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De Blasio's National Campaign Tackling Income Inequality Draws Critics

By Jeff Mays | May 13, 2015 11:57am
 Mayor Bill de Blasio continued to grow his national profile as one of the leaders of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party Tuesday in Washington, D.C. when he unveiled a 13-point plan designed to target income inequality.
Mayor Bill de Blasio continued to grow his national profile as one of the leaders of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party Tuesday in Washington, D.C. when he unveiled a 13-point plan designed to target income inequality.
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Demetrius Freeman/Mayoral Photography Office

NEW YORK CITY — Mayor Bill de Blasio wants to tackle income inequality on a national level, using methods he's already applied in New York City, such as universal pre-K, he announced Tuesday.

The mayor is traveling the country to build support for his 13-point plan, called "The Progressive Agenda," which looks to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour, and bring paid sick and family leave reform laws to cities across the country.

Closing tax loopholes for the wealthy, ending tax breaks for companies that send jobs overseas, and allowing student debt refinancing are also part of the plan — issues that can only be addressed by Congress and the president.

Critics of de Blasio's national campaign say it's taking too much time and effort away from issues directly affecting the city. Others believe the plan will ultimately benefit New Yorkers and help solidify the mayor's position as one of the leaders of liberal Democrats in the country.

"The Progressive Agenda comes down to a very simple concept — we need to reward work again. We need to reward work, not wealth — work. And that’s a change that will have a profound effect on this country," de Blasio said outside the U.S. Capitol Tuesday.

De Blasio was joined by former presidential candidate Howard Dean, the Rev. Al Sharpton of the National Action Network, U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Rep. Charles Rangel of Harlem, among others.

"Something is happening in this country right now, and I have a lot of good witnesses right here," the mayor continued. "Something different is happening. It’s a movement from the grassroots. It’s an urgent call for change."

The announcement was de Blasio's second effort to spread word of his plan.

He also spoke at the Roosevelt Institute, with Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who's considered the leader of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.

"The middle class is on the ropes and now is the time to fight back," Warren said.

But Warren was absent from de Blasio's press conference in front of the Capitol later in the day.

The mayor first convened a panel of progressive leaders at Gracie Mansion in April and announced plans to create an agenda similar to the Republican's "Contract With America" effort of the 1990s but focused more on income inequality.

De Blasio said the goal is to bring the issue to the fore for the upcoming presidential elections. The group also plans to hold a presidential forum.

De Blasio drew national headlines and criticism when he declined to endorse his former boss and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, saying he wanted to hear a progressive vision from her first.

Since then, de Blasio has traveled the country, taking trips to Nebraska, Iowa and Wisconsin — a pattern that critics worry will lead to neglect of issues directly affecting the city, like increasing crime.

At home, de Blasio is dealing with a 10 percent increase in murders since this time last year and a 9 percent spike in shootings related to gang activity, according to police.

A Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday found that 46 percent of voters believed de Blasio's efforts to tackle national issues was hurting his duties at home versus 42 percent who disagreed.

De Blasio's approval rating also slipped to 44 percent, its lowest since he took office and down from 49 percent in January.

Evan Thies, a political consultant and president of Brooklyn Strategies, said de Blasio's message that working to shift national policies will help improve the lives of everyday New Yorkers is not getting through.

"It's early in his mayoralty when a lot of these problems he's discussing on the national level are still very much problems in New York City," Thies said. "That's why the headlines are more about him not being in New York and about how this helps his national profile."

De Blasio appears undeterred.

He's joining a bipartisan group of mayors from around the country in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday to call for increased federal transportation funding.

Then, he's heading to California to discuss income inequality at the University of California, Berkeley, and to speak at a Silicon Valley fundraiser for the outside political group, Campaign for One New York, which raises money to promote de Blasio's agenda.

"Everyone understands the federal government has a huge impact on the future of our roads, highways, mass transit, education, affordable housing — things that we are crying out for solutions for in New York City," de Blasio said when asked about the perception of his travel and advocacy on national issues.