BY ARIEL HERNANDEZ
Mayor Bill de Blasio delivered his annual State of the City Address Monday at Harlem’s Apollo Theater, where he talked about the city’s efforts to create 100,000 new jobs, provide affordable housing and increase graduation rates.
In his speech, de Blasio said that residents of the five boroughs—and not just political leaders—should be commended for the city’s successes.
“You know, we praise great leaders, but we also need to praise everyday New Yorkers,” de Blasio said. “They believed this place could give them opportunity. And they did all that was asked of them to realize that dream. That is part of what has made New York City such an extraordinary place—the openness, the possibility, the fact that anyone had a shot here is one of the most beautiful things about this place, more beautiful than any of our skyscrapers or museums.”
One of the mayor’s focuses in his speech was the city’s attempt to create more affordable housing, an issue that has plagued the city for years. De Blasio said that from 1990 to 2014, the average New York City rent increased by 22 percent.
“I’m very proud to say we have the biggest affordable housing plan in the history of the city, but I also have to tell you we have to go even farther,” de Blasio said. “Everything we’ve been doing so far is necessary. I believe it’s right. But it’s not sufficient. We have to drive up incomes.”
In the next 10 years, de Blasio said that he aims to create 100,000 new permanent jobs that pay at least $50,000 per year.
“A good job gives a worker a skill that they cannot just use then, but for years—and, in fact, decades to come—that allows them to keep going farther,” de Blasio said.
The mayor said that 40,000 of the 100,000 new jobs would be ready within the next four years and that his administration had already begun the process of creating them. Approximately 9,000 jobs with an average salary of $75,000 would be created in the life sciences industry, while 7,000 city construction jobs would be added and 10,000 jobs with an average salary of $70,000 would be located at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
While discussing city education, de Blasio said that 72.6 percent of high school students graduated last year, making it the highest graduation rate in the city’s history.
However, Families for Excellent Schools, a nonprofit with the aim of providing good schools for all students in the five boroughs, said that the city needed to go further in its education initiatives.
“It’s a shame that NYC kids won’t be able to take advantage of Mayor de Blasio’s 100,000 new jobs because just 37 percent of them are prepared for college,” Families for Excellent Schools CEO Jeremiah Kittredge said. “College graduates earn more than a million dollars more over the course of their careers, but…Mayor de Blasio told students that a high school diploma was good enough for their future.”
Several city issues—such as homelessness and transportation— were barely referenced or not mentioned at all.
“As expected, Mayor de Blasio gave himself a glowing review in his State of the City Address on Monday,” Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) said. “However, he conveniently forgot to mention the homeless epidemic and the administration’s failure to protect vulnerable children in [Administration for Children’s Services] custody. At a time when New Yorkers are more and more concerned with the future of our city, we deserve real solutions to the problems we face—not political grandstanding.”
In recent months, the city has housed some of its homeless in hotels throughout Queens, a move that has met with resistance in some communities.
Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Glendale) said she believes the city needs to come up with a better plan for housing its homeless population.
“Our city needs a real plan and solution to the homelessness crisis,” she said of the mayor’s speech. “For three years, the administration has tried, unsuccessfully, to put a Band-Aid on this issue, but this has just contributed to more children and families in our shelter system each night.”
Traci Donnelly, CEO and executive director for The Child Center of NY, said that while she agreed with the mayor’s stances, many city nonprofits are in “crisis” mode.
“While I generally applaud his agenda, Mayor de Blasio has asked social impact organizations to do too much with too little for too long,” she said. “NYC human services nonprofits are in crisis. We need additional city funds to carry out the mayor’s agenda. At The Child Center of NY and in other family services agencies tasked with the well-being of children, there is simply no margin for error. Our children’s health, security and happiness continue to be at stake.”
Public transportation was also notably absent from the mayor’s speech. Earlier this month, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced that fares would increase next month. Letitia James, the city’s public advocate, recently said that in 2016, there were 75,000 train delays, which was 10,000 more delays than in 2015.
Other elected officials representing Queens—such as U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights)— praised de Blasio’s speech.
“I am encouraged by the mayor’s commitment to keeping New Yorkers in New York and in their homes,” Crowley said. “I look forward to hearing more from the administration on its various initiatives and how we can work together to move our city forward without leaving anyone behind.”
In his speech, de Blasio also touched on the sense of unease among some city residents in the wake of President Donald Trump’s election and his travel ban executive order, which has been halted for now by a federal appellate court.
“For a lot of people, there’s a sense of fear; there is a sense of distress,” de Blasio said. “I said then [that] you need to see the election not as an end, but a beginning. That may have sounded abstract, but now let me put it in the perspective of the last few weeks. When thousands of New Yorkers rush to the airport to protect our Constitution, that is not an end; that is a beginning. And when 400,000 people marched for women and their rights here in New York City, and almost three million more around our nation, that is not an end; that is a beginning. We need to stay a beacon of hope. We need to show people what a society that respects all looks like, and keep the dream of so many of our forbearers alive for all to see. We need to remember this country is ours. It belongs to all of us. And this is our city.”
Reach Ariel Hernandez at (718) 357-7400 x144 or firstname.lastname@example.org