BARCLAYS CENTER — Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced plans to bring European-style hostels to the city and eliminate overnight jail stays for pot arrests during his final State of the City speech in Brooklyn Thursday.
Speaking on his birthday at the Barclays Center, Bloomberg was at times defiant as he touted his administration's record on jobs and major construction projects, and vowed to make his last 320 days in office count to cement his legacy.
"Our goal is to advance projects — and start new ones — that will keep our city on the right course for decades to come," said the mayor, who delivered his speech at the newly-opened stadium, after a performance by the Nets' cheerleaders, the Brooklynettes.
“We still have plenty of unfinished business in all five boroughs," said the mayor, who repeatedly suggested that, once he leaves office, "all the politics and special interests" will bring reform to a halt.
To build on the city's exploding tourism numbers, Bloomberg announced plans to open European-style, for-profit youth hostels in the city to attract young people who can't afford pricey hotels.
"Our goal is to attract 175,000 more young tourists to our city each year," said the mayor.
He also proposed a new ban on the product widely known as Styrofoam and a major boost for electric cars — both issues that his critics appeared to embrace.
But Bloomberg also dug in his heels on two of the city's most controversial issues, drawing ire from some of the contenders who hope to succeed him at City Hall.
He doubled down on stop-and-frisk, touting the benefits of the program, which results in the searching of tens of thousands of young black and Hispanic men each year, many of whom are never charged with a crime. The number of stops dropped significantly last year following widespread criticism, but Bloomberg made it clear the tactic will continue to be used.
"I understand that innocent people don't like to be stopped. But innocent people don't like to be shot and killed, either," said Bloomberg, who said that a drop in the number of guns recovered by police last year should be celebrated as a measure of the program's success in deterring criminals from carrying guns.
"We have a responsibility to conduct them and as long as I am mayor, we will not shirk from it," he said.
He also took on schools advocates who have expressed concerns about the city's growing number of charter schools, which often open inside of existing public school buildings, creating conflicts over space.
Many of the mayoral contenders, including Bloomberg's ally City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, have called for reforming or ending the policy.
Instead, Bloomberg vowed to open 26 new charter schools this September, and said he'll work to approve "many more for 2014." Some, he added, will also be opened inside existing public school buildings "even though there are special interests who want to prohibit that from happening."
"How dare the special interests try to lock out our children!" he fumed, "We will not tolerate those who try to deny resources to some public school children."
His tone was just as harsh when it came to bus drivers currently on strike over job protections.
"This strike is a lost cause," he told the crowd.
Otherwise, Bloomberg's proposals were mostly modest.
Two days after President Barack Obama used his State of the Union speech to praise a new school in Brooklyn that was opened in partnership with IBM — where students graduate with both a high school diploma and an associate's degree — Bloomberg announced two new schools that will use a similar model: A high school in the Bronx that will focus on the health care industry and one in Long Island City that will focused on energy.
He also talked about new rules that will change the way the city deals with marijuana possession.
Bloomberg has previously endorsed a stalled push by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to change the state's drug laws so that people caught carrying small amounts of marijuana are charged with misdemeanors instead of felonies. Until that happens, those arrested carrying small amount of pot are held in custody overnight.
Under a new policy that will go into effect next month, anyone arrested who can present an ID card and clear a warrant check will be released directly from their local precinct with a desk appearance ticket to return to court, the mayor announced.
"It's consistent with the law [and] it's the right thing to do," he said.
To help rebuild after Hurricane Sandy, Bloomberg also announced an executive order to waive all city fees on small businesses recovering from the storm, and announced plans to put unemployed men and women to work on Sandy reconstruction.
“We cannot and will not abandon the waterfront,” he stressed.
And he announced that the passage of the DREAM Act, which would provide financial aid to kids who entered the country illegally, would be a top priority when it comes to Albany.
But the bulk of Bloomberg's more than 7,300-word speech focused on his administration's accomplishments — drawing criticism from some officials vying to take his place.
"He certainly showed us how to toot your own horn," said City Comptroller and expected mayoral contender John Liu, who criticized Bloomberg for failing to address some of the less-rosy legacies of his administration, including a record-high homeless rate.
"I don't begrudge Mayor Bloomberg for trying to paint as rosy a picture as possible," he said. "But overall, I don't think that many people drank the Kool-Aid."
Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, another mayoral contender, also slammed Bloomberg's suggestion that the city will succumb to "special interests" once he leaves office.
"It's Michael Bloomberg being the imperial mayor once again," said de Blasio, who criticized the mayor for not outlining a more sweeping vision for the city's future in his speech.
"I heard a lot of creating temples to his greatness, a lot of public works projects that he wants to be remembered by.... I didn't hear a new vision for the future of our economy or our schools," he said.