Mayor Bill de Blasio rebuked GOP state Sen. Dean Skelos' vow to block the city's universal prekindergarten plan from going to a vote. Credit: nyc.gov
Mayor Bill de Blasio rebuked murmurings from Albany that his administration's plan for universal full day prekindergarten would not go to a vote in the state senate.
De Blasio gave an impassioned address to a crowd of more than 200 local pastors at Bethany Baptist Church in Brooklyn. Joined by the Rev. Al Sharpton and first lady Chirlane McCray, the mayor rallies the clergy to promote the city's plan — which relies on Albany granting the city's the ability to hike taxes on its wealthiest.
Sharpton and de Blasio pleaded with the clergy leaders to help sway state lawmakers towards supporting the administration's plan while rejecting legislators who would deny a vote on the request.
"They can’t accept the possibility of no vote on something that the people of New York City have spoken for so clearly," he told the audience, neglecting to mention the governor's plan for $1.5 billion towards statewide universal prekindergarten over the span of five years.
"They can't accept the notion that New York City will be treated like a colony that doesn't even get to decide its own future," de Blasio added.
The mayor and his wife further riled up the crowd with a rousing rhetoric that likened the administration's fight with state senate Republican majority leader Dean Skelos to the struggle for civil rights.
While McCray described education as "the defining civil rights issue of today," de Blasio quoted Martin Luther King's call to "bridge the gap between abject poverty and inordinate wealth."
De Blasio went on to describe Skelos' refusal as a blatant denial of rights to New Yorkers.
"It's as simple as that," he said. "Let’s not sugarcoat it. The people of this city demand something for our children, and we are told we don’t even get a vote in Albany, as if our children don’t matter."
The audience seemed to need little convincing. Sharpton led the room in a chant in the middle of de Blasio's speech, shouting "we want a vote."
De Blasio later told reporters that he was surprised and "miffed" by Skelos' comments, adding that previous conversations with the GOP leader indicated room for negotiation.
Shortly before de Blasio's first major address since his inauguration in January, Skelos preemptively rejected de Blasio's pitch.
"The last thing we need is to see high earners leave New York state, because then we lose their tax dollars," Skelos said to reporters on Monday.
A spokesman for Skelos declined to comment on de Blasio's response on Tuesday.
Skelos' senate co-leader came out in opposition to the Long Island lawmaker's remarks. Bronx Democratic Sen. Jeff. Klein reaffirmed his own refusal to consider any budget that doesn't align itself with the needs outlined by the de Blasio administration.
"As I have always said, I'm not in favor of taxing just for the sake of taxing," he said in a statement. "But I wholeheartedly support Mayor de Blasio's tax increase because it will adequately fund universal pre-K for New York City and that is why I am committed to making it a part of this year's state budget."
Meanwhile, the City Council stepped up today in support of a non-binding resolution calling for Albany to adopt the mayor's prekindergarten plan. All of the body's 48 Democrats are expected to vote in favor of the bill.
Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito shared a crowded podium with her colleagues committed to passing what she described as a "strongly worded" resolution.
Like de Blasio, she said she was surprised by Skelos's comments and equally resolved to get at least a vote on the tax hike in Albany.
"Don’t deny New York City children this critical opportunity," Mark-Viverito in reference to Skelos' statement. "Do the right thing and allow a vote."