Feel good speech opens NYC mayoral battle

NEW YORK—Though elections won’t be held until November, the battle for the mayoralty here has already begun. Critics charge that Mayor Michael Bloomberg used an unrealistic “feel-good” State of the City address as a campaign tool. His challengers have come out swinging on a number of issues, ranging from labor to his failed school reforms to his proposed city budget.

While Bloomberg painted a pleasant picture of New York City, he couldn’t gloss over a $3 billion deficit for 2006, claiming the city will do more with less.

Yet, according to the Gotham Gazette, “reducing staff at 49 firehouses, shorter library hours, cutting $15 million from after-school programs, and eliminating hot meals to homebound senior citizens” are part of his plans to “do more with less.” Cuts to school construction will total $1.3 billion over the next five years.

The mayor’s budget relies heavily on grants from the state and federal government that the city may or may not receive.

“Your view of the state of the city depends on where you look at it from,” said former Bronx borough president Fernando Ferrer, commenting on the State of the City address.

“The city looks very different from a penthouse than it does from a two-family home in Bayside, or a walk-up in Flatbush…[Bloomberg] is determined to spend hundreds of millions in tax dollars to build a stadium for a billionaire team owner, while our schools are overcrowded and too many working families can’t find child care or after-school programs or housing they can afford.”

The mayor supports a controversial plan to build a new sports facility on Manhattan’s West Side, using $300 million in public money. Community groups and others cite studies that show that these types of projects rarely bring benefits for the people of the city, and complain that the mayor should not be giving money to private businesses when the city is still facing budget deficits and program cuts.

“I was trying to find out what city [Bloomberg] was talking about. He painted such a rosy picture…he doesn’t mention that 50 percent of Black males are unemployed,” Charles Barron, a City Councilor, said. “He has turned New York City into New York City, Inc., a playground for rich developers.”

The city’s schools are in such dire need of funding that the state’s Supreme Court ruled billions of dollars need to be spent to ensure students’ legal right to education. The Supreme Court said that the state must provide funding, but Bloomberg has recently stated that if even a few cents of necessary money must come from the city, he would rather not see any of the money at all.

The Alliance for Quality Education calls this “preposterous”, noting that the City needs to pay its fair share as well.

While it is still early and city labor unions have not taken positions yet on whom to endorse, Bloomberg is an extremely anti-labor mayor. Teachers, firemen, police, and other public workers have been without a contract for years.

So far Bloomberg’s most likely opponent on the Democratic ticket appears to be Ferrer, who nearly won the Democratic nomination last time with the support of African American and Latino communities, SEIU 1199, and other unions.

Other contenders include

Barron, former Manhattan borough president C. Virginia Fields, Congressman Anthony Wiener, and City Council majority leader Gifford Miller.

dmargolis@pww.org