New York Mayor Bill de Blasio defended himself on multiple fronts after enduring criticism from some of his closest allies and even television weatherman Al Roker.
Governor Andrew Cuomo, a fellow Democrat and friend for 20 years, said yesterday the mayor’s signature plan to tax the rich to pay for universal pre-kindergarten would never survive the legislature. At a Brooklyn news briefing, de Blasio parried comments that he shouldn’t have contacted police after the arrest of a supporter. And then there was his decision not to close schools after snow pounded the city. NBC’s Roker took to Twitter to forecast a single term.
“It’s a different thing to run a city than to give the weather on TV,” de Blasio told reporters.
De Blasio, 52, won over voters with his indictment of the growing rich-poor gap, taking office by the biggest margin for a nonincumbent in city history. Still, New Yorkers didn’t exempt him from their penchant for providing unsolicited advice.
It would have been a busy week even without the sixth storm in as many weeks, with de Blasio delivering his first State of the City speech and budget. Both highlighted his plan to boost taxes on income above $500,000, which would raise more than $500 million to expand early education and after-school programs.
Yet no such change is possible without approval from lawmakers in Albany, the state capital. Cuomo reiterated his opposition yesterday, saying it won’t pass the legislature. Mayors from Niagara Falls to Yonkers backed the governor’s competing plan to fund the program statewide using existing revenue.
Another headache began the night of Feb. 10, when Bishop Orlando Findlayter, who endorsed de Blasio and was named to the mayor’s transition team, was pulled over in his car after failing to signal while turning left. He was arrested on two outstanding warrants for failing to appear in court after being arrested at an immigration protest.
De Blasio said he heard of the arrest from a staff member, then called Police Department Deputy Chief Kim Royster to inquire. Around that time, the local precinct commander decided to release Findlayter, senior pastor at New Hope Christian Fellowship. The mayor didn’t ask for Findlayter’s release, according to his spokesman, Phil Walzak.
City Comptroller Scott Stringer, a Democrat and ally of de Blasio, said the mayor’s involvement concerned him.
“The mayor shouldn’t be involved in any way when someone gets arrested,” he told reporters Feb. 12 at City Hall. “Once a mayor makes a call like that, it is problematic because it raises questions.”
De Blasio defended his action yesterday as “appropriate.”
“This is an unusual situation where a very prominent member of the clergy obviously was experiencing a pretty unusual situation,” de Blasio said. He didn’t rule out inquiring on behalf of a friend again.
The response didn’t appease Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, a group that advocates government accountability and citizen participation.
“It is inappropriate for the mayor to exercise favoritism, regardless of the pastor’s prominence,” she said. “It sets a terrible precedent for the policy-making process.”
The latest incident fell from the sky: 9.5 inches of it, angering parents who trudged through the flaky onslaught to take children to school. United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew said not canceling classes was “unwarranted” and a “mistake.”
The union had endorsed de Blasio during the campaign.
Roker emerged as one of the loudest critics, even as he was 5,300 miles (8,500 kilometers) away in Sochi, Russia, for the Olympics.
“It’s going to take some kid or kids getting hurt before this goofball policy gets changed,” Roker said in a Twitter post.
De Blasio defended the decision as necessary for learning and to accommodate working parents. He underscored the rarity with which city officials have canceled classes: only 11 times since 1978.
“New Yorkers handle these challenges with a lot of fortitude,” he said. “We -- unlike certain other cities in this country -- we don’t shut down in the face of some adversity.”
Less than 45 percent of students attended school, the city’s Education Department said on its website.