De Blasio Vows Return of NYC Workers, Schools in His Final Year

Mayor Bill de Blasio outlined a recovery plan for New York City that focuses on getting workers back into office buildings, students in classrooms and 5 million people vaccinated by the end of June.

During his final State of the City address, de Blasio said the city’s employees would return in person in May. He also pledged to fully reopen public school buildings in September, allowing all grades to go back to school to make it easier for parents to return to work.

“We want to send a signal to the city we’re moving forward. We want to see the private sector bring workforces back,” de Blasio said in a Friday briefing. “By the end of the Spring, we will see something very different in the city.”

The mayor also said on Friday that he would propose a plan in February to bring older students back into the classroom before the end of this school year, as long as the city could secure enough Covid-19 testing capacity.

De Blasio outlined a plan for his last year in office in a pre-recorded video address Thursday night. He pledged to vaccinate 5 million New Yorkers by the end of June, “as long as we have the supply,” he said. He also announced a series of economic and policy pushes intended to make the city a cleaner, easier place for residents to live: more bike lanes throughout the city, tax credits for small businesses, and permanent outdoor dining.

“We will bring our city back,” de Blasio said in the video. He spoke against a backdrop of black-and-white photos of the Great Depression, the city’s 1970s fiscal crisis, and the 9/11 terrorist attacks. “Each came with prophecies of doom,” he said, “and yet New York City fought back.”

This economic recovery will hinge on New York’s ability to vaccinate its more than 8 million residents amid a nationwide vaccine shortage. More than 740,000 doses have been administered in New York City since it began its inoculation drive in December.

Signaling Recovery

“New York City’s vaccination effort is the foundation of a recovery for all of us,” the mayor said in memorandum prepared in advance of the speech’s delivery. “The return of city workers across the five boroughs will be a signal to the world that the comeback is happening right here, right now, as New York City vaccinates millions.”

De Blasio set a goal of inoculating 3,000 municipal workers a day in the months ahead to spur their return to office. He also introduced plans to establish a health corps of 2,000 people to join 3,900 current staff at injection sites.

The city faces a $5.3 billion deficit in the next fiscal year, and filling that gap will be challenging as property values for commercial buildings have declined by almost 16%. Property-tax revenue is estimated to drop by $2.5 billion.

During the pandemic, street cleanings and sanitation services have suffered. As retailers closed, many storefronts were left empty with graffiti on their doors.

The mayor said he would create a cleanup corps of 10,000 temporary workers “to wipe away graffiti, power wash sidewalks, create community murals, tend to community gardens, beautify public spaces, and work with community organizations to clean their neighborhoods,” he said. “This will be a clean up blitz.”

He said he would make permanent the so-called open streets, where most vehicles are prohibited, and give car lanes on the Brooklyn and Queensboro bridges over to cyclists. And he said he’d create “Bike Boulevards” in every borough that give priority to cyclists.

The mayor also promised a recovery tax credit that would provide rental assistance for as many as 17,000 small businesses.

De Blasio presented his eighth and final State of the City address through a highly produced, narrated video set to music and photos -- a departure from previous years, when it was delivered before a large audience of city officials, corporate executives and policy makers in an auditorium in one of the five boroughs. His previous addresses dealt with the relative luxury of how to apportion funds in years of surplus revenue, a contrast to the fiscal crisis created by the months-long pandemic.

“We have to have a recovery for all of us,” he said. “We have to understand that an economy that works for everyone is the only one that’s acceptable after everything we’ve experienced with Covid-19.”

In the address, de Blasio returned to themes of inequality and fairness that drove his original City Hall candidacy, pledging to create a task force on racial inclusion and equity. He also called for a commission to review the City Charter to identify areas of institutional and structural racism and reiterated previous calls for state lawmakers to implement higher taxes on the wealthy, including a “billionaire tax” that would increase the top tax rate.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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