Promises, promises: the new mayor’s agenda | Cross River Homes

The day after his landslide election win, Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio was already tempering expectations.

“Of course, the things I’m talking about, a lot of them are bold, a lot of them are big changes,” he said Wednesday at an event announcing his transition team. “And they are an attempt to address a problem that has been decades in the making.”

He added, “None of us is going to promise people perfection any day soon.”

Victories built on gleaming, progressive promises have been known to disappoint as they collide with the realities of governing (see: Obama, Barack). And Mr. de Blasio will be operating under higher expectations than most, having been elected to tackle income inequality.

Mr. de Blasio believes higher taxes on the wealthy to pay for universal prekindergarten will close the gap. But his proposal for $500,000 households to pay more exemplifies how much of the problem is beyond his reach.

First, he must persuade a recalcitrant state Legislature, including Senate Republicans, who run the chamber in a fragile alliance with a breakaway faction of Democrats. And 2014 is an election year for them, rendering a tax increase an even longer shot than usual in Albany. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, for his part, pledged last month to lower taxes, not raise them.

Even if Mr. de Blasio finds the money, observers doubt the city currently has the infrastructure to deliver on the promise.

“Do we have the capacity in New York City to provide universal pre-K for every 3- and 4-year-old?” asked Carol Kellermann, executive director of the Citizens Budget Commission. “It’s all done right now through the nonprofit sector. Do they have the capacity to just start adding tens of thousands of kids?”

In his policy book, the mayor-elect argues that New York needs universal pre-K in order to compete with countries such as India and China. But research on the matter has shown that the benefits of pre-K are decidedly mixed, though children from disadvantaged backgrounds gain the most from early education.

Mandating affordability

Real estate executives, meanwhile, wonder how Mr. de Blasio will make good on another campaign promise—200,000 new or preserved affordable-housing units in 10 years—without the traditional menu of tax breaks and other incentives for developers. Mr. de Blasio would require developers to build affordable units in exchange for allowing larger buildings to be constructed.

“If the goal is to make landlords build affordable housing, then reducing subsidies and requiring affordable units will result in fewer units,” said one real estate source. “People will just build condos instead of rentals or just not build at all. That’s basic economics.”

But the mayor-elect’s mandate from voters will help him handle developers. “I think Bill de Blasio is going to do just fine,” said de Blasio donor Steven Witkoff, president and CEO of the Witkoff Group, a real estate investment firm, at a recent Crain’s event. “I don’t think the city works unless we do have an affordable-housing component.”

Plea for patience

Questions surround a host of Mr. de Blasio’s other proposals. It’s unclear how he will go about persuading Albany to let the city raise its minimum wage or “end the era of stop-and-frisk” without totally doing away with the police tactic. Mr. de Blasio was elected in part because he embraced an aspirational vision of a more egalitarian city. His challenge now will be living up to those promises without bankrupting the city or isolating his liberal base.

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