Bill de Blasio: The Mayor of Fairness

Why a guy who sells high-end luxury welcomes the new populist leader

Bill de Blasio.  (Photo by STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)

Bill de Blasio. (Photo by STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)

Some New Yorkers have been spoiled by the Bloomberg centrist style of pragmatic management, yet Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio feels the successes of New York have eluded many and wants to make the city more fair.

There is no such thing as selective fairness. Fair is fair, and after meeting Mr. de Blasio, he gave me the impression that he truly believes in fairness and cares deeply for our City. This, combined with his election triumph, is the reason that I, along with many other real estate professionals, decided to back Mr. de Blasio for mayor of New York.

As it became abundantly clear that Mr. de Blasio would be our next mayor, I used my blog, “LuxuryBlurb,” and my monthly newsletter, “LuxuryLetter,” to challenge Mr. de Blasio’s views. I disagree with many of Mr. de Blasio’s positions. But as a deal-maker, I live the daily reality whereby deals are made through give and take on both sides. I would much rather help and support Mr. de Blasio be the best mayor possible than fight him on everything for the sake of the next election.

Bill de Blasio campaigned as the mayor of fairness. Now it remains to be seen what his interpretation of fairness delivers. Let’s review some of his more noteworthy campaign promises:

1. Mr. de Blasio’s idea for a “worst landlords” list is brilliant. This could be an effective way to improve landlord quality. To be fair—because that’s what this is all about—a list of “worst tenants” is equally necessary. The bloated rights tenants enjoy can be absurd.

2. Mr. de Blasio personally pays only a quarter of the real estate taxes that similarly valued properties pay. Fairness demands that this unequal, unprincipled treatment is rectified. He promised to address the real estate tax disparity after his first 100 days in office. We like politicians who keep their promises.

3. Mr. de Blasio wants to raise taxes on the very wealthy to enhance education. That is fair but only if he first exhausts all other options, including addressing government waste and bloated entitlement programs that are unsustainable.

4. Joe Lhota’s smears suggested that Mr. de Blasio’s crime stance would take New York back to the lawless 1970s. Mr. de Blasio believes the stop-and-frisk program strips the dignity of many, which is unquestionably true. But will removing this policy impact our safety more than our dignity? We live in a results-driven city. Of those stopped and frisked, 10 percent are arrested, and the policy is credited with aiding a significant drop in crime. Governing is all about balancing needs, and the need for safety is not trivial, nor is the need for dignity.

5. Mr. de Blasio wants more affordable housing: That is fair. To be truly fair, however, the guidelines for who qualifies for and remains in affordable housing must be clear. Is the affordable housing granted for life, or is there a contractual time limit? Will he audit all of those currently living in affordable housing, rent-controlled and rent-stabilized apartments to see if they still qualify for those subsidies. When recipients of Social Security survivor benefits file a tax return demonstrating that they are financially able to support themselves following the death of a spouse, Social Security no longer pays. Affordable housing should work the same way?

6. Mr. de Blasio wants to shift the focus on developing luxury condos to developing more affordable housing. New luxury apartments fill the city and state’s coffers and increase tax revenues that benefit all. Making luxury housing development tougher will only increase pricing of the existing stock and encourage developers to build elsewhere.

I enter into contracts with penalties and rewards. The same should apply to mayors. Elected officials should be held accountable on results, policies and promises. Bill de Blasio said he would gladly reevaluate a failed policy—his humility is encouraging. Now we need to evaluate the mayor’s policies to see whether his fairness principle applies to all—even rich people.

Some of Mr. de Blasio’s ultra-liberal campaign promises are simply not realistic. A successful campaigner does not necessarily equate to a successful mayor. Our mayor has to be an effective CEO, not a best friend. If he is pragmatic about crime, realistic about raising revenues, tough on government waste, effective on raising education standards, balanced about real estate development, passionate about diversifying industries to boost employment and encouraging of commerce, he may improve Mike Bloomberg’s outstanding record and will be guaranteed reelection in 2017 by both Republicans and Democrats—and me.

Leonard Steinberg is a broker specializing in luxury residential real estate at Douglas Elliman.