Even if you don’t agree with his political outlook, you have to feel just a bit sorry for New York’s new mayor, Bill de Blasio. The day he got sworn in, he got sick and almost didn’t make it to City Hall by subway for the ceremony. Then, two days later, the city got hit with a major storm and the temperature dropped to 0° Fahrenheit. However, he has shaken whatever disease he had, and the city didn’t fall apart in the cold. So, what’s next?
Political journalists, yammering heads and would-be prognosticators love to talk about a politician’s first 100 days in office. This idea that the first 100 days are any different from the others that follow goes back to FDR’s first 100 days in 1933. After years of the Hoover administration either doing nothing or doing the wrong thing in dealing with the Depression, there was a sense of urgency that FDR had to act. In his first 100 days, he rammed through 15 major bills, the basis of the New Deal. Since then, every president, governor and mayor has had his or her own 100-days nonsense to deal with. For Bill de Blasio, the first 100 days are of marginal importance at most.
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In his campaign for mayor, he made a few really big promises. First, he wants to tax the super rich to pay for universal pre-kindergarten education and after-school programs for middle-schoolers. Second, he wants to force real estate developers to build more housing for the middle and working classes. Third, he wants to expand the city’s paid sick leave law. Fourth, he wants to reform the stupid stop-and-frisk tactics of the police department. As near as I can tell, he can’t do better than one out of four in the first 100 days,
Starting with universal pre-K and after-school activities, no one is against them. Rather, a great many people are opposed to taxing the very well-off to pay for them. Given that New York has Mr. de Blasio as mayor and an overwhelming Democratic majority in the City Council, this should sail through, right? Wrong. Tax questions like this don’t get settled in the city. The state government up in Albany makes the decisions here. It isn’t clear whether Governor Andrew Cuomo will help out (there’s some intraparty rivalry here), and there’s no guarantee any legislation supporting the tax could get through the state legislature. Getting anything done in Albany in the next 100 days is implausible at best.
Making real estate developers create “affordable” housing is a noble idea, but the fact is they have almost no economic incentive to do so. Even when they agree to do it, it takes time. Developer Forest City Ratner put up the Barclay Center in Brooklyn for the NBA’s Nets and for concerts. Part of the deal was a commitment to build 2,200 units of affordable housing in return for significant tax breaks. The Nets and big-name acts like Billy Joel have played at the Barclay Center. There’s not one unit of affordable housing there yet, though. Any action in 100 days is almost a violation of the laws of the universe.
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Expanding the city’s paid sick leave law is a good idea that will enjoy broad support. It will also have a few corporate interests and entrepreneurs rabidly opposed to it. While I expect the City Council will pass the appropriate laws, there will be such a hue and cry over this from the moneyed elites that hearings will be necessary, studies done, etc. This will probably get done, but not in the first 100 days.
Finally, there is the crypto-fascist stop-and-frisk tactic of the NYPD. This nasty practice essentially has the cops stopping anyone they want and challenging them to prove their innocence. Old white guys like me don’t get stopped. Brown and black kids like my stepchildren and mixed-race youths like my son do. I’ve seen it in action, and it doesn’t prevent crime. What it does is create hostility between the youth of the city and the police. My kids are in college, not in gangs, they work 40-hour weeks, and they are about ready to leave the nest once and for all. And they are not about to cooperate with the police for any reason. They want nothing to do with the NYPD. You can’t police a city without the help of the citizenry, and the NYPD has lost most of the next generation.
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Reforming stop and frisk (which I hope is code for abolishing it) is something the mayor can do. No enabling legislation is required. All he has to do is tell his new police commissioner, Bill Bratton — who interestingly was the architect of stop and frisk during his first term as commissioner — to stop doing it. If this isn’t done in the first 100 days, I will be very angry.
The new mayor looks like he wants to take the city in a new direction, a progressive one. Just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, a new New York won’t be built in the first 100. It will take some time to undo 20 years of right-wing governance. Let’s take the long view (once stop and frisk is gone).