De Blasio Presents Agenda for Those Without ‘Caviar Pizza’ and Edible Gold

Public Advocate and mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio. (Photo: The New School)

Public Advocate and mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio. (Photo: The New School)

As he seeks to consolidate his position as the outer-borough fighter in the wake of Anthony Weiner’s jump into the mayor’s race, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio outlined an economic agenda Thursday morning that would dramatically shift the city’s priorities. He described it as a bid to prevent the complete disappearance of New York’s middle class.

Speaking at the New School, Mr. de Blasio argued that, while the super-rich are living it up like never before, the ranks of those struggling to make ends meet continues to swell.

“New York’s middle class isn’t just shrinking, it’s in real danger of disappearing altogether,” he told the audience. “Without a dramatic change of direction, an economic policy that combats inequality and rebuilds our middle class, generations to come will see New York as little more than a playground for the rich–a gilded city where the privileged few prosper and millions upon millions of New Yorkers struggle each and every day to keep their heads above water.”

To illustrate, he pointed to sky-high real estate prices, a growing number of millionaires and exorbitant luxury items, including “$1,000 caviar pizza, and – for the same price – a ‘Golden Opulence’ sundae for dessert.” (The latter is served at Serendipity 3.)

“We refuse to allow the term ‘middle class New Yorker’ to become an oxymoron,” he said, declaring an “inequality crisis.”

To try to stem the tide, Mr. de Blasio proposed eliminating approximately $250 million in economic development subsidies and tax incentives for industries like real estate and banking and re-investing that money in education and job training. He called for creating new neighborhood-based economic development hubs, new investments in the CUNY system and slashing fines on small mom-and-pop businesses that he argued have been struggling to survive. He also reiterated his call for what he describes as a “modest surcharge” on people earning more than $500,000 a year.

But de Blasio also struck a protectionist tone, arguing that the city needs to focus more on providing jobs for people who already live here instead of focusing solely on attracting new talent.

“While efforts to make New York a global hub for young talent are admirable, we cannot afford to import more college-educated New Yorkers than we produce,” he said.

During a question-and-answer session after the speech, a man in the audience questioned the outlook, arguing that people flocking to the city  from other places was “a defining part of New York City …. Most of us in this room probably came from somewhere else, right?”

“I don’t think it’s protectionist,” Mr. de Blasio responded. “I think we need this economy to work for the people who live here now … If you don’t take every resource you have and apply it inward, you will only deepen the crisis … There will still be plenty of opportunities for people coming from outside at the same time.”