New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s first 100 days—a partnership between The Nation and City Limits.
If you’ve ever run a long-distance race, you know that the beginning is quite thrilling. There’s the crack of the starter pistol, the runners’ gradual but dramatic surge forward, the cheers of the crowds lined up along the first half-mile or so. But soon thereafter the crowd thins and the noises die down. As the pack separates and spreads out, even the sound of other competitors fades away, and you’re more or less alone with your footsteps and your thoughts. Your only rival is the timers’ clock. The key thing becomes concentration.
Four months ago The Nation and City Limits launched this blog to track Bill de Blasio’s transition and his first 100 days in office—the sprinting start of an administration critically important to the progressive movement and to a city we love that has seen an alarming increase in social inequality.
Those first 100 days have come and gone, and as I note in today’s Nation article, de Blasio has managed to, on one hand, deliver on an admirable list of campaign promises while, on the other, encountering challenges that make it painfully clear how hard it will be for him to make good on his larger vow to create a more just city. Some of those challenges—the slowness of his appointments, the mishandling of the press—are of his making. Others, like the subservience of the city to Albany’s whims and Governor Cuomo’s drive toward the center on economic policy, are not.
But now that UPK is in the state budget, the stop-and-frisk suit has moved toward settlement, paid sick-leave is law and other early targets have been tackled, de Blasio is in that long middle phase of the race, when the cheering has died down and the initial rush of adrenaline gives way to whatever strength and stamina he brought in. De Blasio is not a new mayor anymore. Now—more so than he already has through snowstorms and building explosions—he’ll have to weave his progressive vision into the daily fabric of managing the city.
This blog will end, but both The Nation and City Limits will keep watching—with hope in our hearts, not cheering so much as shouting out reminders that the clock is ticking.
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It says something about our politics that today—more than a year after he announced his run for mayor, almost seven months since he won the Democratic primary and 100 days into his term as mayor—Bill de Blasio gave a speech laying out his philosophy of government.
He’s spoken often about inequality, of course, but that’s an issue, not an ideal. He talked much about universal pre-kindergarten, but that’s a policy, not a way of thinking. Today, in a speech to a friendly audience of pols and advocates at the Great Hall at Cooper Union, de Blasio talked about what it really means to run a progressive government.
The speech was retrospective in content, reviewing the many accomplishments of his first three months in office (stop-and-frisk, vision zero, snowstorms, UPK, a dance-free budget, paid sick-leave and so on), and some will spin it as an attempt to hit the reset button after the “stumbles” of the mayor’s “rocky” run so far.
Clearly, however, there was more to it than that. “We have to think about what animates us to keep this work moving forward,” de Blasio said at one point.
Indeed, the speech was meant to establish a superstructure on which the administration will layer the stuff it does from Day 101 to Day 1,460 and maybe even Day 2,920.
The need for the framework was obvious. “We’re getting beyond the immediate campaign promises now,” as one progressive political operator recently said when I asked him what de Blasio’s agenda would look like from here on out.
During the campaign de Blasio talked a great deal about a small number of big ideas—policing reform and UPK chief among them—and those policies are now in place. So the administration will shift to smaller targets, pursuing each policy with an eye toward reducing inequality. Zoning changes and workforce development and post-Sandy rebuilding might not have the simple appeal of, say, a tax hike on the rich, but they can have a powerful cumulative effect on inequality. And many of them don’t require Albany’s approval.
But in order to harness the political power of the progressive movement behind those smaller-bore changes, they need to be cast as part of a broader movement. As the mayor put it, “This administration is a product of movement politics. It is a movement of people who share a vision, people …who believe in our city’s progressive traditions.”
That product, the mayor said, is a government run efficiently that “respects everyone’s dignity” and aims to maximize inclusion. “We believe we are at our best when everyone gets a shot,” the mayor added, noting further, “We believe in grassroots, people-powered government.”
Teacher retention, community hospitals, faster repairs to public housing and municipal ID cards were among the policy ideas the mayor touched on. Those seeking details—and many are—will have to wait for another day. (The mayor did provide new clarity on affordable housing, saying that it ought to reach “across the income spectrum” to include the “middle class,” which, depending on how that gets defined, could rehash one of the arguments of the Bloomberg era, when some advocates protested that scarce affordable housing dollars were subsidizing apartments for families with six-figure incomes.)
