Bill de Blasio is waging an aggressive campaign for mayor against presumed front-runner City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. Reminiscent of 2009 when de Blasio and others railed against Quinn’s role in overturning term limits despite two referenda, this year the public advocate is making his case for change with every Quinn misstep. For months, de Blasio blasted Quinn for three years of stalling a vote on sick pay, then when she acquiesced to a watered-down version he said it wasn’t good enough. With recent revelations that Councilman Dan Halloran planned to abuse the member item process as part of a larger scheme to get State Senator Malcolm Smith on the Republican ballot for mayor, de Blasio has called for complete elimination of member items in the council.
De Blasio called the recent arrests a “jolt to our system” to see so many people arrested on the city and state level and investigations continue that could result in even more. “The federal government and the state government have banned the use of member items,” said de Blasio. “The city continues, and yet if Councilman Halloran goes to jail he will be the 4th City Council member in four years to end up behind bars because — in each and every case — of the misuse of member items. I think the city council needs more oversight because whatever internal controls they put in place are not working.” He believes that a series of reforms are needed “if we are going to restore public trust”.
From de Blasio’s viewpoint, corruption is not the only problem with member items. “The other problem is a political one. Member item money is used as a reward and punishment,” said de Blasio. “It’s not Speaker Quinn’s money or anyone else in power’s money. It’s the people’s money and it’s not for her to decide she is going to give more or less depending on her political needs and whims. We heard from City Council members Crowley and Vallone who gave very specific instances where they and their districts were punished because they opposed the speaker on a particular issue. That is wrong. It is another reason why member items have to end.”
Overall, de Blasio thinks the city needs a series of very strong, bold solutions to solve the “Tale of Two Cities” entrenched income disparities created under Bloomberg. “If we are going to fix the income disparity that plagues us, where we have literally the worst division between rich and poor since the Great Depression — and growing — it’s going to be by using every tool we’ve got,” said de Blasio. A city that is affordable for some who have good schools and safe streets while others struggle is unsustainable “is not a status quo we can live with,” he said. De Blasio added, “If you think the Bloomberg years worked out perfectly, and then I am not your candidate.”
In a dig to Bloomberg and Quinn (who orchestrated the council vote to overturn term limits), de Blasio told the overflow crowd at the 44th AD candidate forum: “I think, although one could argue, there was some promise in the early Bloomberg years; I think he went astray from the moment he proposed changing term limits to benefit himself which I was honored to lead the opposition against in the City Council with [Council woman] Tish James.” Continuing his point, de Blasio said, “When the mayor and the business community stood up with all their might and said they want to continue him in office, we fought against it. That, I think, was the beginning of the end of whatever vision or progressive values might have existed in Bloomberg’s world. Certainly, in the third term, we haven’t seen any.”
De Blasio said the city, as it is currently structured, does not reflect our values as New Yorkers. “As New Yorkers, we believe in compassion, tolerance, inclusion, diversity,” said de Blasio. “We believe this is a city for everyone.”
According to de Blasio, mere tweaking of Bloomberg’s policies is not enough. “We have to use living wage — which says we simply are going to make sure when we subsidize a company that the company provides its employees a decent wage — to reach thousands and ultimately tens of thousands of people,” he said. “We’ve got to have paid sick days, not for some, but for everyone we can reach. We were fighting for three years for paid sick days in this city. A compromise was struck but that compromise – even though I am glad we got something – left out 300,000 people on the face of it. And it won’t take effect for another year or two. And there is a part of the law that suggests it might not ever take effect if the economy has trouble.”
De Blasio wants paid sick days for people who need them now. I can’t think of anything that would affect the lives of families more than making sure people cannot lose good jobs when they are sick and wouldn’t lose a day or two or three days pay just because they were sick,” said de Blasio. “People simply can’t afford that.”
Speaking of Bloomberg’s favored treatment of Manhattan over the outer boroughs on a number of issues — including disproportionate fines imposed on outer borough businesses — de Blasio said, “That is not sustainable either”.
If elected, de Blasio said that as a public school parent he would be the first mayor to serve while having a child in the public schools. He would tax the wealthiest New Yorkers – people who make a half-million or more – to pay for full-day, universal pre-K. “Every child in New York City who needs a pre-K gets a pre-K seat,” said de Blasio. “And for every middle school child three hours of after-school guaranteed for free. So that they can get the help they need. That would fundamentally change our schools.”
On stop-and-frisk, de Blasio said it’s unacceptable and must change. “We need a new police commissioner who will make real reform. We need an Inspector General so we never have a stop-and-frisk crisis again,” he said. “We need a series of changes to make policing more equitable and to bind back the relationship between police and community.”
“There is no contradiction between wanting a decent respectful relationship between police and community and respect for civil liberties and constitutional guarantees,” said de Blasio. “I have heard it from the mayor and the police commissioner suggesting that you can’t have both. I disagree. It is against the values of this country to say you can’t have respect for civil liberties and respect for public safety at the same time.”