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Progressive Promises: Bill de Blasio’s New York City Record

Mayor Bill de Blasio holds a press conference in Trump Tower on May 13, 2019.
Mayor Bill de Blasio holds a press conference in Trump Tower on May 13, 2019. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Gearing up for his expected run for the Democratic presidential nomination, Bill de Blasio has touted his progressive credentials, pointing to various accomplishments in five-plus years as New York City’s 109th mayor.

Here’s a look at his record on some signature issues that voters outside the five boroughs likely will be hearing about soon:

Universal Pre-K

Background: The title says it all. Full-day pre-kindergarten is widely viewed as the mayor’s most successful program, which he pursued feverishly out of the gate in 2014.

What He’s Done: This year, close to 70,000 kids are enrolled in full-day pre-K programs citywide. The results from an analysis completed in January found that 94% of pre-K programs assessed during the three school years starting in fall 2015 were meeting benchmarks “correlated with improved student outcomes.”

The Fine Print: Quite a few New York City children already had pre-K before de Blasio set out to open enrollment to every child.

While the administration reports that only 19,000 students were enrolled in pre-kindergarten in the school year before de Blasio took office, that counts full-day programs alone. When half-day programs and part-day programs with child care are included, more than 58,000 students already benefited from some form of government-subsidized pre-K the year de Blasio took office. Many existing part-day programs expanded their programs to full-day.

Mayor de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza mingle with Pre-K students at PS 25 in The Bronx in April 2018.
Mayor de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza mingle with Pre-K students at PS 25 in The Bronx in April 2018. Photo: Alex Zimmerman/Chalkbeat

Meanwhile, the mayor’s expansion of public school-based programs in an industry still dominated by nonprofit providers has created a pay-parity issue. Starting salaries at Department of Education-run pre-K programs are significantly higher than those offered by the nonprofits. The DOE programs are not only siphoning kids from those programs, but also luring teachers.

The issue is up for negotiation in tense contract talks, which nearly led to a strike in early May. The City Council is pushing for City Hall to add $89 million to the pending city budget to begin closing the pay gap.

HEALTH CARE FOR ALL

Background: Another title-says-it-all program. In early January, de Blasio announced guaranteed access to healthcare services for all New Yorkers.

What He’s Done: For about 300,000 residents who are eligible for health insurance via government programs such as Medicaid but don’t currently have it, the city committed to signing them up for coverage — mostly through an insurer affiliated with NYC Health + Hospitals called MetroPlus. Relying on the city public hospital system’s medical personnel, it’s a more affordable option than most of the programs offered through the state’s health exchange, and charges patients on a sliding scale.

De Blasio talks about universal health care during his State of the City speech on Jan. 10, 2019.
De Blasio talks about universal health care during his State of the City speech on Jan. 10, 2019. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

For about another 300,000 residents ineligible for existing government health insurance programs — most of them undocumented immigrants — the city is launching a new program called NYC Care. It aims to reduce emergency room visits by connecting the uninsured with doctors at NYC Health + Hospitals. The program, slated to launch on Aug. 1 in The Bronx and spread citywide by the end of 2020, provides each participant with a card assigning them a primary care doctor.

The Fine Print: The guarantee isn’t exactly new. Patients without health care were not getting turned away from the city’s public hospitals. Health + Hospitals also had been encouraging the uninsured to sign up for MetroPlus coverage prior to the mayor’s announcement.

The city says it will allocate at least $100 million to operate the NYC Care program annually, a relatively low figure that might depend on expected savings generated by fewer ER visits and more preventive care.

SAFEST BIG CITY IN AMERICA

Background: De Blasio has continued to oversee a period of declining crime, leading him to declare New York the “safest big city in America.”

What He’s Done: Since 2013, then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s final year in office, the seven major felonies the NYPD tracks have declined from 111,335 to 95,883 in 2018. Murders went down 12% over that time period, to 295 last year. Robberies and burglaries each fell by roughly 33%.

The mayor with NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill in January.
The mayor with NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill in January. Photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

The Fine Print: Rapes are up nearly 33% since 2013, to 1,794 last year — an increase that may, in part, reflect increased reporting by victims. Felony assaults and grand larcenies have stayed relatively static. And while the vast majority of precincts have seen crime drops since 2013 — some by large margins — at least a half-dozen neighborhoods have logged crime spikes.

END OF STOP & FRISK

Background: De Blasio campaigned in 2013 on halting the controversial policing practice of “stop, question and frisk” — street searches that allegedly targeted crime suspects, but that were often based on vague criteria such as “furtive movement.” The practice, which disproportionately targeted men of color, hit a high of 685,724 incidents in 2011 under then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Just two years later, when a judge found the NYPD had been violating the Fourth Amendment with its often-unfounded application of the tactic, 191,851 people were stopped and frisked — a 72% drop, according to a New York Civil Liberties Union analysis.

What he did: De Blasio further reduced those stop-and-frisk numbers, with 11,629 recorded stops in 2017. That prompted him to declare he had ended the stop-and-frisk era in New York City.

