UPPER WEST SIDE — With three of his potential rivals seated in the front row, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer positioned himself as the candidate who will “reclaim” the city for the middle class during his annual State of the Borough address Thursday night.
Speaking at the New-York Historical Society, Stringer, who is gearing up for a run for mayor, warned that the squeeze on the middle class has become “a crisis” that threatens to destroy what makes the city unique.
“For too many New Yorkers, dreams have been downsized," he said.
"The conversation has changed from getting ahead to just getting by. When New York stops being a middle-class city, it stops being New York.”
Following in the footsteps of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Stringer called for a middle class tax cut that would lower rates for families making less than $300,000 a year and increasing rates for those earning more than $1 million.
He also proposed a $250 million fund to help convert up to 110,000 foreclosed units into affordable housing, and called for a new loan program to help small businesses secure financing.
To spur the technology, he announced a $3 million pilot program to install solar panels on the roofs of three Manhattan schools. After the speech, though, he said wasn't sure which ones.
And he announced a new partnership with The City College of New York’s Grove School of Engineering to create a new incubator space in Upper Manhattan where students and faculty members can work together to market their ideas.
But Stringer drew the strongest applause from supporters when he vowed to prevent hydrofracking and put an end to stop-and-frisk, which he has long argued fosters distrust with police.
He also called for the immediate passage of the Paid Sick-Leave Bill, a measure that would require employers citywide to provide paid sick days for their workers.
Stringer's support of the bill puts him in direct opposition with City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who has blocked it for fear it will cost jobs, angering critics who say she’s too aligned with business interests and the mayor.
“We are supposed to be the most progressive city in the nation," Stringer said.
"We should start acting like it."
The speech and Stringer drew praise from many in the audience, which included council members, fellow borough presidents and three of his presumptive 2013 mayor challengers: Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, campaign finance scandal-scarred Comptroller John Liu and Quinn, who were seated in the front row side-by side.
Norman Seabrook, president of the New York City Correction Officers' Benevolent Association, applauded Stringer’s focus on strengthening the middle class, and said he was taken by his message.
“Quite honestly, I haven’t heard anybody say the things that he said that way before,” Seabrook said.
“I think that all of the candidates that are running for mayor of the City of New York have their different styles of doing things. Scott’s style resonated with me," he said. "He’s talking directly to every single middle class person in this room.”
Corey Johnson, chair of Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen’s Community Board 4, said he’s long been impressed by the borough president and liked what he heard.
“I think his speech hit the pitch-perfect tone for a run for the mayor,” he said.
Stringer's potential challengers, however, were less impressed. They played down the significance of the upcoming race, insisting they're not thinking politics — despite the growing war chests they're amassing.
“I think it’s too early for that,” said de Blasio, who said Stringer had delivered “a good, solid speech about a lot of things were facing.”
“Pretty awesome. A lot of good ideas,” agreed Liu, who is set to deliver his own agenda soon.
Did it sound like a campaign speech to him? one reporter asked.
“It sounded like a State of the Borough speech,” he panned.
Stringer joined his colleagues in shooting down the idea that any ill will may be brewing.
“We’re friends. We work together every day,” he said. “I think that on a night like this, you know it’s not about politics.”
Stringer has raised $3.2 million to date for the 2013 race, ahead of former Comptroller Bill Thompson, Liu and de Blasio, but trailing frontrunner Quinn.