A year ago, I wrote a story for The Nation about the tentative hope that the city would elect a progressive mayor. A thread in that piece was the very question of what it meant to be progressive, a question de Blasio was trying to answer today, and will continue to try to answer over the next four or eight years. This blog said early on that de Blasio’s mayoralty would be a test of whether progressive values work—but it will also define, in nitty-gritty policy terms, what those values look like, at least as interpreted by the mayor of America’s global city.
On the hardwood floor of the stage in the Great Hall today, just next to de Blasio’s feet, an arrow had been marked in white masking tape, presumably indicating which way he was to exit the stage. It led left, pointing him down the stairs and out the door toward the sun-bathed sidewalk where his gleaming black SUV waited. The rest of his journey he’ll chart himself.
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This morning the New York Post carried a tough op-ed by Mona Davids, the president of the New York City Parents Union, calling on Mayor Bill de Blasio to put a fully fleshed education plan on the table. It read, in part:
Pre-K may be important, Mayor de Blasio, but then what? Too many elementary and middle schools are performing at a low level. It follows, therefore, that any gains that may result from the pre-K experience are likely to be lost by the third grade—and certainly by middle school. So, the question must be reiterated: Where’s the plan, Mr. Bill?
Davids is not the first to suggest that de Blasio would do well to talk more extensively about his vision for schools and detail the policies he will implement to reach it.
In last month’s damaging fight over charter relocations, de Blasio’s enemies capitalized on the fact that while the mayor, as a candidate, had made clear his skepticism about charters, he had not explained whether he wanted to phase them out altogether, change the role they played in the system, or what. De Blasio staunched the bleeding over charter schools with his speech at Riverside Church in late March, where he clarified his concerns and cooled the rhetoric about charters. But that talk still left a lot of policy questions open.
Don’t get me wrong: progressive advocates I’ve talked with are very pleased at the dramatic change in tone, approach and priority from the Bloomberg years. “Low-income people with HIV who got sick in city shelters are meeting with Lilliam,” says VOCAL-NY’s Sean Barry, referring to Deputy Mayor Lilliam Barrios-Paoli. Barry, whose organization claimed a huge victory in the city-state deal over HIV/AIDS housing, isn’t the only advocate who is still enjoying the novelty of having—at least for now—a consultive rather than combative relationship with City Hall.
Zakiyah Ansari, the advocacy director at the Alliance for Quality Education (AQE), says her group actually was able, at times, to work with rather than against the Bloomberg team. But de Blasio has still been a breath of fresh air: the mayor’s prioritizing pre-K and advocating vocally for the state to make good on the fiscal obligations it accepted under the Campaign for Fiscal Equity settlement were, Ansari says, “historic moments.” But it’d be good to hear more. “What we need him to do is put out a clear, robust and progressive vision for education and really articulate that,” she says. (Update: Mere hours after this post went up, the city school department made a major announcement about promotion policy that AQE’s Biull Easton hailed: “Mayor de Blasio’s administration is setting the right approach in motion by prioritizing real improvements in teaching and learning.”)
Nor is education the only issue where people want to learn more. “He has to stop saying he’s going to build 200,000 units and start saying how he’s going to do it,” says one community organizer of the mayor’s housing plan.
Some of this impatience has nothing to do with de Blasio. Mayors don’t typically reveal all the details of all of their policies in their first 100 days in power, because they need to stagger the publicity, politicking and actual governing behind each initiative in order to avoid overloading the system. And mayoral campaigns, despite their exhausting length and enormous expense, do a poor job of teasing fine-grained details out of candidates—in part because of the fixation with sound-bites, and in part because most candidates are running with incomplete information and only grasp the fiscal and legal constraints on policymaking when they are behind the big desk.
However, some of the thirst for details has everything to do with de Blasio, or at least with what he represents. De Blasio’s slowness to make appointments means the administration simply hasn’t had the people in the room to make big policy decisions. His decision to make pre-K his absolute top priority over the first three months, while successful, naturally meant other topics got less attention.
