New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, marking his 100th day in office, embraced the legislature’s funding of statewide universal pre-kindergarten as his own victory and promised more programs to redress inequality between rich and poor.
Standing near the same spot at Manhattan’s Cooper Union where Abraham Lincoln delivered an 1860 address that outlined the principles that would guide his presidential campaign, de Blasio today predicted that his plans to provide early-childhood and after-school programs would transform the largest U.S. school system.
“In a progressive city, there’s equal education opportunity for every child,” de Blasio said. “Our goal was to create something universal because the problems were so deep, they couldn’t just reach a few. Universal pre-K is one of the most important things we can do to launch kids on a successful educational career and a successful life.”
De Blasio, 52, a former council member and the first Democrat to run the most-populous U.S. municipality in 20 years, won election in November by the largest margin by a non-incumbent in city history. He promised to side with the poor and middle class against the wealthy and powerful.
The mayor said the legislature wouldn’t have approved funding for statewide universal all-day pre-kindergarten without his efforts, including a citizens’ lobbying group that pressed lawmakers. The legislature approved $300 million for the city, most of the $340 million that de Blasio estimated it would cost, without allowing the tax increase on the wealthy he sought.
“Our children know when they’re being invested in,” he told the audience. “We acted on that vision, and in these last weeks we secured the most state funding for pre-K in the history of New York state for the city of New York.”
His job approval rating stands at 49 percent, with 34 percent unhappy with his performance in the most recent survey, an April 7 New York Times/NY1/Siena College poll.
In his speech, de Blasio took credit for the city council’s expansion of paid sick leave to businesses with five or more employees, a program he advocated. He also vowed to push for a higher minimum wage, and better pay and benefits for workers in city-subsidized economic-development projects.
“We weren’t sent to City Hall to change New York’s character; you see us here to restore New York City’s proud legacy as a progressive city,” de Blasio said. “You sent us here to keep the sacred promise of our city that everyone gets a place, that everyone has a voice.”
He then repeated that comment in Spanish.
A blueprint for his administration’s plan to build or renovate 200,000 units of below-market “affordable housing” over the next 10 years would be released next month, he said.
He also presented his vision of a police department that he promised would continue a 20-year trend of reduced crime without the aggressive stop-and-frisk street encounters in black and Latino neighborhoods that former Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly defended as deterring gun-carrying criminals.
The mayor didn’t discuss his failure to persuade Albany lawmakers to adopt the 0.5 percent surcharge on incomes above $500,000 to pay for the universal all-day pre-kindergarten and adolescent after-school programs, which were signature campaign promises.
Nor did he touch on Governor Andrew Cuomo’s rejection of his critique of charter schools, which the mayor has said provide resources to only 5 percent of students at the expense of the vast majority of public-school students. Cuomo and the legislature limited de Blasio’s power to reduce investments in charter schools and established protections for them in the state budget.