WNYC's Bob Hennelly is an award-winning investigative journalist. While at WNYC he has reported on a wide gamut of major public policy questions ranging from immigration and homeland security to power outages and utility mergers.
Bloomberg's Confident Speech Draws Mixed Reactions
Thursday, January 20, 2011
At the landmark St. George Theater, the choir from PS 29 sang as the mayor took to the stage and delivered a confident speech — with no apology for the snow removal fiasco. He said the city was leading the nation from recession to recovery.
"In fact for the first time in decades New York City entered a national recession later than the rest of the country and now we have come out of it faster and stronger than the rest of the country," Bloomberg declared to loud applause.
But he said for the city to remain economically viable going forward, it could not raise taxes but instead had to get concessions from the city's union workforce to slow fast rising pension and benefit costs. And he indicated he was not messing around.
"I will not sign a contract with salary increases unless they're accompanied by reforms in benefit packages that produce the savings we need to continue making investments in our future and protecting vital services, period,"Bloomberg warned.
Bloomberg said in 2001, the city had to pay out $1.5 billion toward pensions. He said now it cost taxpayers $7 billion dollars, and it only will get worse after that.
Mayor Bloomberg also made the case that the city had no choice but to reform civil service laws and should no longer use seniority but rather merit when deciding which teachers get laid off.
United Federation Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said the mayor's proposal would result in the most senior teachers being targeted, not for cause but to save the city money.
"It was very disappointing to hear the mayor stand up on the stage and say that you should be able to lay people off based on their salary, so if somebody decides to stay a teacher for 20 years, the mayor wants to be able to lay them off because they cost the city too much" reasoned Mulgrew.
But Mulgrew also said the mayor's strategy was to balance his future budget solely on the back of the city's unionized workforce.
"And it is clear the mayor is completely content on protecting the millionaires and billionaires of New York City during these tough times," Mulgrew said.
But comprehensive pension reform was not the only heavy lift on the third term to do list. Mayor Bloomberg said now, 40 years since Albany bailed out the city in the 1970s fiscal crisis, it's time for the city to take back the control it ceded to save itself.
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, a veteran state legislator, said he liked the mayor's fiesty words, but said the mayor needs to strike a more collaborative tone to actually get anything done.
Stringer said the mayor should have used the address to take responsibility for what Stringer said has been his performance at the start of his third term, including the alleged $80 million theft from the city's roll out of its new payroll system.
"But the lessons we learned from the CityTime contract, the Chancellor roll out, the snow storm, he's got to involve more people at the table to get things done," Stringer said.
Queens City Councilman Peter Vallone was quite critical of the Bloomberg administration's snow response in the immediate aftermath of the blizzard. But he said he was glad the mayor used the address to push what Vallone sees as a bold reform agenda of taking on Albany and the unions.
"I am impressed that he didn't spend time trying to rehabilitate his reputation after the snow storm and actually talked about important issues and reminded people why they voted for him," said Vallone.
But for Public Advocate Bill DeBlasio, the mayor significantly over inflated the economic wellbeing of average New Yorkers, ignoring a widening economic disparity in the the city. He said that lack of a real grasp of just how tentative things are for many was similar to the mayor's Manhattancentric view of his team's blizzard response.
"That is part of the reality that new Yorkers are facing. and that is a painful one for them that the difference between rich and poor is overwhelming at this point and the difference between the outer boroughs and Manhattan is overwhelming at this point." said DeBlasio.
The one proposal for all the outer boroughs that Mayor Bloomberg did champion during the State of the City is the creation of a new category of livery cab that will be permitted to pick up street hales, something now legally restricted to yellow cabs that mostly work the streets of Manhattan. That will require City Council sign off.
And any substantial pension and civil service reform will have to hashed out in Albany. Mayor Bloomberg is banking on support from Governor Cuomo, who ran on pension reform, to back him up.