Which promises will Bill de Blasio leave unkept?

New York City Mayor Bill de blasio speaks in New Hampshire
New York City Mayor Bill de blasio speaks in New Hampshire
Robert F Bukaty/AP/Shutterstock
New York City Mayor Bill de blasio speaks in New Hampshire.

Which promises will Bill de Blasio leave unkept?

Many of the New York City mayor’s proposals haven’t come to pass, these are the least likely.
November 7, 2019

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is racing a ticking clock. By this time in two years, New York City will have chosen its next mayor, and de Blasio will be winding down the last few months of his term. Having spent the summer focused on a ill-fated presidential campaign, de Blasio is back in the city full-time, hopefully working working onthe many issues – public housing, mental health support, homelessness – that gathered dust in his absence.

De Blasio has scored a few home runs during his six-years-and-counting at City Hall, including universal pre-K and ending stop-and-frisk while achieving record-low crime rates. But a number of policy proposals, in some cases dating back years, remain unfulfilled. 

With two years left, de Blasio may very well make progress on initiatives like amending police transparency rules or reforming the city’s specialized high school admissions, but some experts are skeptical about just how likely that is. (In fairness, many of these policies can only be changed by the state.)

Christina Greer, an associate professor of political science at Fordham University, said that the city is in for one of two scenarios. In the first, the mayor embraces a “lame duck” position and “just sits back and goes to the gym and does what he does,” Greer said. The other scenario Greer envisions is one in which de Blasio says, “‘I've got two years left of this incredible experience that I asked for twice. Let me make sure my legacy isn't that I go to the gym and take naps all day and run for the presidency when no one wants me to, and actually shore up some of the policy proposals that I put forth.’”

As for which of those two scenarios is more likely, Greer said, “My heart says the former; my brain says the former ... I hope that he takes advantage of the next two years.”

Others, like de Blasio biographer and Hunter College professor Joseph Viteritti, are more optimistic. “He's a lame duck, he's not a dead duck,” Viteritti said. “If somebody is termed out, in some ways, they're in a stronger position because if they want to do something unpopular, they don't have the prospect of running for reelection again.” City Hall did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Other news outlets have drawn attention to the broad issues that remain challenges for de Blasio, but City & State rounded up a few specific items on de Blasio’s to-do list that will probably still be there waiting for the next mayor when he or she is sworn in.

Eliminating the SHSAT

De Blasio – along with Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza – backed a plan to eliminate the city’s Specialized High School Admissions Test, because of the disproportionately low share of black and Latino students at the city’s elite schools that use the exam. But de Blasio faces a brick wall in the state Legislature, and fresh off the presidential campaign trail, he even suggested he would be open to keeping the exam. 

The Brooklyn Queens Connector

The Brooklyn Queens Connector – BQX for those in the know – would be an 11-mile streetcar near the Brooklyn and Queens waterfront, estimated to cost $2.7 billion. But the project faces critics in the City Council and may not secure the $1 billion estimated contribution from the federal government. With a proposed start date of 2029, this particular desire of de Blasio’s may be one dreamed up with more magic than realism.

Property tax reform

Getting Albany to reform the city’s complex and inequitable property tax system has been on de Blasio’s to-do list since his first year in office, but even his deputy mayor, Vicki Been, raised doubts about his ability to get it done, saying recently it wasn’t going to happen before de Blasio leaves office – a statement she later walked back

Millionaire’s tax

De Blasio first proposed tax super-high earners in his 2013 campaign to fund universal pre-K. After the state gave him the pre-K but no tax, he revived the idea to pay for improving the subway, but he eventually joined Gov. Andrew Cuomo this year in supporting the state’s new congestion pricing scheme as a revenue source for the MTA. With extreme inequality, de Blasio could still argue for the millionaire’s tax to fund other pressing needs, such as new affordable housing construction, but there’s no reason to think the governor will give it to him.

Making yeshivas teach the three Rs of education, and basic biology

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools have been called out for failing to teach their students skills needed in secular society such as reading and writing in English, American history or modern science. While these schools receive public funding for services such as security, lunch and school buses, they may be failing to comply with the requirement in state law that they provide a “substantially equivalent” education to public schools. The mayor first announced an investigation into whether yeshivas are complying with state education law in 2015, but city investigators have still yet to gain access to a few of the schools, and even de Blasio has admitted to the probe not progressing quickly enough. 

Banning Central Park horse carriages

De Blasio’s “Day One” promise to ban horse-drawn carriages in Central Park has yet to materialize on Day 2,137. He has fewer than 800 days to make it happen now, but in the meantime, he has helped make some reforms, including recently passed City Council legislation restricting horses from working in extremely hot and cold temperatures.

Vacancy tax

Vacant storefronts now pepper not only poorer neighborhoods but trendy Manhattan streets. It’s a new phenomenon, called “high-rent blight,” in which mom-and-pop retailers can afford rising commercial rents and landlords prefer to hold out for national chains or luxury brands. De Blasio supports a tax on landlords with vacant storefronts in prime Manhattan, in the hopes of encouraging them to drop their rents, but the issue hasn’t grabbed the attention of state lawmakers and faces strong opposition from real estate interests.

Paid vacation days

Though his presidential campaign included a proposal for paid personal time, assuming that his plan to do the same back home would pass this year, de Blasio’s plan faces resistance from critics, including City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who has raised concerns about the measure hurting small businesses.

Annie McDonough
Annie McDonough
is a tech and policy reporter at City & State.
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