Beyond that, de Blasio’s election encompassed a deep yearning for real change and his inauguration triggered a shift in the governing approach that has dominated the city for (depending on how you look at it) twelve to twenty years. That means there are very steep expectations and a long, long to-do list. De Blasio has made real progress in fulfilling promises—ending the FDNY suit, getting paid sick-leave expanded, achieving UPK funding. Now the targets get tougher.
Read Next: Poll finds most New Yorkers still undecided about de Blasio.
About half of New Yorkers approve of Bill de Blasio's performance so far in City Hall, but the new mayor has yet to prove his leadership in several areas, says a New York Times/Sienna College poll released today.
The poll found 49 percent approved of the mayor's work to date, while 31 percent disapproved and 19 percent said they didn't know. When it comes to his personal favorability, the numbers break 47/23/29 percent. Most believe he's focusing on issues that matter to people like them, and most feel he cares about their needs and problems “some” or “a lot.” Asked if they think voters made the right choice or a mistake in electing de Blasio, 59 percent said it's too early to say; among those who did weigh in, 26 percent thought they'd made a good choice and 13 percent thought the city made a mistake.
On housing, jobs, income inequality and the quality of public schools, more New Yorkers disapprove or de Blasio's work so far than approve. But when it comes to keeping New Yorkers safe, 70 percent say they approve of the job he's doing.
The glass-half-empty take on the numbers is that de Blasio's huge electoral mandate—he won 73 percent of the vote in November—has either vanished or was never there in the first place. But after the charter-school blow-up and the minor scandals of the first three months, it's not bad news that more New Yorkers like the job de Blasio's doing, like him personally, think his heart's in the right place and believe he's got crime (which was, in Joe Lhota's dark vision of the future, going to be his undoing) under control. The high numbers of undecideds are people the mayor still has a chance to convert. The city certainly hasn't turned against him.
The very fact that he has yet to measure up to people's expectations when it comes to the handling of income inequality indicates just how significant a vein of sentiment de Blasio's mayoral campaign tapped. There's always been the question of whether he raised expectations unrealistically high. But, 98 days in, he's got time to reach closer to that bar, and most New Yorkers are either on his side or withholding judgment.
Of course, if de Blasio doesn't get better at closing the book on little scandals, doubt among some voters may harden into dissent. Yesterday the mayor—who made access to government documents a cause during his stint as public advocate—was asked about City Hall's delay in responding to a freedom of information law (FOIL) request for documents related to his contact with the police department after a prominent supporter was arrested. De Blasio's answer:
You know, the FOIL process – I am not a lawyer – but you know, the FOIL process is delineated and is pursued whenever a request comes in. You know, what we have said to our team is we’re going to process those, get the answer back. Obviously, if at any point a journalist or any other organization isn’t comfortable with the outcome of the FOIL request, there is an appeals process. So I’m not familiar with the details of it, but that’s the way it works.
The jury may be out on de Blasio in general, but when it comes to that answer, I'm going to render a bench verdict of “lame!"
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April 10 is already a date worth marking. It’s the day Jonas Salk successfully tested his polio vaccine trial and that most of the world agreed to give up biological weapons. It’s the anniversary of the first professional golf tournament in America and the first human cannonball stunt. Heck, it was on that day in 1849 that Walter Hunt patented the safety pin. And in 2014, it will be the 100th day of Bill de Blasio’s mayoralty.
Attempts to take stock are already underway; The Wall Street Journal ran its yesterday. De Blasio is planning to mark the milestone on Thursday. The Nation will, of course, weigh in as well. The timing of the retrospectives is, of course, largely arbitrary: because of a speech FDR gave in 1934 discussing the accomplishments of a special session of Congress over its first 100 days, the first 100 days have become a convention of political coverage, but there’s no substantive reason for stopping now to review the de Blasio era so far.
Still, after the conclusion of the state budget last week, with winter snowstorms and nasty charter-school battles out of the way, it does feel like the de Blasio narrative is entering a new phase. The first three months of the year revolved largely around the effort to get universal pre-kindergarten funded. That effort largely succeeded. Now what? We know that managing the city day-to-day means drama aplenty and that implementing UPK is a huge jobs, but what will the Big Idea of the de Blasio mayoralty be from April 10 on?
