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Commentary: Mayor Has Promises to Keep

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Tomorrow afternoon, Michael Bloomberg will be sworn in for his second term as Mayor of New York City, after his landlside re-election. But WNYC’s Brian Lehrer says despite the easy win, the mayor still has some promises to keep.

FERRER: Any tenant who votes for Michael Bloomberg is a little like the chickens voting for Colonel Sanders.

LEHRER: Okay, so lines like that didn’t come close to getting Freddy Ferrer elected mayor. But he may have had much more of an impact than most people realize.

Think about it: Ferrer played offense on the three big issues that New Yorkers ranked as their top concerns in the polls: education, housing, and jobs. And in each of the three areas, the mayor responded to the Ferrer campaign with substantive new promises that he’s now obligated to make good on.

The biggest was for more affordable housing, chickens and Colonel Sanders notwithstanding. When the campaign began a year ago, the mayor was boasting about his plan for 68,000 units of lower or middle income housing. But that still left him vulnerable in a city drowning in rent and mortgage bills. Ferrer promised 165,000 units, including a way to finance them. Feeling the heat, Mayor Bloomberg raised his own promised number by a full hundred thousand to match his challenger’s. A candidate with NO hope still provided NEW hope on the number one issue of the year.

Similarly, the mayor began the year boasting about improvements in elementary school test scores. His attitude toward the high schools was “we’ll get to them.” Ferrer, of course, focused on failings in the upper grades, especially the high school dropout rate. Again, the mayor responded. In late October, in the home stretch of a campaign he knew he would win, he suddenly proposed an ambitious array of new initiatives for the high schools, including 15 special schools for failing kids, five evening schools for students who need that schedule, 10 new GED programs and more.

And on jobs, the infuriatingly high unemployment rate for Black and Latino men was a natural core issue for Ferrer. So the Mayor announced an agreement with the city’s construction unions to set aside 40 percent of their future apprenticeships for people from groups determined to be at high risk for unemployment. And he announced a new effort to increase the number of minority-owned businesses that get city contracts.

So as he prepares for his second inaugural, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has a lot of promises to keep, and plenty of watchdogs out there to make sure he keeps them. On my weekday call-in show yesterday, Elisa Hyman of the group Advocates For Children said we’ll be able to measure by NEXT New Year’s Eve whether the Mayor is keeping his word on improving the high schools.

HYMAN: Number one would be just literally whether these schools were actually created over the last year, number two, you could see if there is an increase in the number of young people actually earning their GED’s, and you can also look at whether the number of English language learner students and students with disabilities have become more evenly distributed throughout the new school initiatives.

LEHRER: Other watchdogs – concerned with housing and the minority workforce - will be measuring how those promises are being kept.

The moral of the story? Elections matter. Even a foregone conclusion of an election like this one put pressure on the incumbent to address people’s needs. So good luck, Mr. Mayor, in your second term. But don’t forget. The people heard your promises. And we’ll be watching.

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