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De Blasio Vows Government 'With a Soul' in First State of the City Speech

By Colby Hamilton | February 10, 2014 10:09am | Updated on February 10, 2014 1:00pm
 Mayor Bill de Blasio delivering his first State of the City speech at LaGuardia Community College in Queens on Februrary 10, 2014.
Mayor Bill de Blasio delivering his first State of the City speech at LaGuardia Community College in Queens on Februrary 10, 2014.
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Getty/John Moore

LONG ISLAND CITY — Drawing heavily on the rhetoric of income inequality that helped him win City Hall last year, Mayor Bill de Blasio promised in his first State of the City address on Monday to fulfill the vows he made on the campaign trail — while calling on Albany to give the city the power to pursue de Blasio’s progressive projects.

“We find ourselves at a fork in the road. We can look down the path that we’ve been on for far too long. We can see it as the easier trail to traverse, and fool ourselves into thinking it’s our only option,” de Blasio told a crowd full of city elected officials and supporters at LaGuardia Community College in Queens. “Or we can take the other road — the path to closing the inequality gap — that very New York option of taking on big challenges and getting results.”

As expected, de Blasio used the speech to continue to press for a number of agenda items already launched under his administration, like universal pre-kindergarten and the expansion of paid sick leave.

“When it comes to Pre-K and after-school, we have a detailed plan, and it’s on the table – one that’s real; that’s fair; that’s reasonable,” de Blasio said of his plan to tax New York City residents making $500,000 a year or more to pay for UPK — a move that has pitted him against Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who was not present Monday.

De Blasio's tax proposal will need approval from Albany lawmakers, who battled over the measure even as he was giving his speech. De Blasio revealed Monday that he also plans to ask state legislators for the power to raise the city’s minimum wage.

“We want to ensure that New Yorkers aren’t relegated to the ranks of the poor while putting in a full week’s work,” de Blasio said, drawing one of the largest rounds of applause during the speech.

The Mayor also touched on the looming budget crunch over the 152 outstanding contracts for city employees that have to be settled this year — a financial challenge he called "unprecedented."

“We will navigate towards a future that is progressive and fiscally responsible,” de Blasio said, adding that he vowed to “be honest with New Yorkers about their government.”

The Mayor also proposed the creation of a municipal ID this year, to help undocumented immigrants and others apply for bank accounts, housing and other basic necessities.

“To all of my fellow New Yorkers who are undocumented, I say: New York City is your home too, and we will not force ANY of our residents to live their lives in the shadows,” de Blasio said.

De Blasio covered a host of higher education initiatives, including a dedicated science and math program at CUNY, the expansion of healthcare-specific high school training programs, and the retooling of city-based job training programs to plug them directly into high-tech sectors.

In a bid to help train native New Yorkers to enter and prosper in the city’s emerging tech sector, he said he wanted “the majority of skilled technology-related jobs in New York City [to be] filled by those educated in New York City schools.”

De Blasio also promised the creation of entrepreneurship and fashion manufacturing funds to promote small business growth in these industries. The funding for these programs, the mayor said, would come in part from shifting city resources away from subsidies for large corporations.

“We’ll not only fight to shift resources from corporate subsidies to tuition assistance, we’ll work to connect higher education to the jobs that the 21st century workforce requires,” de Blasio.

After the speech, city lawmakers praised the Mayor’s proposals and vision for the city.

“He provided a really overall framework for the next year,” City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said, calling the Mayor’s proposals items “work we are willing to engage in with him as the city council.”

New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer said he looked forward to the coming budget discussions to figure out the city’s priorities, but said what he heard from de Blasio Monday set the proper tone moving forward.

Today, this is exactly what I wanted to hear about as an elected official and as a parent. These are the issues that will matter for the city,” Stringer said.

Public Advocate Letitia James also praised de Blasio for using his State of the City speech to talk about inequality and social justice.

“New Yorkers want our government to focus on reducing economic inequality and making New York a place we can all afford to live in, and that’s exactly what Mayor de Blasio is doing,” James said in a statement.