The fine print: A closer analysis of the data shows that stop-and-frisk was already being phased out in the final months of the Bloomberg administration, which recorded 12,497 stops in the last quarter of 2013. And civil rights advocates note there has been little to no reduction in the disparities of who gets stopped.

IMPROVED POLICE–COMMUNITY RELATIONS

Background: The mayor has pledged to bring police and communities closer together in the post-stop-and-frisk era.

What he’s done: There aren’t many ways to quantify police-community relations, but some numbers point to changing police behavior. Complaints to the Civilian Complaint Review Board — alleging excessive or unnecessary force, abuse of authority, discourtesy or offensive language by police officers — dropped by 17%, from 5,410 in 2013 to 4,487 in 2017. Firearm discharges by police declined from 81 in 2013 to 35 last year — a 57% fall. And overall arrest numbers declined by nearly 37% from 2013 to 2018.

Protesters shut down streets in Times Square in December 2014 after a grand jury declined to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo.
Protesters shut down streets in Times Square in December 2014 after a grand jury declined to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

The fine print: Despite those numbers, police-reform advocates have often been disappointed with the mayor’s unwillingness to take stances at odds with the NYPD. While arrests are down, racial disparities persist.

The mayor also fought two attempts to improve community-police relations from the City Council: one to require cops to identify themselves to anyone they stop, and another to decriminalize certain low-level offenses. Both bill packages were diluted before de Blasio agreed to them.

And despite the NYPD saying they will educate officers with implicit bias training and de-escalation techniques, the police killings of civilians — including Eric Garner, Akai Gurley, Delrawn Small, Deborah Danner, and Saheed Vassell — have strained relations.

The mayor has also infuriated family members of victims by his treatment of some of the cops involved — such as the NYPD allowing the police officer involved in Ramarley Graham’s death to resign rather than be fired. An administrative proceeding that could result in the firing of Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo, nearly five years after Garner’s death, has just begun.

VISION ZERo

Background: The mayor’s “Vision Zero” program aims to reduce traffic-related fatalities down to none by 2024, via stepped-up enforcement of speed limits and moving violations, as well as through street redesigns.

What he’s done: Traffic-related fatalities dropped from 299 in 2013 — the year before de Blasio took office — to 202 last year. That’s a decrease of 32%, which coincided with the lowering of speed limits on most city streets to 25 mph in 2015.

The fine print: Advocates are sounding the alarm over a 30% increase in traffic-related fatalities in 2019 through late April over the same period last year. They argue that traffic-calming measures haven’t gone far enough. Vision Zero carries a hefty budget, with up to $2.5 billion slated to be spent on street improvements.

CLOSING RIKERS

Background: In early 2017, the mayor announced a 10-year plan to close the city’s large and troubled jail complex on Rikers Island.

What he’s done: The mayor has allocated $8.7 billion to construct or expand four jails — one in each borough, except Staten Island — and has pushed the Rikers closure timeline up to 2026. His administration also has been implementing criminal justice reform measures aimed at helping reduce the number of detainees in the city’s jails to under 5,000.

The jail complex on Rikers Island.
The jail complex on Rikers Island. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

The fine print: While the jail system wouldn’t be closing without the mayor’s backing, he didn’t get on board for more than a year after then-City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito proposed the idea in February 2016. She commissioned a study that created a blueprint for shuttering Rikers Island. Just days before her plan was set for release in April 2017 — and following pressure from criminal justice advocates and Gov. Andrew Cuomo — de Blasio embraced the challenge of closing the jails complex.

BIGGEST AFFORDABLE HOUSING PROGRAM

Background: In 2014, de Blasio unveiled a $41 billion affordable housing plan that would create or preserve 200,000 units in 10 years. He later expanded the initiative to 300,000 by 2026, but at a doubled cost of $82 billion. City funds account for roughly 20% of the investment.

What he’s done: The de Blasio administration says it’s on pace to meet or exceed its goal. As of March 2019, developers had started on nearly 40,000 new units, and more than 80,000 pre-existing apartments had been re-committed to rent restrictions. The mayor also prevailed on the City Council to require affordable housing set-asides in all residential rezonings and on the state Legislature to limit a widely used developer tax break to projects that include affordable apartments.

The new Tres Puentes affordable housing development for seniors in The Bronx.
The new Tres Puentes affordable housing development for seniors in The Bronx. Photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

The fine print: Housing advocates have been critical of de Blasio for the affordability of the bulk of newly built units, which they said did not adequately serve a massive need for apartments for the poor. The mayor later modified the plan to increase the share of units in reach of low-income tenants.

To date, about 17% of the affordable housing built or kept affordable under the mayor’s plan  has been for people with extremely low incomes — less than $22,410 a year for an individual. Another 24% of the apartments are for people earning up to $37,350. The biggest chunk are  aimed at households earning up to $59,760 for a single person or $76,880 for a family of three.

De Blasio also has angered homelessness advocates for his refusal to allot more than 5% of the affordable housing to the homeless, despite record high homelessness in the city. The City Council is mulling legislation that would mandate a 15% set-aside.

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