Bill de Blasio, embattled idealist

bill de blasio son dante
Mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio visits a Brooklyn senior center with his son Dante. Credit: Bess Adler

Bill de Blasio — the candidate calling for a tax on millionaires to fund universal pre-K and after-school programs — has positioned himself from Day One as “the progressive,” a moniker that is now being used by both his supporters and his detractors.

De Blasio has called other candidates’ claims that money for universal pre-K already exists and is regularly sent back to the state “wildly misleading.”

That money, he said, amounts to “several tens of millions.”

“It doesn’t come close to what I’m talking about,” de Blasio insisted. “It’s a smoke screen. I’m talking about a $532 million program.”

That program, funded by this tax on millionaires, would include full-day pre-K for all children as well as after-school programs to all middle-school children who need it.

“There’s no way in hell you can achieve that with current resources,” de Blasio said. “People who are suggesting otherwise should stop lying about that.”

But critics, including Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, say such a tax is out of the question.

“It’s a great sound bite, what Bill de Blasio has done, it’s a great sound bite, and he is a wonderful idealist,” Weingarten said.

Weingarten referred to recent news reports that have sources in Albany insisting that having continued a state income tax surcharge on high-income New Yorkers earlier this year, Gov. Cuomo would likely seek a tax cut in next year’s budget, not another increase, especially given that he will be seeking re-election in 2014.

Senate Republican officials said they would stand firm against a proposal for a tax hike, arguing that the city already has some of the highest taxes in the nation.

This is a major criticism leveled against de Blasio: Many of his proposals are things the mayor does not have jurisdiction over.

Receiving the endorsement of Councilman Brad Lander, one of the architects of the City Council’s recently passed profiling ban and inspector general bill, de Blasio dismissed his critics as those who “want to continue the status quo.”

Lauding Lander’s hard-won victory in passing his bills as an example to counter such arguments, de Blasio said: “We don’t accept that there’s no other way to do things. They said you could not get a ban on profiling and an inspector general. … Yes you could. We had ‘yes you can’ before — yes you could.”

“We insist on change,” de Blasio concluded. 

The call for change and revival of “Yes We Can” bring to mind the first Barack Obama presidential campaign and all the idealism therein. This is perhaps a dangerous comparison, however, considering the criticism leveled against Obama during his first term and the criticism leveled against de Blasio now: Obama often appeared unable to effect change in areas requiring the approval and collaboration of Congress; de Blasio’s detractors are saying many of his proposals call for the hard-to-get — some even say unlikely — approval of Albany.

De Blasio’s camp has been quick to point out that some of rival Christine Quinn’s proposals, including a recent pitch to change the drop-out age and a long-standing push for more city influence on the board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, would also require approval from Albany.

But supporters of other candidates, particularly Quinn, have started painting de Blasio as a rhetorical progressive in comparison to Quinn as an “effective progressive.”

Gloria Steinem referred to Quinn as an “effective progressive” when Quinn rolled out her paid family leave plan, which she said could be funded by money already in the city budget, side-stepping the need for Albany legislation and avoiding a small payroll tax increase that de Blasio’s plan required.

De Blasio dismisses such criticism as coming from those who are just happy with the status quo.

“I believe there is a clear tradition in the state of New York: When the mayor of the City of New York and the City Council agree and ask for the opportunity for new revenue of their own from their own jurisdiction — with Mayor Bloomberg, with Mayor Giuliani, with Mayor Dinkins, Albany agreed,” de Blasio insisted. “So, for those who throw stones, I just ask them to understand we don’t intend to continue the status quo.”

 

WHAT TO EXPECT FROM A MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO

  • A program of full-day pre-kindergarten education for all kids citywide, as well as afterschool programs for all middle school students who need it, would be funded by a tax increase on New Yorkers who earn over a million dollars a year. De Blasio said it will cost half a billion dollars a year for five years.
  • That tax increase would need to be achieved within the first 90 days of his time in office, de Blasio said, though the pre-K program wouldn’t be in place as early as September of 2014.
  • De Blasio would keep the police force the same size it is not, but employ more technology, including cameras around the city.
  • Bill de Blasio supports Mayor Bloomberg’s soda ban “as a parent,” and would continue to push for it as mayor.

 

Follow Danielle Tcholakian on Twitter @danielleiat


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