Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s State of the City address was meant to reaffirm the successes New York City has experienced on a range of issues during his third and final term, from housing to economic development to public safety. The mayor’s office even hung banners emblazoned with some of his accomplishments from the ceiling of the Barclays Center, a visual reminder intended to cement the idea of Bloomberg as a transformative mayor. But like any speech designed to buttress the legacy of the speaker, there is often a larger story behind some of the claims.
Bloomberg started out by listing the infrastructure and real estate development projects that his administration helped bring to fruition. The centerpiece was obviously Barclays, which endured a lengthy legal challenge before finally breaking ground and opening its doors to the Brooklyn Nets in October 2012. But several projects that Bloomberg listed were either inherited from previous administrations, proposed by outside developers or are still years away from completion, including:
The Third Water Tunnel: Dubbed “the largest construction project in New York City’s history,” the tunnel’s construction began in 1970 and was stalled several times since then because of a lack of funding. Bloomberg can take credit for the second phase of the project, an 8.5-mile section of the tunnel that began in 2003, but there are still two enormous construction phases left, and the entire project is not expected to be completed until 2020.
The Seward Park Urban Renewal Area and the South Street Seaport: “In Manhattan, we’ll bring to life two projects that have been on the drawing boards for decades: redeveloping the South Street Seaport and developing the sites around Seward Park on the Lower East Side,” Bloomberg said. The Seward Park Urban Renewal Area has been a hotly debated project since its inception in 1965, and was contracted to be built in 1989 under Ed Koch before the project stalled. The Bloomberg administration recently issued a request for proposals for the site, but a developer still needs to be selected, and the project is not close to breaking ground. As for the Seaport, the project was initiated by a developer, the Howard Hughes Corporation, so the “we” in the mayor’s statement is subjective at best. The same goes for the Greenpoint Landing development, a George Klein proposal.
Culture Shed: Part of the Hudson Yards project, this arts center was another of the mayor’s prized development initiatives, and one of the few where Bloomberg chose to show pictures of what it might look like when completed. But it remains to be seen if there will be a ground-breaking any time soon. The City Planning Commission only just recently sent the plan for the project to the local community board for review, and city officials hope optimistically that it will be completed by 2017—which would put it toward the end of the first term for the next mayor.
Bloomberg also made note of the city’s declining poverty rate but failed to mention the city’s rising income inequality, something that many of the current mayoral candidates have emphasized during the campaign:
“Again and again, we have defied the conventional wisdom,” Bloomberg said. “We’ve gone from having the sixth-highest poverty rate among the 20 largest cities to having the eighth lowest—and we’ve reduced the welfare rolls by 22 percent.”
This is an interesting spin on the poverty numbers provided by 2011 U.S. Census statistics. Poverty rates rose among Hispanics, New Yorkers over the age of 65, married couples, Manhattan and Queens residents and individuals without a high school diploma. The overall poverty rate for the city actually increased from 2010 to 2011 from 20.1 percent to 20.9 percent, and the number of people on food stamps increased from 19.3 percent in 2010 to 20.6 percent in 2011.
One of the most highly disputed aspects of Bloomberg’s public safety record is the perceived success of “stop, question and frisk,” a controversial policing tactic that statistics show has disproportionately targeted minority individuals. Bloomberg, a vocal leader on gun control nationwide, implied in his speech that this tactic was partly responsible for preventing shooting deaths:
“I understand that innocent people don’t like to be stopped,” the mayor said. “But innocent people don’t like to be shot and killed, either. Stops take hundreds of guns off the street each year.”
According to stop-and-frisk data provided by the New York Police Department, since Bloomberg took office in 2002, stops have increased by a staggering 605 percent, but the number of shooting victims has remained relatively stagnant, with 1,892 in 2002 compared with 1,821 in 2011. Murders have dropped to a record low.
Bloomberg has often spoken of how well New York City has bounced back from the recession compared with other major cities, and his State of the City speech trumpeted the city as a prime driver of job growth:
“…[W]e were told that Manhattan would always be the prime driver of job growth. But today, job growth is happening fastest outside of Manhattan, and it exceeds the national average in all five boroughs,” the mayor said.
While New York City’s 2.4 percent private sector job growth rate technically is well above than the national average of 0.2 percent, according to the most recent numbers provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics from December 2012, Bloomberg’s claim doesn’t tell the whole story. Those same figures show that the Bronx had the highest unemployment rate in the entire state, at 11.9 percent, while Brooklyn was not far behind at 9.5 percent. Overall, New York City has an unemployment rate of 8.8 percent, nearly a full point higher than the national average of 7.9 percent.
Tags: Barclays Center, Brooklyn Nets, Hudson Yards Culture Shed, Michael Bloomberg, Poverty, recession, Seward Park Urban Renewal Area, South Street Seaport, State of the City, stop and frisk, third water tunnel, unemployment