One of the Bloomberg administration’s most ardent ex-foot soldiers and a leading progressive ally of Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio faced off today at an animated panel discussion, providing a stark picture of the contrast between the incoming and outgoing administrations.
Speaking on a panel at a “City in Transition” forum sponsored by Crain’s New York Business and the pro-business nonprofit Partnership for New York City’s, Seth Pinsky, the former president of the New York City Economic Development Corporations, staunchly defended the mayor’s legacy on issues of economic development and inequality.
“I think the problem [of economic inequality] in New York, it’s over-stated. It’s skewed by extreme wealth in Manhattan,” said Mr. Pinksy, who argued the gulf was largely a function–not of the poor being poorer–but the rich being richer here than anywhere else. “The real problem that we have is affordability.”
The stance put him in conflict Mr. de Blasio, who won a landslide victory by promising to heal the growing divide between the rich and the poor, which he said had turned New York into a “Tale of Two Cities.”
Mr. Lander, co-chair of the council’s Progressive Caucus, who is rumored to be in the running for deputy mayor for economic development, disagreed with Mr. Pinsky, stressing that inequality is, indeed, a problem that bears attention.
“If you look at school segregation, if you look at neighborhood segregation, if you look at quality of life indicator, … people are deeply troubled by it,” he told the group. “It feels like a city where inequality means people can’t make it and we have to take that seriously and try to solve it … It is about taking upward mobility more seriously, thinking about distribution in a serious way.”
Mr. Lander also disagreed with moderator Kathryn Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York, who charged that many local small business owners are “quivering about” a handful of new mandates that Mr. de Blasio has indicated he plans to pursue, including expanding mandatory paid sick leave legislation and more robust living wage rules.
Mr. Lander argued that, among the business owners in his district, a far more pressing concern has been the soaring fines and fees and Bloomberg administration has levied against stores and restaurants–which Mr. de Blasio has vowed to address. When it comes to paid sick leave and living wage, he made the case that allowing people to take days of when they are sick and forcing projects that receive big city subsidies to pay their workers a little more was the moral thing to do.
“We’re talking about a scarce set of economic development subsidies … If we are gonna put them into a shopping mall, I don’t see why we can’t ask the McDonald’s and the Dunkin’ Donuts franchises in those shopping mall to pay $10 an hour,” he said.
Ms. Wylde went on to ask whether the collapse of a deal to re-zone large swaths of East Midtown was “a harbinger of an anti-development sentiment to come? That everybody should be … putting away their plans?”
This drew the objection of Mr. Lander.
“No, I don’t think there needs to be concern that we’re entering an anti-development era. I do think it’s gonna be framed differently. And it’s about who’s at the table and it’s about the planning framework for doing it,” said Mr. Lander, who stressed the need for greater community input and a more comprehensive planning approach.
Pushing back, Mr. Pinsky argued he Bloomberg administration did far more community outreach than most people give it credit for, adding that he was heartened to hear that Mr. de Blasio intends to pursue the East Midtown rezoning after he takes office.
Mr. Pinsky ended expressing optimistic for the future under a Mayor de Blasio.
“I think changes in administration always present opportunities and I certainly look forward to seeing the new approaches that the de Blasio administration takes to the process question,” he said. “And I’m sure that there will be things that we’ll find we should have been doing during the Bloomberg administration that we weren’t doing and I’m sure that the de Blasio administration will find that some of the things that they think that they should be doing actually aren’t as easy as they might be appearing.”