In the last State of the City address of his first term, Mayor Bill de Blasio stood on the stage of Harlem’s Apollo Theater and returned to the theme of mounting inequality which marked his 2013 election campaign. Faced with three separate protests outside the theater, all attacking him from the left, the mayor meandered his way through a speech that was light on both policy and promises, offering yet another 10-year-plan for something he might only have less than a single year to accomplish.
“This affordability crisis threatens who we are, threatens the very soul of this city,” de Blasio said, reading from a set of prepared notes. “And people have told me so many times with such passion they feel their own city slipping away.”
Last year, de Blasio’s State of the City speech was jam-packed with policy proposals, including his LinkNYC initiative, investment in Far Rockaway, and expanding Broadband in NYCHA.
The mayor did not include any mention of the city’s immigrants, its “sanctuary city” status, and only one time referred to President Donald Trump.
De Blasio’s largest and most substantive proposal was a ten-year plan to generate 100,000 well-paying jobs in the city. As part of the plan, de Blasio would accelerate the spread of manufacturing and high-tech jobs in Sunset Park’s Industry City, through a new media campus, dubbed “Made in NYC.”
Those jobs would be reachable, of course, through de Blasio’s ill-fated waterfront streetcar, which did not merit a mention during the address and remains mired in a planning phase from which it might never escape.
De Blasio touted three significant achievements by which to measure his first three years — universal pre-K, record graduation rates, and new programs designed to provide more affordable housing or keep people in their homes. A day earlier, de Blasio had announced an agreement with the city council to extend legal representation to all tenants in housing court.
“If you’re facing illegal eviction you get a lawyer. If you’re facing illegal over charge of rent you get a lawyer. If you’re facing illegal harassment you get a lawyer,” de Blasio expounded. “And beyond that, any New Yorker that makes over $50,000, that’s fine — any New Yorker will have access to free legal support and advice to help them navigate housing court and get fairness.”
Outside of the theater, groups rallied against de Blasio on three separate issues where his base has felt he has abandoned them — the need to drastically reform or close Rikers Island, the NYPD’s reliance on Broken Windows policing, which disproportionately punishes New York City’s communities of color, and the continued privatization of NYCHA.
Naomi Garcia, 21, lives in the Rutgers Houses on the Lower East Side. Ownership of the Rutgers Houses was sold to CitiBank in 2010 under Mayor Bloomberg, a model that Mayor de Blasio seeks to replicate citywide through his “partnership-based model.” Garcia has not been satisfied with what’s going on since the bank bought her building.
“I’m not only out here fighting for my community, but for all five boroughs, who will soon be dealing with this,” Garcia told the Voice, holding a sign that said ‘Mayor de Blasio is a Narcissist.’ “He’s a manipulator. What he’s doing is manipulating people into thinking he is with us. He’s trying to mimic good people, people from our community who have been fighting for better treatment from NYCHA.”
Gabriel Sayegh, co-executive director of the Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice, and an organizer with the campaign with #CLOSErikers, noted the mayor’s failure to enact substantive bail and policing reform that would allow the city to reach levels of incarceration that would let the city close Rikers Island. These same complaints were echoed by other protesters who believe the mayor’s reliance on Broken Windows policing, which disproportionately targets communities of color, has put the city’s immigrant population at risk.
“Rikers is a catastrophe, a human-rights disaster here in the backyard of the most progressive city in the world,” Sayegh said. “It is impossible for New York to claim a mantle of being a progressive leader while maintaining Rikers as a facility.”
Before the speech, Rebecca Egler, of Park Slope, waded past the protests outside the Apollo. She didn’t think de Blasio had done enough with his first three years in office to bridge the city’s massive wealth gap, but thought he’d made some good progress overall. “With universal pre-K, and there’s still a lot of work to be done with affordable housing, but he’s made some strides where the Bloomberg administration hadn’t.”
One thing she wanted to know: “I want to see how the mayor will protect immigrants from ICE raids.”
On that subject, his speech provided no answers.