In a word, housing. As compelling as the case for UPK was, it is dwarfed by the urgency of the need for decent, affordable housing and the scale of the promises the mayor made during the campaign, where he vowed to build or preserve 190,000 units of affordable housing over ten years. As the Associated Press pointed out last week, the pace de Blasio promised exceeds what the two previous mayors who made housing a priority, Mayor Bloomberg or Mayor Koch, were able to achieve. Housing is central to the inequality concerns that de Blasio articulated during the campaign, which are rooted in the fear that New York is becoming too expensive a place for many of us to live.
De Blasio intends to present his detailed plan for how to achieve its lofty goals by May. So far, the administration’s moves on housing make the rest of its program hard to predict. The much ballyhooed Domino’s site deal, for instance, did increase by a modest amount the number of affordable apartments the developer would provide, and did increase by a substantial degree the amount of floor space given over to those affordable apartments; that second piece matters, because one shortcoming in the affordable housing production under Bloomberg was a lack of production of larger affordable apartments for families.
However, some of the “affordable” apartments at the Domino’s site will be marketed to “moderate-” income families (e.g., families of four making $108,000 or less). And in return for the promises of affordability, the developers will be able to build twenty stories higher than zoning would have allowed. In total, the deal is slightly better than the one the Bloomberg administration might have struck, but the project’s enormous density concerns some advocates—especially since de Blasio’s inclusionary zoning proposal depends on a fair amount of market-rate development to generate the new affordable units.
As an op-ed over the weekend by the Metro Industrial Areas Foundation and a report last week by Real Affordability for All make clear, the density questions are only a few of the issues de Blasio’s housing team is grappling with. Whom do you target affordable housing towards? Where do you build it in a city with fewer and fewer big parcels of land left? How do you take a hopelessly inefficient program like 421-a and wring more value out of it?
And if you knock down the artificial intellectual barriers we sometimes erect around different housing issues, those questions about how to structure affordable housing programs are links in a chain with challenges like the city’s homeless population and how to move people from shelters to permanent housing, the disaster that is housing court, how to better enforce the city’s housing code to keep affordable apartments liveable, rent stabilization and the work of the RGB and how to address some of the threats to the city’s massive, crucial and fiscally unsound public housing system.
The mayor’s appointments—Alicia Glen as deputy mayor, Shola Olatoye to head NYCHA and Vicki Been at the helm of HPD—have excellent credentials, but their approaches to setting policy and managing departments are largely unknowns. And as the charter-school episode illustrated, the debate over how to use space is the ultimate zero-sum game, inspiring cut-throat politics. A government can make laws and borrow money, but it can’t really create new land, nor use the land it has in a way that benefits one party without often bothering another.
No one will likely note the 200th or 300th day of the de Blasio administration, but chances are housing is what we’ll be talking about then.
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The trappings of power are so aptly named. So many of the mini-controversies of Bill de Blasio's young mayoralty have been the byproducts of power's privilege: the Findlayter phone call, the motorcade blowing stop signs, the hush-hush AIPAC speech. None of these incidents deserved the ink it got (though some of the excess can be blamed on the way de Blasio handled them). But strung together the kerfuffles etch out a deeper truth, which is that the perks that come with a big job can be as much liability as luxury.
This week, with the charter and budget battles fading, the mayor is trying to turn a corner and shed some of the formality that came with the office he took three months ago. He held a roundtable with City Hall bureau chiefs, where he jocularly chided them for not wanting to meet outside and, when he did get snippy, at least prefaced it with “dude.” Bro, that's pretty relaxed! He also reportedly wants to be called “Bill” more often, and at a press conference at a Brooklyn school on Tuesday, schools Chancellor Carmen Farina did so refer to hizzoner. He's holding an off-the-record press get together at Gracie Mansion on Friday, where he and the corps will play Twister and down a few of the mayor's trademark cherry Jello-shots.
OK, the last bit probably won't happen on Friday, but you do get the idea that a little less formality will suit de Blasio, who on becoming public advocate in 2009 dismissed the security team and driver that came with that office. So far, de Blasio's goofy sense of humor has been a poor fit with some of the staging that comes with his current office, like the airless Blue Room at City Hall.
