Research and additional reporting by Jeremy Unger, Jeff Coltin and Gabe Ponce de León
Days before New Year’s Eve, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio assembled a group of reporters around a long, rectangular table in the turquoise Governor's Room and reeled off a list of statistics printed on laminated notes: under his tenure the city had reached a historical peak of 4.2 million jobs, police recorded a drop in offenses across major crime categories for a second straight year, and workers had patched 447,000 potholes. Now, with more of his team in place and several major initiatives underway, he argued that the city was poised to make progress – major progress.
“And we look at the perspective now two years in, these big initiatives have been working,” de Blasio said during the briefing in late December. “Again, remember that to set up things of this magnitude takes a certain amount of lead time – a certain amount of putting the teams together and getting the pieces in place. They really will start to hit their full stride more and more as we go into years three and four. So, there’s a lot to look forward to.”
Indeed, the mayor has made some progress on the bulk of the pledges listed in the 75-page "One New York, Rising Together" platform he put out as a candidate. Yet the administration has actually accomplished fewer than half – about 39 percent – of the 153 vows that City & State was able to actually evaluate. Moreover, several housing, environmental and education policies are scheduled to hit their targets beyond the six years that de Blasio could remain in office, leaving many of his campaign promises in the hands of future administrations.
Even in these cases, though, de Blasio has not been shy about updating New Yorkers. He boasted that his team has financed the construction of 13,929 affordable homes and the preservation of another 26,275. But fully assessing his housing agenda will have to wait until 2025, when de Blasio vows to have built or preserved 200,000 such units. In 2013, de Blasio also pledged to work toward a broader successor to the New York-New York agreement, which outlines how the city and state provide homes and services for homeless people with a variety of illnesses and special needs. Talks with the state faltered, and de Blasio pivoted, promising in November to spend $2.6 billion to create 15,000 such units over the next 15 years.
Other de Blasio goals that were updated after he took office have a deadline after 2017, when his first term comes to an end. These include operating 20 express Select Bus Service routes by the end of 2017, ensuring all public high schools offer by fall 2021 at least five of the Advanced Placement courses high schoolers may take to earn college credit, and curbing the level of greenhouse gases emitted in 2005 by 80 percent before 2050.
Administration officials have said its long-term initiatives are a deliberate attempt to institutionalize policies beyond de Blasio’s mayoralty. The de Blasio administration also did provide information on the status of many but not all of the campaign pledges.
"Any objective review of the commitments Mayor de Blasio has made shows he has either kept the commitments or is working to keep them," Karen Hinton, de Blasio's press secretary, said in an email. "He doesn't take them lightly and welcomes this review of what he has accomplished and will accomplish as Mayor."
The de Blasio administration has moved quickly to fulfill some headlining campaign pledges. After he failed to convince Albany to raise taxes on wealthier residents for early education funding, de Blasio secured state money to start a universal pre-K program that now enrolls 68,547 children. He has outlined plans to transform 128 struggling schools into community schools with extra social services and wellness programs. City Hall has surpassed a campaign commitment to take a stab at creating 100 such schools and aims to have 200 by 2017.
As promised, the mayor succeeded in directing police to curtail the use of stop-and-frisk and reduce arrests for marijuana possession by issuing summonses instead of cuffing people found with 25 grams or less of the drug. Meanwhile, most of the city has grown safer, with the NYPD reporting a drop in traffic fatalities and a 5.8 percent decrease in crime across an index of seven major crimes since 2014. Crime in public housing, however, rose less than 1 percent in 2015 from the year before.
De Blasio’s team has created a municipal ID available to undocumented immigrants, as vowed, which is accepted by some banks. The program has attracted 670,000 cardholders. The mayor required more employers to offer paid sick leave and expanded the scope of living wage – a pay floor instituted when businesses receive substantial city subsidies. Additionally, he granted six weeks of paid parental leave to non-union city employees and outlined plans to ensure all municipal personnel earn at least $15 an hour by the end of 2018.
Yet other commitments have stalled or largely dropped out of the public conversation, such as levying fines and penalties against agencies that regularly duck and delay Freedom of Information Law requests, using public service announcements to combat street harassment, and creating economic development hubs in every neighborhood that would partner with businesses to negotiate lower prices for telecommunication services by collectively buying in bulk.
Other pledges, particularly those pertaining to City Council oversight, also appear to be less of a priority. De Blasio’s office said it “reconsidered” plans to establish an inspector general for the City Council because the legislative body reformed its process for how individual members may allocate discretionary funding. The administration said these so-called member items must now go through the budget process or be presented in the Council through a “transparency resolution.” And though de Blasio’s office said he still wants to abolish member items, he has made no discernible progress on a pledge to wield his power during the budget process to replace them with a “merit-based small grants process.”
And, of course, further study revealed some ideas were not prudent. For instance, de Blasio had called for changing tax rates to incentivize building on vacant lots, conducting an annual censuses of such properties, and creating a land bank to acquire and build affordable housing on them. But his administration said an analysis it conducted during its first year found very few parcels would fall under these policies and that it would be wiser to try other strategies. Similarly, a vow to redesign the bidding process so local firms get a “second chance” to match winning submissions from outsiders was deemed impermissible under state law.
At the briefing in December, the mayor acknowledged that not all of his ideas advanced as planned, saying that governing involves a certain amount of trial and error.
“I’m sober about the fact that, you know, you try a lot of things in leadership, and you don’t expect every single one of them to work,” de Blasio said. “You just gotta keep learning.”
Click here to read City & State's most comprehensive guide out there as to whether Bill de Blasio keeps his word.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this post said the mayor did not respond to a request for comment for this story. The administration did provide information on many of the campaign pledges, but did not initally respond to a request for comment on City & State's overall conclusions in this story. This post has also been updated with a comment from the de Blasio administration.