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The Empire

De Blasio makes his move on living wage in New York City

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Updated with additional statements below.

Colby Hamilton/WNYC

As the New York Times reported today, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio has thrown his support behind the contentious living wage bill sitting stalled in the City Council. In a letter to City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, de Blasio said the legislation was need because "we have not done enough to grow the prospects of all New Yorkers."

"Our city is in the midst of a prolonged economic crisis that has battered the middle class, driven down wages and led to unacceptably high rates of unemployment. Underlying these problems is a rising income inequality that threatens our social fabric and economic future," de Blasio said in the letter. "New York City must move aggressively to address rising income inequality—and I firmly believe that the Living Wage bill represents one of the most immediate and important steps our City can take to do this."

The move puts de Blasio on firm ground in the debate over the bill--and on the side of labor, whose backing he courts in the coming mayoral race--while further boxing in Speaker Quinn, who has not taken a position on the bill. However, the legislation cannot move to the floor without her consent, where it will likely pass. The Speaker has positioned herself as the candidate friendly to business interests in the city, which observers believe are pressuring her to keep the bill from becoming law.

Political consultant Michael Tobman, of the New York City-based firm Hudson TG, saw the letter reflecting three current political realities in the early stages of the 2013 mayoral battle.

1. The weakened state of Comptroller John Liu

The Comptroller continues to face questions about his fundraising practices, which a number of political observers think nixes his mayoral ambitions. Liu and de Blasio have both been friends of labor, but with Liu on the ropes, supporting the living wage publicly can help move the labor backing needle further into de Blasio territory.

"The new normal is that John Liu is out of the mayoral race and the Public Advocate is picking that support up," Tobman said.

2. Pressure on Speaker Quinn

Speaker Quinn has been performing a balancing act over the legislation. On side has been a vocal labor coalition and their allies in the City Council pushing for its passage. On the other, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the business community. With de Blasio siding with labor, the Speaker is in a tougher position over which side to take.

"At this point, you have to wonder, is the pressure on her to maintain the appearance of having all this bussiness support, and this business community support, and this wealthy support? Because at the end of that equation, how many votes does this give you," Tobman said. "It is becoming an increasingly difficult calculation to justify."

3. New Yorkers like  living wage

Public polling has shown New York voters like the idea of a living wage bill. Occupy Wall Street made its passage a talking point. It may be a simple fact that support for the legislation is getting easier, while the opposite is getting tougher.

"The next moves by the speaker either have to be masterful or that parade's going to pass her by," said Tobman.

The labor-backed coalition pushing for the bill's passage, Living Wage New York, was quick to distance itself from de Blasio's letter:

2013 mayoral politics should not determine the fate of the living wage bill. Bill de Blasio is the latest in a very long line of elected officials, leaders, and organizations around the city to endorse the living wage bill. The final decision on the legislation is not up to him. The City Council will decide what happens next. We thank Speaker Quinn for her willingness to work with us and discuss the legislation from the very first day it was introduce.

The statement makes sense: If you want the legislation passed, why upset the person who alone controls that possibility? But should Quinn ultimately come down on the opposite of labor on this, de Blasio has strategically placed himself in a strong position.

UPDATE: It should be noted that de Blasio is also not doing anything to earn the favor of business groups opposed to the legislation. Below is a statement from a spokesperson with Putting New Yorkers to Work:

We need to create new jobs and cut the cost of doing business in New York City.  Wage mandates might curry favor with special interests but they kill jobs. Rather than pandering by latching onto this legislation, we urge public officials to put their energies toward helping, rather than hurting, the private sector.