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De Blasio Focuses on Neighborhoods in State of the City Speech

By Jeff Mays | February 4, 2016 6:30pm | Updated on February 4, 2016 8:55pm
 Mayor Bill de Blasio's big picture vision for the city was interrupted by two news events, including the shooting of a police officer.
De Blasio Focuses on Neighborhoods in State of the City Speech
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THE BRONX — A streetcar along the Brooklyn and Queens waterfront, $91 million to spruce up downtown Far Rockaway and MTA buses in the outer boroughs with technology that makes green lights longer and red lights shorter.

These three proposals were highlights of Mayor Bill de Blasio's State of the City speech Thursday in The Bronx titled "One New York: Working for Every Neighborhood" and showed an increased focus on the city's neighborhoods as de Blasio heads into the second half of his term.

► READ THE FULL TEXT OF THE SPEECH HERE

"New Yorkers deserve strong neighborhoods. Safe neighborhoods. Clean neighborhoods," de Blasio said at Lehman College. "Neighborhoods that become stronger as the world keeps progressing into the 21st century. Neighborhoods that lift up their people and in doing so lift up the whole city."

Mott Haven, one of the poorest communities in the country, will get a new health center. It is one of 14 underserved neighborhoods that will receive new or expanded community health clinics.

Brownsville, which has one of the most stubborn pockets of violence left in the city, will get technology to detect gunshots.

Brownsville will also be the first neighborhood to get "single shepherds," a combination of mentor and guidance counselor for 5,000 middle and high school students.

The $2.5 billion plan for a streetcar, known as the Brooklyn-Queens Connector, would run for 16 miles through neighborhoods such as Astoria, Long Island City, Downtown Brooklyn, Red Hook and Sunset Park and would allow passengers to traverse the two boroughs without crossing into Manhattan.

The streetcar will also link to 13 NYCHA developments with 40,000 residents.

"You know, more and more people are not going into Manhattan to work, they're going to Brooklyn, they're going to Queens," de Blasio said Thursday on Hot 97.

"This connects the two biggest boroughs and just makes people have a lot more ability to get around, a lot more opportunity," he added. "And I think it's going to increase the quality-of-life in those neighborhoods."

In Far Rockaway, the city's $91 million investment will be used to fix a transit hub as well as area streets in an area local residents say was neglected for years.

"We’ll help businesses in commercial corridors like Beach 20th Street," de Blasio said. "Parents will be able to attend job training workshops while their kids play a pick-up game at the greatly improved Sorrentino Recreation Center. And the whole community will enjoy the new, state-of-the-art Downtown Far Rockaway Library."

Local City Councilman Donovan Richards said the area was neglected.

"There's been no investment. We were having conversations upon conversations in the prior administration, but it was clear the focus was on Manhattan," Richards said. "The notion of Far Rockaway being forgotten was a real narrative."

But the $91 million is helping to change that.

Now, developers are becoming interested in projects in the area. Richards said they can now use city investments to encourage the state to do more to improve the subways and other infrastructure.

"I didn't endorse the mayor, but I do clearly see this as an outreach to real, everyday people," Richards said.

Among other initiatives that could help neighborhoods is CleanNYC, which will target commercial corridors in the outer boroughs for additional trash can service, cleaning of litter in and around highway ramps and graffiti removal.

The mayor also announced a plan for New York to become the first city in the country to create a retirement savings plan for private sector employees. Half of working New Yorkers do not have access to a retirement savings plan and 40 percent of those with plans have less than $10,000 saved.

"We absolutely do not accept a status quo where people work all their lives only to be left with nothing," de Blasio said.

Proposed legislation would allow employees at companies with 10 or more employees to automatically enroll in a retirement savings plan.

"What you see from the mayor in this State of the City is that he's trying to show he understands the concerns of areas of the city that may feel disenfranchised from his administration," said Evan Thies, a political consultant and president of Brooklyn Strategies.

De Blasio, who has faced criticism that he is more concerned about national issues than running the city, is trying to shift that narrative, Thies said. Many of the proposals are "light on the details" but the mayor has the impetus to make sure they're realized.

"In order to make a compelling case for re-election, the mayor is going to have to point to a number of concrete accomplishments that he completely owns," Thies said.

The mayor's speech, the first time the State of the City was held in the evening, was almost swallowed up by two other news events. The first was the announcement that a deal to take horse carriages off the city's streets and house them in Central Park had fallen apart.

And then two officers were shot in the stairwell of the Melrose Houses roughly 5 miles from Lehman College while the mayor was delivering his speech. Police said the suspected shooter committed suicide.

The mayor was told of the shooting as soon as he left the stage and spoke at a press conference at Lincoln Hospital a short while later.

The focus of the evening quickly shifted from the mayor's vision for the city to the status of the two injured officers who ran into some "bad guys" while "keeping people safe," de Blasio said.

"Our thoughts, our prayers, our hearts are with them and their family," the mayor said of the officers.