NEW YORK (CN) – Saying he wants New York City to become “the antidote to the sickness that is gripping our nation,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio laid out a plan to make the Big Apple the “fairest city in America” Tuesday night at the Kings Theatre in Brooklyn.
Wearing a dark suit and an orange tie at the first “State of the City” address of his new term after his reelection last November, the mayor framed new proposals around his administration’s past successes – universal pre-K, making New York the safest big city in the U.S. – and said he is not ready to settle.
“We do it to preserve the social fabric of the most diverse place on earth,” he said. “To ensure that we’re always a place for everyone, that that magical openness that has made New York City great is always protected. But we also do this to guard against the threats to our democracy that are growing across this nation.”
It was one of many references, both direct and implied, to Trump administration policies and practices the 56-year-old Democrat said the city would resist.
“There is a point at which systemic inequality makes a mockery of a society,” he said.
De Blasio outlined two multi-step plans that encompass his administration’s goals, a 12-step plan to make New York the “fairest city in America” and a 10-point plan called “Democracy NYC” to strengthen democratic practices and values in the city.
He addressed the city’s efforts to combat climate change, particularly with President Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement. New York is one of 300 cities, de Blasio said, “taking matters into [their] own hands” on climate change.
In January, the city announced it would divest $5 billion of its pension funds from fossil fuel companies. It also filed a lawsuit against five of the biggest of those companies, demanding damages for climate change preparations.
In introducing his plan for universal “3-K,” or free schooling for every three year old in the city, de Blasio said the country’s deep-seated, systemic racism, which began with slavery, sets kids behind for life.
“We're dealing with inequities in education that go back to the historical sins and contradictions of our nation,” he said. “We know exactly where the problem comes from.”
De Blasio promised to add 100,000 jobs that all pay $50,000 or more over the five boroughs, and to fix public housing boilers, roofs and heating systems.
“Our public housing residents are a priority for me,” he assured the crowd. “They are a priority for my administration.”
The mayor said all NYPD patrol officers would wear body cameras by the end of the year and that he wants to close the notorious prison complex Rikers Island.
“The era of mass incarceration did not begin in New York City, but it will end in New York City,” he said to applause.
Outside, protesters held signs maligning the state of New York City’s jails.
“Correction officers’ lives matter,” said one sign. Department of Corrections officer Jean Souffrant was attacked by four inmates at Rikers Island over the weekend and got a mention from the mayor Tuesday evening. Souffrant is hospitalized with a fractured spine and bleeding on his brain.
The mayor also asked people to join him in Albany this year to fight for bail reform and speedier trials, what he said were the “single most important factors in reducing our jail population.”
De Blasio avoided deep discussion of the city’s aging, much-maligned subway system. He reiterated his support for a “millionaires’ tax” and other progressive taxation measures to help fund subway repairs.
A well-publicized feud between the mayor and New York governor Andrew Cuomo has hampered comprehensive subway rehabilitation.
“I will sit down with leaders in Albany, anytime, anywhere to find a solution to the subway crisis,” he said. “I have only one condition: the money raised in New York City stays in New York City.”
As expected, much of the mayor’s speech focused on civic participation, both education and voting rights.
“You can’t fight for greater equality with less democracy,” he said. He spoke of the importance of an accurate 2020 census and of reversing some of New York’s election laws, which he called “some of the most exclusionary and unfair” in the country.
He said he plans to appoint a Chief Democracy Officer, who will be charged with “solving the problem of shrinking voter participation” and registering 1.5 million New Yorkers to vote in the next four years.
De Blasio concluded around two hours after the start of the program on a somber but positive note.
“Whether we like it or not, democracy is something each generation must earn,” he said. “In my entire lifetime, I have never felt our democracy as imperiled as I do today...but I have to tell you, I’ve still got plenty of hope, and I think you should too. Because what we've learned is the people can demand change, and the people can ensure that change actually happens.”
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