NYC mayor courts a wider U.S. audience for progressive policies

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio presented plans for 2019 to create a city-run retirement plan for those without a 401(k), expand public transportation and confiscate buildings from law-violating landlords, in an anti-income inequality message he intends to take nationally.

De Blasio, 57, delivered his message in his sixth State of the City address Thursday, often discussing income disparity by echoing the resentment felt by those left behind during the latest economic boom. It came after a week in which he proposed a law that would require businesses with five or more workers to provide two weeks paid vacation, an expansion of city health services and half-fare subway and bus discounts for some of the poor.

"You haven't been paid what you deserve. You haven't been given the time you deserve. You're not living the life you deserve," de Blasio said to politicians, business leaders and city officials attending the speech in a theater on Manhattan's Upper West Side. "Brothers and sisters, there's plenty of money in this city. It's just in the wrong hands."

The speech mapped out the themes de Blasio intends to take across the country, continuing a five-year effort to gain a reputation as a national spokesman for progressive politics, a role usurped by Sen. Bernie Sanders during the 2016 presidential campaign. Sanders' campaign forced the mayor to abandon a plan to create a "Progressive Agenda" that he had hoped would make him influential in vetting the Democratic Party's presidential nominee.

His plans for the current year include his support of a city council bill that would create a city-run retirement program similar to a 401(k) or Roth IRA for about two million New Yorkers who don't have an employer-sponsored plan.

He also called for ferry service expansion linking Staten Island with the west side of Manhattan and Coney Island with Lower Manhattan, as well as more express bus lanes. Another program offering pre-school to 3-year-olds will expand to serve 20,000 children, and he plans to increase one providing eye-care and glasses to first-graders and kindergartners.

In describing the city's condition, the mayor touted New York as the safest U.S. big city, the beneficiary of 28 years of consecutive declines in crime. The economy's steady improvement since the 2008 financial crisis has brought seasonally adjusted unemployment to 4 percent, which he described as an all-time low.

He cast himself as the deliverer of a $15 minimum wage, a law he supported that was actually enacted by the state legislature and Governor Andrew Cuomo. He reminded his office of the city pension funds' divestment of assets from oil companies — an initiative led by the retirement boards and city Comptroller Scott Stringer.

The mayor received the most applause when he threatened to confiscate buildings from landlords who are among the worst law violators, interrupting his speech to sign an executive order creating an "Office to Protect Tenants." The office would be empowered to deploy a team of inspectors with authority to impose fines, penalties and property seizures, placing buildings in the hands of a non-profit corporation.

"When the city's worst landlords cheat their tenants, we will take their buildings from them," de Blasio said.

De Blasio outlined his intention to embark on a national tour expressing his progressive ideas during a City Hall news conference Wednesday.

"People are struggling more and more all over the country," he said. "They have less and less time for themselves, less and less time for their family. This is a national crisis. So I am going to go all over the country and talk about that."

 

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