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New York's test in Robin Hood politics

In his first major speech as Mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio outlined an unabashedly progressive agenda. National Democrats are taking notes.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio gives the State of the City address at La Guardia Community College, Feb. 10, 2014.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio gives the State of the City address at La Guardia Community College, Feb. 10, 2014.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio used his first State of the City speech on Monday to put forth many of the uber-progressive ideas that swept him into office in November, pledging to fight for the poor and immigrants, raise the minimum wage and shrink the income and equality gap by “lifting the floor” for all city residents.

 “We’re fighting to give everyone a fair shot, so that city government doesn’t set its priorities by the needs of those at the very top while ignoring the struggle of those born under a less lucky star,” the mayor said. “We will give a fair shot to those who deserve it most, our children, all of them.”

Standing beneath a banner proclaiming One New York: Rising Together, de Blasio laid out a blueprint for the kind of Robin Hood politics that swept him into office. It’s an agenda steeped in unabashedly progressive ideals that has gained the attention of national Democrats watching to see if de Blasio’s gameplan is a possible model moving forward. If enacted, his lofty, liberal proposals could upend a dozen years of policies enacted by the billionaire former mayor Michael Bloomberg, who was widely praised for his innovative approaches to improving public health in the city but whose economic and policing policies were often considered hostile to poor and minority New Yorkers.

“The truth is the state of our city as we find it today is a tale of two cities,” de Blasio said, "with an inequality gap that fundamentally threatens our future.”

During his speech at a community college in the largely blue collar borough of Queens, de Blasio outlined a range of policy proposals including his call for taxing the rich to pay for universal Pre-K, which was the centerpiece of his campaign. He also pledged to help undocumented immigrants, build more affordable housing and hike the minimum wage.

“We will navigate toward a future that is progressive and fiscally responsible,” he said. “But even with these impediments before us we’ve begun the fight to lift the floor for all New Yorkers, to improve the life condition for those who struggle with great determination, not only to get ahead but to their heads above water, and we’re fighting to give everyone a fair shot.”

The proposed pre-K tax increase has already put de Blasio at odds with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a more centrist Democrat eyeing a possible presidential bid.  Cuomo has said the state could fund universal Pre-K without raising taxes on high earners, a proposal rebuffed by de Blasio.

“Raising taxes on the rich makes our commitment to our kids more than just words,” he said. “It makes that commitment real. It makes that commitment fair. And it offers a promise to our kids that they can count on.”

The mayor’s controversial tax plan would increase taxes slightly for those making between $500,000 and $1 million a year at an average of about $970.

“Let’s dedicate the funding that we need so New York can do what it must and let’s ask those who have been so fortunate help us. This is about the children of the city of New York and just how strong of a commitment we are willing to make to their future," de Blasio said.

De Blasio called for the construction of 200,000 units of affordable housing and the elimination of tax-breaks for real estate builders who don’t commit to also providing units for lower-income residents.

De Blasio also embraced immigrants living illegally in the city, vowing to “protect the almost half-million undocumented New Yorkers whose voices too often go unheard.”

He said that the city would reach out to immigrants regardless of their legal status to offer them Municipal Identification cards. Lack of official government ID has prevented many from opening bank accounts, checking out library books and even accessing care from medical clinics.

“To all of my fellow New Yorkers who are undocumented, I say, ‘New York City is your home too, and we will not force any of our residents to live their lives in the shadows,'”  de Blasio said.

The mayor called for higher quality education and fairly paid workers.

 “We find ourselves at a fork in the road,” de Blasio said. “We can look down the path that we’ve been on for far too long. We can see it as the easier trail to traverse, and fool ourselves into thinking it’s our only option. Or we can take the other road, the path to closing the inequality gap, that very New York option of taking on big challenges and getting results.”