HARLEM — Mayor Bill de Blasio pledged to create 40,000 new jobs over the next four years in a low-key State of the City speech Monday night that kicked off his re-election bid.
Speaking at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, de Blasio announced plans to create the bulk of those jobs — 30,000 — using a $2.6 billion plan to retrofit every city-owned building to meet new sustainability standards, working with labor unions to help create a workforce that could then retrofit other privately-owned buildings as well.
Other jobs would be achieved by turning an underutilized city-owned property in Sunset Park into the "Made in NY campus" where businesses will manufacture fashion, produce food and create television shows and films all along a waterfront esplanade.
The initiatives, on top of already announced plans to provide low-income tenants with attorneys in housing court, to create 10,000 additional affordable apartments for people earning less than $40,000 per year, and a proposed mansion tax to maintain affordable apartments for 25,000 seniors, are part of de Blasio's plans to tackle two of New York's most enduring and intertwined issues: affordable housing and jobs that allow people to afford to live here.
"If this is going to be your city, we have to help you keep climbing the economic ladder," said de Blasio, who added that the city must help people earn more money to deal with an "affordability crisis," that threatens the character of the city.
Heading into an election year, de Blasio is targeting the same people who lifted him to a surprise victory in 2013 with his rhetoric about inequality in the city.
"He's trying to expand the base," said Christina Greer, a professor of political science at Fordham University. "You realize you want to spread the wealth. Leading into the election there are certain voting blocs that may feel neglected, so you want to make sure you have stuff on the books for them."
The mayor rubbed the famed "Tree of Hope" before his speech. Performers rub the stump before going out to perform on the notoriously brutal Apollo Theater stage. De Blasio, entering his fourth year in office, is also facing some difficult issues for which hope might be helpful.
The mayor's fundraising practices are being investigated by both the U.S. Attorney and Manhattan District Attorney. There is also lingering unhappiness from those on the political left, the mayor's strongest supporters.
Outside of the Apollo, groups protested the mayor's continued support of "broken windows" policing and his refusal to endorse a push to close Rikers Island. De Blasio is also facing an epidemic of homelessness with a record 60,000-plus people in the city's shelters. But the mayor did not unveil a new proposal on the issue of homelessness during his speech.
"You will hear more about that very soon," the mayor said about vexing issues such as homelessness, the explosion in opioid abuse and worsening traffic congestion as the city's record population continues to grow.
Instead, de Blasio listed what he feels are some of his accomplishments during his three full years in office, record low overall crime, a pledge to increase the percentage of city contracts given to minority and women-owned business to 30 percent and a 40 percent decrease in fines of small businesses.
But even with his pledge to create and preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing, more needs to be done, the mayor said.
"Everything we've been doing so far is necessary, it's right, but it's not sufficient," de Blasio said of his proposal to create 100,000 good-paying jobs over the next decade, long after the mayor will be out of office even if he wins re-election.
The mayor defined "good-paying jobs" as those paying at least $50,000 per year. New York City has been adding jobs. In 2016, the city added 89,500 jobs but 49 percent, or 41,000 jobs, were low-wage, according to the Comptroller's office.
"So many people love this city. But here is a blunt truth. They love it but that doesn't mean it's easy to live here," said de Blasio. "For a lot of seniors this is not an easy place to live. For a lot of young people just starting out, it's not so easy. For folks struggling to make ends meet, this can be a punishing environment."
The mayor said the city has to "focus on the other half of the equation" and "drive up incomes" by helping to create well-paying jobs.
Details on de Blasio's proposals to create jobs in the so-called "green economy" and through the "Made in NY campus" initiative were scarce Monday night. But on Tuesday, the mayor is scheduled to visit Bush Terminal along the waterfront in Sunset Park to tour the area and announce more details.
"This is going to be the new center of garment manufacturing, a new hub of our great fashion industry here in our city, in Sunset Park, Brooklyn," said de Blasio. Along with a new film and television studio, the proposal will create 1,500 permanent jobs, he added.
De Blasio's push to create jobs is also part of his answer to the economic fear that many believe helped elect Donald Trump. As he has since Trump's election, the mayor framed himself and the city as a bulwark against Trump's controversial policies.
"We do not know what the future of our economy will be. We sure don't know what's going to happen in Washington, D.C.," said the mayor. "But we know what we're going to do. We are going to be consistently focused on the creation of good paying jobs."
Stringer, who was one of several elected officials to attend the speech, and who is often mentioned as a potential de Blasio challenger, said he felt the mayor "spoke from the heart" during the speech but also took some credit for the mayor's push to expand jobs.
"I'm pleased that the mayor recognized what I've been saying for a long time which is the present housing plan is not enough," he said. "It's not going to cut into the affordable crisis that we have."
The Real Affordability for All coalition praised the mayor's push to add more affordable apartments, but said he needed to "pressure developers and landlords to set aside a much larger number of apartments for low-income and homeless New Yorkers."
The Climate Works for All coalition, a group made up of labor unions and environmental justice advocates, praised the mayor's green jobs plan.
"Linking workforce development and job creation to investments in energy efficiency retrofits will help ensure we address inequality and climate change together,” said Daisy Chung, a spokeswoman for the group.