I write this blog clad in parochial-school style slacks and a tweed sportscoat with elbow patches that my late Dziadzia might have found a little stuffy, so I'm not suggesting that all decorum go out the window. Government is a serious thing and being mayor of a city of 8 million people requires some symbolism of authority, especially since much of the mayor's power comes not from statute but from his bully pulpit. But there's a point where the accessories of an office actually undermine its value because they make it impossible to communicate clearly with the public.
For instance, there's the mayoral podium. It's a very impressive thing, wrapped in rich blue fabric and displaying on its front a large bronze city seal—the thing just sort of says “mayor.” De Blasio travels with it to events; it was there in a tiny classroom at the P.O. Suarez school in Bushwick yesterday. Bloomberg traveled with a podium, too. But according to people who remember this stuff, mayors before Mike didn't regularly do so. This might be a tradition de Blasio lets go. For one thing, because he is so tall, he's constantly toeing into place a step for shorter people whom he invites to the podium. This can look like the mayor is trying to scrape something off his shoe. For another, he doesn't need it. He's a tall guy and, especially since he shaved off de Beard, looks like a man who's in charge. He's the mayor wherever he goes and whatever he stands behind.
This is the kind of ephemera I'm constantly nagging the mainstream press about focusing on, so shame on me. But I do feel the way we've come to package our politicians has real-world implications. Take the apparently inescapable trend of having a politician stand in front of a screen patterned with a logo describing the thing the politician is talking about, e.g. Obama talks about strengthening America in front of a backdrop that says “Strengthening America” over and over, so that anyone who's just glancing at a TV screen in a Jiffy Lube waiting room or glancing at a front page while looking for the weather forecast will know, if nothing else, that Obama is strengthening America. (Wouldn't it be great if we could go back through history and insert these backdrops behind earlier leaders? Lincoln in front of “Freeing the Slaves” or Nixon with “Secretly Bombing Cambodia” behind him?)
The thinking behind this stage-management is that people won't understand or take the time to learn what a politician is doing or saying unless you spell it out for them in Crayola. A progressive vision of government has to have a little more faith in its message and its ability to communicate with people. That's why de Blasio has stressed transparency as part and parcel of his progressive agenda: Inclusion is an antidote to inequality, and stripping away some of the wax that's built up on our public offices is a way to invite people in. The mayoral podium seems a little waxy, to me... dude.
Read Next: Michelle Goldberg on the "Rise of the Progressive City."
Bill de Blasio got what he needed out of the state budget that was unveiled over the weekend: $300 million a year over five years to run a universal prekindergarten program that was the centerpiece of his mayoral campaign and that many skeptics said would never be funded. He also got the state to back off a petty fight over a costless change to budget language that will allow the city to operate a housing subsidy program to begin reducing its record-high homeless shelter numbers.
But the mayor did not get all the money he wanted to get for UPK, or the dedicated tax on high earners he wanted to pay for UPK or very much for the middle-school after-school program that was part of the UPK concept. He did not get the ability to hike the city's minimum wage or the authority to install more traffic-enforcement cameras in the city, which he'd sought as part of his VisionZero initiative—his flagship public-safety program. And in the budget the state stripped the city of much of its control over the siting of charter schools—rescinding de Blasio's recent decision to deny co-locations to three schools, requiring the city to give charters space in public schools or pay for private space, giving charters the ability to challenge through arbitration the siting decisions made by the city and prohibiting the city from charging charters rent. In other words, every effort de Blasio made to wrest from the state greater control over city policy ended in failure, and City Hall lost power over charters, too.
Some will say those high casualty numbers indicate a failure of strategy or tactics on the mayor's part, but I don't think that's the case. Winning approval for his signature policy program is a very big deal. De Blasio's UPK push has to get some credit for pushing the governor to provide way more funding than Cuomo proposed in his budget address.
On the other items, it's not certain de Blasio would have gotten more by asking for less. The governor and a state Senate effectively controlled by a small but growing breakaway group of centrist Democrats were simply never going to give him very much at all. And given the breadth of the benefits the budget confers on charter schools—a stunning act of hypocrisy, by the way, for a state that has chronically and unconstitutionally underfunded public schools and that supposedly believes in “mayoral control”—it seems obvious that while de Blasio's bungling of the PR on the co-location decisions may have provided a pretext, the charter wish-list in the budget had been drawn up a long time ago. Contrary to the way it's been portrayed, De Blasio didn't wake a sleeping dog with his co-location reversals; Cujo was already up and waiting in the bushes.
