t so sure about the likelihood of Stringer’s tax reform plan. “The tax bracket thing — that’s a lot of dreams and aspirations. In my opinion, the tax bracket thing is not gonna happen … because it’s not going to pass the state legislature,” he said.
Runnin’ Scared started to lose Jackson in the crowd, but not before he repeated his praise for Stringer’s optimism and alluded to the borough president’s potential mayoral bid: “A lot of dreams and aspirations! Which is good — we have to have those things! You know what I mean? We want to hear that from all of the people, all of the candidates — oh, did I say candidates?”