De Blasio: 'Lesson Now Is to Go Bigger, Be Bolder' Than 'Too Progressive' Ideas
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio declared in his State of the City address today that the city is "getting closer every single day to that great day when we will close Rikers Island for good."
"Today the population in our corrections system has dropped to less than 8,000 people for the first time in almost 40 years," he said. "The era of mass incarceration did not begin in New York City, but it will end in New York City."
De Blasio also said the city government is "showing public housing residents that we can begin to reverse decades of disinvestment and make their lives better" with the New York City Housing Authority plan "to bring brand new everything to 175,000 NYCHA residents, from new roofs to new kitchens and bathrooms."
"We still grapple with too many people in this town who need our help because they're homeless. I'm proud to say that we moved more than 2,000 homeless New Yorkers off the streets and into a permanent situation where they can be taken care of and they can get the help they need," he said. "And we closed more than 180 shelters that didn't meet our standards for health and safety, and we will close more. Now, making housing better, making it safer, making it affordable is not the only way we become the fairest big city in America."
He said plans by Amazon and Google to locate there "show that the world's most innovative companies want to be here, and they want to hire New Yorkers."
"Now, we have over 4.5 million jobs in this city, for the first time in history. 4.5 million jobs," he said. "Unemployment at a record low, wages rising. Now, all this has happened in a progressive city. All this has happened in a city that made sure there was fairness. So anyone who tells you that there can't be job growth when we ask for fairness – we're going to prove them wrong here in New York City."
On the environment, de Blasio stressed that his government "had to do something that demanded a fight -- we had to fight to ban Styrofoam in this city."
"Some people said to me it's going to be a fight. It's going mean taking on big business. Well, we took on big business. They sued us. And we won in court. And now Styrofoam is banned in New York City," he said. "And let's ban plastic bags and plastic straws while we're at it."
His ideas "were considered too radical or too costly or – shudder – too progressive," de Blasio said, but "the lesson now is to go bigger, be bolder, aim higher. There's more to do in this town."
The mayor added that "life in the fairest big city in America should never feel impossible" and residents "shouldn't feel such pressure on the quality of our lives."
"And that term is an important one – quality of life. It means different things to different people. When I say it, I mean the quality of your life. Are you spending enough time with your kids? Do you have time for that? When was the last time you and your partner could actually go out on a date? Do you see your life getting better this year? Or are you just holding on? I'm here to tell you, you're not alone."
Lobbying for "Medicare For All in Washington" and single-payer healthcare on the state level, the mayor added, "But until they say yes back, New York City will lead the way."
"We will literally guarantee healthcare for every single New Yorker. Let me tell you how it works: If you don't have insurance, it's going to be simple. If you're eligible, we'll get you enrolled in the city's public option, MetroPlus, and get you a doctor," de Blasio continued. "We'll get you a doctor at one of our 70 public health centers. And if you're not eligible, like hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers, including our undocumented neighbors, we'll take care of you, too."
De Blasio noted that he's "not a scholar of scripture" but "I don't think there's a passage in the Bible that says 'deny healthcare to your neighbor because they're undocumented' -- I think the Bible tells us help your neighbor."
De Blasio announced the additions of new departments in city government.
"We know that the people working the hardest often earn the least, and have the fewest protections. In this city, nannies, home health aides, housekeepers, drivers, freelancers – more than 200,000 New Yorkers – receive no benefits at all, and have no security. These are the people who keep this city running. And in return, they get the short end of the stick. It's not OK with them. It's not OK, is it?" he said. "It's not OK with me either. No one should be taken for granted. No one should be punished for how they make a living. And that's why, today, I am expanding the mission, and in fact, the name of the Department of Consumer Affairs. It will now be the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection."
He also said "the city's worst landlords will have a new sheriff to fear – the Mayor's Office to Protect Tenants," described as "a new arm of city government that will root out the worst landlord abuse, a force that will hold every city agency, as well, accountable for protecting tenants."
"My fellow New Yorkers, when a landlord tries to push out a tenant by making their home unlivable, a team of inspectors and law enforcement agents will be on the ground in time to stop it," de Blasio vowed. "We'll use every tool we have. We'll fine the landlords. We'll penalize the landlords. But if the fines and the penalties don't cut it, we will seize their buildings. And we will put them in the hands of a community non-profit that will treat tenants with the respect they deserve."