Thursday, January 22, 2009

Bloomberg Looks to Past and Future During State of City Address


By Conor Greene

In his annual State of the City address last Thursday in Brooklyn, Mayor Michael Bloomberg focused on the economy, job creation and crime while presenting a nine-point plan he says will result in as many as 400,000 jobs over the next six years.

At a time when the nation is enduring what is widely considered the worst economic climate since the Great Depression, Mayor Bloomberg made references to historical figures and events such as Franklin D. Roosevelt, 9/11 and the 1930s during his hour-long speech.

The speech, presented at Whitman Hall in Brooklyn College, was quickly overshadowed when just hours later a commercial airliner was forced to land in the Hudson River after striking a flock of geese upon takeoff from LaGuardia Airport. News organizations dedicated the majority of that day’s coverage to the near disaster, meaning the mayor’s speech did not receive the attention it normally would.

And, with Mayor Bloomberg poised to run for a third term this fall after convincing City Council to amend the city’s term limits law, the speech served in many ways as a campaign speech. When not looking ahead to the road of recovery the city and nation currently faces, the mayor pointed to gains New York has made since he first took office.

“Until recently, the New Deal and the 1930s seemed like a distant memory – and something we read about in history books,” said Bloomberg. “But last year, when the sub-prime mortgage write-down became a global financial meltdown, the bank panics returned and today, more people are worried about losing their jobs, their savings and their homes than at any time since that Great Depression.”

However, he harkened back to 9/11, “when the experts were predicting it would take decades for our city to recover.” In that time, the city has made great strides in areas including crime (“down 30 percent, thanks to our Finest”), fire deaths (“the lowest seven-year total in history, thanks to our Bravest”), high school graduation rates (“up 22 percent, thanks to our Smartest”), tourism (“up more than 30 percent”), welfare rolls (“down to a 45-year low”), ambulance response times (“the fastest on record”), the city’s population (“at an all-time high”) and average life expectancy (“longer than ever and longer than the country’s for the first time since World War Two”).

“Those achievements have touched New Yorkers in all five boroughs and made our city a national leader in nearly every area of public policy,” continued Bloomberg, a former Democrat and Republican turned independent. “But now, I think we all know, we are being tested again. We don’t know how bad the recession will be, but we know it will be bad enough. Plenty bad. There’s no question that the temporary State of our City is shaken. But I’m here today to tell you it’s not broken!”

While many New Yorkers are enduring tough times economically, Mayor Bloomberg noted that it could have been much worse had the city not prepared ahead of time. “We knew that – as sure as night follows day – the market would eventually turn downward,” he recalled. “And we prepared for it.”

Since 2007, the city has cut planned spending by more than $2 billion, according to the mayor. Debt costs have been cut by $3.2 billion, and $2.5 billion has been set aside for retirees’ benefits. “If we hadn’t taken those steps, instead of confronting a crisis today we’d be caught in a cataclysm.” Still, despite the foresight, the city still faces a “fiscal reckoning that will involve some very painful budget choices,” which he will describe in his preliminary budget presentation on January 30.

However, the brunt of Mayor Bloomberg’s time was spent laying out the nine-point plan he says will “allow us to retain and create as many jobs as possible now and 400,000 jobs over the next six years, in all five boroughs.”

Aspects of the plan include investing in new infrastructure, which Mayor Bloomberg said would continue a trend set this year when the city funded a record $10 billion-plus in capital projects including the 7 Train extension to Hudson Yards, breaking ground on a new Police Academy in College Point, building two libraries in Queens and a major renovation of the Queens Museum of Art.

“For the past year, we’ve been pushing Washington to focus the Federal stimulus on ‘ready to build’ infrastructure,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “In all fairness, they’ve finally come around – and thanks to all the work we’ve done over the past several years, we’re ready to build. We look forward to working with Congress and President-elect Obama – not just on the stimulus package, but on rethinking the entire way we fund infrastructure projects in this country.”

Another major element of Mayor Bloomberg’s job creation plan is to “continue diversifying our economy and continue reducing our dependence in Wall Street.” In Queens, that includes projects such as the redevelopment of the industrial Willets Point neighborhood near Citi Field and development of Hunters Point South in Long Island City.

As the economy struggles, Mayor Bloomberg noted that it is especially important to make sure that crime and quality of life issues don’t impact the city’s neighborhoods. “In fact, the best thing we can do for Wall Street – and for every corner store in the city – is the second leg of our economic recovery strategy: continue to improve the quality of life in our neighborhoods,” he said. “And make no mistake – we will.”

Calling public safety “the bedrock of society that makes economic growth possible,” Mayor Bloomberg cited FBI statistics showing New York as the “safest big city in the country.” Crime is at a “more than 40-year low,” nearly 30 percent lower then seven years ago. “It means if crime levels from 2001 had remained constant, there would have been more than 78,000 individuals, families and businesses robbed or burglarized,” he said. “None of it happened, thank God – thanks to the brave men and women of the NYPD.”

One initiative Mayor Bloomberg introduced as part of his focus on quality of life issues is a plan to identify the “Dirty Dozen,” the 12 worst repeat quality-of-life offenders in each borough. “So let me make this promise now: we won’t cede an inch to the squeegee men, turnstile jumpers and graffiti vandals who breed a sense of disorder and lawlessness. Not on our watch,” he said.

Mayor Bloomberg closed his speech by telling the story of Yan Fei and Chen Fei, who moved to Sunset Park five years ago from a small town in China. Chen is studying to become an accountant, and Yan recently became an American citizen. “These New Yorkers – together – are why I am so confident about our future... That resilience, that perseverance, that stubborn optimism, is something everyone in this room recognizes.

“We are New Yorkers – together. We have rallied from every setback – together. We have always emerged even stronger than before – together. And now as one city, with one common destiny, we’ll do it again,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “By never fearing. Never quitting. Newer accepting failure. And always believing that our best days, and the best days for this city, are still to come. Thank you. God bless you all and God bless New York City.”

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