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Jumaane D. Williams Headshot

My Response to the State of the City

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There are some aspects of Mayor Bloomberg's State of the City address which resonated with me and correspond with the needs of our community, but on other aspects he either fell short or chose to completely ignore key issues.

By far, the biggest problem I had with this speech was his refusal to acknowledge the unjust NYPD culture in relation to communities of more color. On Saturday, our community held a large rally at Grand Army Plaza where a coalition of elected officials, advocacy organizations and local activists signed a resolution affirming the need for the Mayor to recognize the problems with disparate policing towards a majority of this city. On Tuesday, the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus, which represents more than half of the City Council, sent a letter to Mayor Bloomberg asking him to address these issues in the State of the City. Instead, the only fleeting mention of police accountability was a line about increasing staffing at the Commission to Combat Police Corruption; while this is positive, it represents the lowest possible bar for which he could have reached. There was nothing on stop, question and frisk, nothing on surveillance of Muslim communities, nothing on anything of real substance to this crucial conversation. Make no mistake, this is a direct slap in the face to over half of New York City and its City Council. The police accountability movement is not going away, Mr. Mayor, and the push for better policing and safer streets for all New Yorkers will continue. We would prefer if you choose to show true leadership and work alongside us.

I must credit Mayor Bloomberg for his support on two key issues. As a Council Member of immigrant parentage who also represents a vast immigrant population, I appreciated his push for the New York State DREAM Act. It is important from both a moral and an economic perspective that we allow children of illegal immigrants to apply for state-sponsored college loans, grants and scholarships. Additionally, I was pleasantly surprised that the Mayor is taking leadership on raising the minimum wage. This will go a long way to solving the crisis facing our poorest communities, and I believe help to tackle the roots of crime and gun violence as well. I hope this translates into support for a living wage and paid sick leave in New York City as well.

A central part of Mayor Bloomberg's speech was on education, an issue where I feel he has largely come up short. There were some interesting ideas he shared for reform , but my biggest concern here continues to be the existence of mayoral control. This management style has proven ineffective at best, and it is clear that a move to municipal control is needed for the good of our students. Furthermore, much of the data he uses to support his claims that our schools are doing better come from faulty testing and poor standards for evaluation; the most recent statistics show that many of those who are graduating are not college and career-ready. The Mayor's targeting of the United Federation of Teachers in his speech was also curious; I don't believe vilifying the union or pitting our teachers against each other is the way to achieve compromise on some difficult issues. I hope he rethinks his approach in these negotiations.

Mayor Bloomberg was right to focus on job creation, and he had a lot of good proposals for stimulating growth in each of the five boroughs. On some of these proposals in particular I am anxious for more details, such as increasing opportunity for minority and women-owned businesses; he mentioned the issue's importance, but failed to specify how he would achieve this essential goal. I also found it strange that the Mayor seemed to claim success on his Young Men's Initiative. What has it succeeded in doing so far, except putting back a portion of the money he cut from the programs already doing great work? To the black and Latino community, this victory lap is premature, to say the least.

Finally, I must address Mayor Bloomberg's comment that he balanced the budget last year. This was done on the backs of the 99% with unnecessary cuts to key programs that keep this city running. We showed during last year's budget negotiations that there were a number of revenue-raising options on the table that would allow us to both balance the budget and protect services, and he showed none of his professed creativity in his response to these overtures. This year, those options will again be on the table, and we hope the Mayor will back up his stated commitment to working for all New Yorkers with real results.

I look forward to working with Mayor Bloomberg on all of these issues in the coming year.