Failure is ambition's shadow. Leaders who want to change a lot are bound to come up short much of the time. Not to equate the mayor's stature with FDR's, but in pursuing his own transformative agenda, President Roosevelt suffered a number of setbacks which must have seemed devastating at the time; the Supreme Court overturned many a New Deal program, leading to the biggest flop of them all, the absurd court-packing plan. But these losses aren't what comes to mind when we think of FDR. The successful programs, like Social Security and all the public works efforts, are.
UPK could be that kind of initiative for de Blasio, and for the city. It'll take years for us to know its full impact. Between now and then, the relationship with Albany will be de Blasio's ongoing struggle, as it has been for almost all other mayors—a place where merely getting out alive counts as a “W.”
Read Next: Michelle Chen explains why privatization makes inequality worse.
When the four police detectives arrived at the woman's door, they had a list of names they wanted to ask about. They also had a cell phone number they wanted to identify. But they did not have a warrant.
The homeowner didn't know the names; her daughter didn't either. But the daughter did recognize the cell number as belonging to an old phone of hers. So the cops asked to search the house.
"When the woman refused because the police did not have a search warrant," reads a report, "the detective called his supervisor. After reaching his supervisor, the detective told the complainant that he was ordered to conduct a 'walk through' of the house. The detectives searched the entire house, believing that an order from their supervisor and knowing that the daughter's old cell phone number was being used by questionable individuals justified a warrantless search of the complainant's home."
The report was one of two policy studies issued in 2013 by the Washington, D.C. Office of Police Complaints, the head of which—Philip Eure—was just named to be New York City's first NYPD inspector general.
The de Blasio administration's naming of Eure (under the 2013 law creating the IG, the mayor's commissioner of the Department of Investigations—not the mayor himself—made the appointment) brings us full circle from last spring. The moment when the 2013 mayoral campaign began to take its defining shape was when the debate over whether to install an inspector general broke into the open.
The tabloids murdered Christine Quinn when—having been beat up in every forum she attended for her association with Mayor Bloomberg and desire to keep Ray Kelly on as NYPD commissioner—she shifted to support the bill. John Liu, the most liberal major candidate, opposed the bill because he thought it a ploy to lessen mayoral accountability. Bill Thompson, who ended up placing second, backed an IG but wanted them to report to the police commissioner. Only Bill de Blasio backed the proposal as written: an independent inspector general outside One Police Plaza.
Reading reports at the Washington OPC website, it seems that office is a hybrid of the two police oversight bodies New York will now have: OPC took citizen complaints, as New York's Civilian Complaint Review Board has done for years, and made broader policy recommendations, as the inspector general will be charged with doing.
What's also apparent is that the sound and fury over the IG—which foes suggested would weaken the police command structure—was out of step with reality.
In its report about warrantless searches, the DC office recommended that the police develop criteria for when a warrantless searches are OK, train officers on it, discipline those who do such a search when it's not justified, and require cops to document those searches when they occur. None of the ideas are binding, none ignore the possibility that warrantless searches may at times be necessary, and don't bind the police in any way except to protect the Fourth Amendment (which is kind of important) and the admissibility of evidence they gather during future "walk throughs."
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After months bathed in golden light, the sun seems to have slipped behind some clouds for one leading New York politician. There've been verbal gaffes, policy defeats and slipping poll numbers. An aura of invincibility has been shaken.
No, I'm not talking about Bill de Blasio. I'm talking about Andrew Cuomo.
Am I insane? Or just stupid? I mean, everybody knows that the politician in New York who's sinking in quicksand is the super-lefty mayor, not the carefully centrist governor, right? The image we all have is of Cuomo coolly outmaneuvering de Blasio without so much as dirtying his massive hands, while the mayor stumbles all over his big lanky self trying to steal Success Academy students' lunch money.
Well, Cuomo has recently witnessed the awkward stumble of the DREAM Act and the apparent stillbirth of his college-for-prisoners plan. In the past couple months he's had to address “divisive” comments, his own and supporters'. And his latest poll numbers look a bit softer than the previous batch—not soft enough for anyone to worry about Cuomo losing in November, but mildly distressing to a governor who wants to prevail by a historically large margin.
