CITY HALL — City Council Speaker Christine Quinn promised more affordable day care for middle-class families and a new approach to education in her annual State of the City address Thursday, which was widely seen as a preview of her anticipated run for mayor.
Speaking in the newly renovated City Council chambers, Quinn appeared to distance herself from Mayor Michael Bloomberg, harkening back to her roots as a community organizer and stressing the power of communities to create a kinder, gentler New York.
"Now more than ever, we need to tap into that power of communities," she said. "We need to restore the promise that everyone can succeed in New York, no matter how humble their origins, with just a little bit of help and a lot of hard work."
After years of complaints from critics about Bloomberg’s top-down approach to governing, Quinn — who is typically seen as a close ally of the mayor — presented a different model, repeatedly stressing the need for outreach and collaboration.
To help crack down on gun violence and other crime, for instance, she announced a new initiative that will pair community leaders with local youth to survey neighborhoods and identify trouble spots that “seem to invite criminal activity,” such as “abandoned lots and overgrown parks."
"By harnessing the power of communities, we can and will make our neighborhoods safer for all New Yorkers," she said of the program, which will be rolled out this spring in five neighborhoods, including Harlem’s 32nd police precinct.
Her speech was also peppered with more than two-dozen shout-outs to fellow council members, state legislators and borough presidents, many of whom she's partnered with on ideas.
Like Bloomberg’s recent State of the City address, much of Quinn’s focus was on education.
But instead of vowing to shutter schools and waging wars with the teachers union, Quinn proposed a new "community education model," to be piloted in Queens, that would involve teaming up with grassroots organizations to identify the problems parents and students face, and then build "a system that recognizes and respects the role the whole community plays in educating our kids."
To help ensure high-need children are prepared for school, Quinn proposed making kindergarten mandatory for all city kids. Each year, there are roughly 3,000 5-year-olds who aren't enrolled.
"What kind of message do we send to parents when we as a city tell them it’s not necessary to enroll their kids in kindergarten?" she said of the push, which would require approval from the state.
She also announced a new pilot loan program to help middle-income families afford day care. The program would allow families to take out a city-backed loan to cover half the cost of childcare that could then be paid back over time.
And she called for a new honors college to open at City College that would provide education to the city’s top students free of charge.
Focusing on housing, she called for a new rental assistance program to help homeless families afford to move out of shelters and into their own homes. She announced a new agreement with the Department of Housing Preservation and Development to double the standard length of affordable housing in some major developments from 30 to 60 years.
She also pledged to improve NYCHA housing, with $10 million in new Council funding to pay for 100,000 new repairs next year. The work would be done by 176 NYCHA residents hired by the city, putting them on track to full union jobs.
Several of Quinn's presumptive challengers, who were in the audience, expressed support for many ideas she raised.
“I thought it was a good speech. I thought there were good ideas,” said Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who applauded Quinn's focus on early education and the need for more and higher-quality affordable housing units.
City Comptroller John Liu, who is set to deliver his own address next week, was also generally positive, but less enthusiastic in his review.
“It is a comprehensive and cogently delivered speech,” he said, adding that while he agreed with Quinn's push for mandatory kindergarten and more funding for CUNY, he'd like to see mandatory pre-K education and free tuition at all CUNY schools.
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said he thought Quinn gave "a very solid address" and said that State of the City speeches provide an important opportunity for elected officials to set their agendas for the coming year.
“I was glad that I could be here. I had a front-row seat. I got a shout-out. I feel good!” he said.
Asked whether he had any criticism, he replied, smiling, "None."