New York Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio’s choice of Dean Fuleihan as budget director may bolster his relationship with state lawmakers, who must approve his signature plan to fund early-childhood education.
De Blasio, a Democrat who takes office Jan. 1, needs the legislature’s backing to raise income taxes on the city’s wealthiest residents, a cornerstone of his proposal to create universal pre-kindergarten and after-school programs. Fuleihan, 62, spent more than 30 years in Albany, including 16 as a policy adviser to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. He also was the chamber’s chief staff negotiator for the state’s $130 billion budget.
“It makes important legislative players look at the mayor in a very different way,” Hank Sheinkopf, a New York-based political consultant, said of Fuleihan’s appointment. “It increases his credibility with them instantaneously.”
As budget director, Fuleihan will oversee a $70 billion spending plan and face the immediate challenge of funding pay raises for 300,000 municipal workers whose contracts have expired. He replaces Mark Page, who served under Mayor Michael Bloomberg for 12 years.
The move, which de Blasio, 52, announced yesterday at a press briefing in Brooklyn, won immediate praise from the business community, lawmakers and bond analysts. On the campaign trail and yesterday, de Blasio described the city as divided between rich and poor. He said his mission to “end the tale of two cities” can succeed only if the city maintains fiscal discipline.
“Dean Fuleihan will be an extraordinary asset,” de Blasio said yesterday. “No one is more knowledgeable about how Albany works, no one is more knowledgeable about how budgeting works. He is the gold standard.”
After leaving government in 2011, Fuleihan joined the State University of New York’s College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering as executive director for strategic partnerships, according to a biography on the school’s website. The college says it’s the first in the world dedicated to nanoscience and nanotechnology, or the manipulation of matter on an atomic molecular scale.
As the first Democrat to run the biggest U.S. city in 20 years, de Blasio will be challenged to pay for his programs while taming health-care and debt costs and maintaining the city’s AA credit rating from Standard & Poor’s, higher than those of Los Angeles and Chicago.
Retroactive raises for city workers, some of whom haven’t gotten one since 2009, could cost as much as $8 billion.
Fuleihan’s experience in Albany will help de Blasio, said Howard Cure, director of municipal research in New York at Evercore Wealth Management LLC, which oversees about $4.7 billion.
“He’s gone through a lot of different governors and fiscal issues, and you want people like that in government,” Cure said. “It really behooves the city to have someone with that kind of background.”
Fuleihan received a bachelor’s degree in economics from Alfred University in western New York and studied public finance at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University.
Sheinkopf said Fuleihan gives de Blasio a “tremendous boost” because the new budget chief “understands how decisions are made, is respected by the speaker of the assembly.”
Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, said in a statement e-mailed yesterday that Fuleihan is a “brilliant” choice.
“Dean will be an indispensable member of the de Blasio administration and his advice and counsel will be invaluable,” Silver said.
Fuleihan’s father emigrated from Lebanon, and his mother’s parents were from there as well, Fuleihan said yesterday. Their experiences, and his great-grandfather’s belief in the power of education, helped shape him.
“I look very much forward to fighting for New York City again, putting my Albany experience to use and passing a tax on the wealthiest New Yorkers to transform our schools, putting strategic investments to create good jobs and career paths at the center of our agenda, making sure we resolve labor contracts in a way that respects our city’s workforce and protects the taxpayer,” he said at the briefing.
Fuleihan has the respect of the business community, Kathryn Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City, a business-backed group, said in an e-mailed statement. He played a pivotal role in Bloomberg’s successful negotiations with Silver on putting the mayor in control of city schools, she said.
“He helped develop our most successful housing and economic development programs and secure mayoral control of the schools,” Wylde said. “This is another promising appointment by the mayor-elect.”
Fuleihan, a Syracuse native, is well-respected among lawmakers too, Assemblyman Bill Magnarelli, a Democrat from his hometown, said by phone.
“Anytime I had a problem, whether it be a bill or part of the budget, Dean would talk me through it in a way that wasn’t condescending,” Magnarelli said. “You could bank on what he was saying and he would give you the lay of the land. That’s the kind of thing that made him so important to the Assembly.”
Magnarelli said he wants to see specifics of de Blasio’s tax-increase plan for early-childhood education before deciding whether to back it. Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, said he wants to cut taxes next year.
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