After 12 years in which Michael Bloomberg remade City Hall into a results-driven powerhouse, New Yorkers choosing the next mayor are longing for a candidate with the vision and boldness to lead America’s most dynamic city. We are, too.
The Bloomberg era will end with crime lower than it has ever been, employment at a record level, neighborhoods reborn, the schools rescued from a culture of failure and an economy enlivened by cutting-edge high-tech enterprises. The streets are clean, the parks are in good shape and New Yorkers are living to riper, older ages.
Like Bloomberg or not, the gains have been real and, because they have been sustained, they are far too easily taken for granted. Allow crime to rise and the party’s over. Let up on demanding achievement from the schools and they will quickly surrender hard-fought progress.
The stakes are enormous. So, too, are the challenges awaiting Bloomberg’s successor — although you would gather from the Democratic primary candidates that maintaining New York’s upward trajectory while remedying the shortcomings of Bloomberg’s record will be no-sweat propositions.
They have sung the easy song of lifting the fortunes of the working and middle classes — a project well worth undertaking — without frankly acknowledging that the coming occupant of City Hall will confront an all-but-certain fiscal crisis of historic proportions.
Bloomberg’s no-raise labor strategy will leave a bill of as much as $7.8 billion for retroactive hikes on the mayor’s desk — a sum so large that paying even a quarter of the amount would necessitate significant service cuts or tax increases.
In the real world at the end of a campaign trail that facilely promises more cops and the introduction of universal pre-K education, New Yorkers will rise or fall, and the course of the mayor’s term will be set, by how well he or she comes through labor negotiations and manages in a straitjacket.
The Democrats are competing on other grounds. Most notably and unfortunately, they strive to outdo one another in attacking stop-question-frisk and in pushing to strap the NYPD, and the next mayor, with outside overseers. And none has dared to take a stand that would alienate a Democratic interest group or the municipal unions.
Against this backdrop, the Daily News measured the backgrounds and promises of each contender by the standards of pragmatism, realism and effectiveness: Council Speaker Christine Quinn is the Democratic primary candidate best qualified to lead New York as mayor over the next four years.
The News endorses Quinn because she combines the clearest understanding of the difficulties facing the city with the most extensive record of getting things done. Her proposals for the working and middle classes could actually come to fruition, as opposed to the many pie-in-the-sky pronouncements of her competitors.
Measured by delivered results, Quinn outdistances the field. She devoted her seven years as Council speaker to transforming the post from a nitpicking pulpit into a platform that channeled a fractious legislative body into productive governance.
Tough calls the likes of which her rivals have never made helped propel the many successes that carried the Bloomberg era up from the disastrous post-9/11 trough to a New York that’s suffering growing pains produced by rising population and global attraction.
Quinn is the single candidate who cut a smart labor deal, one that saved the jobs of 4,100 teachers in return for contract concessions, an accomplishment that bodes well for the tasks of next year.
In the face of heated criticism, she has also stood firm against demands to abandon charter schools, end the closure of failing schools and cancel plans to build a waste transfer station on the upper East Side. That’s more spine than shown collectively by her rivals.
She worked out compromises on living-wage, prevailing-wage and mandatory sick leave legislation that better balanced the needs of workers and struggling small businesses than other candidates would have.
True enough, this newspaper has differences with Quinn. She perpetuated Council pork-barrel spending that produced criminal charges and, most seriously, she has joined the blowback against stop-question-frisk.
With her support, the Council on Thursday is scheduled to ram through an NYPD inspector general. To her credit, though, Quinn appears set to vote against a bill that would subject the department to racially charged lawsuits. And she alone has recognized the NYPD’s remarkable success in driving down crime by expressing a readiness to retain Ray Kelly as commissioner.
Playing the hand that’s been dealt, Quinn, then, takes the top spot on a scale of comparison with Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, former Controller Bill Thompson, former Rep. Anthony Weiner and Controller John Liu.
The latter two merit no consideration, Liu because of his extreme and extremely unrealistic policy prescriptions, Weiner because of his emotional instability and repeated dishonesty with voters.
Thompson is a serious, substantial public servant who performed ably as Brooklyn’s youngest-ever deputy borough president, when the borough president’s office meant something; as a president of the Board of Education who advocated for the dysfunctional panel’s abolition, and as city controller from 2002 to 2009.
After very nearly toppling Bloomberg four years ago, Thompson brought to this year’s race seasoning, a capacity to make considered judgments, a steady temperament and a proven talent for connecting with New Yorkers of all stripes. Yet his case has been less compelling than Quinn’s more specific agenda of do-able plans.
Unfortunately, Thompson undermined his cause by taking the endorsement of the United Federation of Teachers at a time when the UFT is the largest claimant on back pay and is fighting to turn back the Bloomberg push for teacher accountability.
Thompson also disappointed by shifting from being a public-safety-oriented candidate who claimed the mantle of sensible NYPD reforms to a candidate who leaped to the forefront on stop-question-frisk with overheated rhetoric.
Finally, there’s de Blasio, the best campaigner and the candidate with the most clearly presented governing philosophy. He speaks passionately about income inequality and the troubles of the middle class. He has a point, as do they all, that New York is creating more lower-wage jobs than positions vital to the middle class.
But de Blasio’s oratory is far more powerful than the small-bore economic inequality fixes that he has advanced.
Additionally, his call for raising taxes on the wealthy to drum up hundreds of millions of dollars annually to pay for pre-K education sells well but hasn’t a chance at a time when the next mayor will have to fight like hell just to preserve the status quo for New Yorkers.
Give de Blasio credit for strongly held, strongly expressed ideology.
Although she is no slouch as a Democratic liberal, Quinn nonetheless has distinguished herself in comparison largely because she has converted her beliefs into reality-based actions and plans that are the unexciting innards of governing.
On these grounds, The News urges Democratic voters to rally behind Quinn as the party standard-bearer to meet and be sized up against the Republican candidate in November.
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