Of course, Cuomo is still a formidable force. We read today about his administration apparently blocking de Blasio's efforts to get a new, temporary homeless housing program to replace the one whose disappearance three years ago has contributed to the massive shelter numbers we see today. We know that Cuomo has scoffed at the State Senate's fully funding the de Blasio UPK plan; so much for the “blank check” that the gov offered.
These co-existing truths—that Cuomo is far from invincible and that he still remains the biggest shark in the bay—make the quiet emergence of an anti-Cuomo protest movement interesting. On March 14 there was a protest at his downstate office against his pro-charter education policies. Last week there was a demonstration at the state capitol over his education stance and planned tax cuts.
It's not exactly Occupy 2014, but it might be the start of some real pressure on Cuomo from the left, which, among other things, could give de Blasio a little more room to operate. By making clear that the left can organize and draw numbers, getting out in the street can keep state legislators—who largely control Cuomo's agenda—honest. Marches can also mar the picture of cool competence and control that's a big part of Cuomo's appeal; remember, he's the grown up in the room, who came in to restore order to a dysfunctional capital and take over an executive office held previously by the scandalous Eliot Spitzer and the ineffective David Paterson.
Most importantly, the street activism can counter the narrative that de Blasio is a man without friends, isolated on the left wing with nothing but a phantom electoral mandate and a speeding motorcade to his name. The obstacles Cuomo has encountered the past couple weeks don't erase any of City Hall's own problems. But they do make clear that this is a wrestling match between two Democratic leaders, not a shooting gallery where the governor has the only gun.
Read Next: Were teachers and students pressured to rally for charter schools in Albany?
Few things are as endearing in a politician as a self-deprecating sense of humor. Do any of us recall a moment (OK, except for the evening of 9/11) when we felt warmly about then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani when he wasn't in drag? It's a struggle. In every day parlance, Bill de Blasio is a bit more fluent with the laugh lines than his immediate predecessors, but his performance this weekend at the annual Inner Circle dinner was still a welcome break from a decidedly unfunny couple of weeks, with buildings blowing up in Harlem and the charter school issue blowing up in the mayor's face.
There was little effort to be funny when the mayor spoke Sunday at Riverside Church. There, the goal was to do what City Hall had failed to do until now, which was articulate—or at least do so loudly enough to be heard over the well-funded charter-chain campaign to discredit the mayor—de Blasio's education vision and how charter schools fit into that.
If the mayor's speech were one of the essays my 10-year-old is writing to practice for the upcoming ELA exam on which he and his not-colocated, unionized charter school will be judged, it'd get a six out of seven (no one seems to give As and Bs anymore, except on the DOE school report cards).
He laid out a sound rationale for why he blocked the three colocations involving Eva Moskowitz schools (while approving five others of hers):
We made some decisions in the last weeks, striving for fairness. But I have to tell you I didn’t measure up when it came to explaining those decisions to the people of this city. So let me start to right the ship now. We want children to have good options. But good options have to serve both the children they are intended for while not displacing or harming other children in the schools to which they may go.
There’s a charter school with 194 children. It’s a good school doing good work, and we are going to make sure those 194 children have a good home this year. But we will not do it at the expense of our special education children.
And he had some good analysis of how the charter school idea had morphed from being a test kitchen for general public schools to being thought of as some sort of alternative system to them:
The original notion of the charter movement was to innovate, to create laboratories for new and better ideas that then they could be brought into the whole traditional public school system. That’s a positive vision that we have to reengage. The idea is not to create separation – the kind of competition that works for some and leaves others out. The idea is to create a fullness, a totality, a completeness in which our charter schools help to uplift our traditional public schools. Six percent of our children in the charters – they are our children. We need them to succeed. 94% of our children are in traditional public schools – they are our children. We need them to succeed.
There was some want of supporting details. For instance, the mayor didn't mention the word "rent" in his speech, as in "I want to charge some charter schools rent because..." But the talk was still a clearer statement of the mayor's principles than had emerged to date during the dust-up with the Eva Empire. Watch the mayor's speech or read the text here.
Read Next: Jarrett Murphy on de Blasio's "war" on charters.