De Blasio Calls Clergy to Action on Pre-K Tax Plan

Mayor Bill de Blasio speaking at Bethany Baptist Church this morning.

Mayor Bill de Blasio speaking at Bethany Baptist Church this morning.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, in a rare display of anger, today railed against Albany lawmakers, slamming Senate co-leader Dean Skelos for refusing to bring to vote the mayor’s signature plan to tax the rich to fund universal pre-k and sounding a call to clergy leaders to mobilize on its behalf.

“The gauntlet’s been thrown in Albany. We will respond,” the mayor told religious leaders and elected officials gathered at the Bethany Baptist Church in Brooklyn, at a breakfast organized by the Rev. Al Sharpton to support the universal pre-K funding plan.

In a fiery speech in front of the church leaders that had an unusually religious tone, Mr. de Blasio accused Mr. Skelos of “denying our rights in a democracy” and treating the city “as a colony that doesn’t even get to decide it’s own future.”

“Look at every public opinion poll. The people of New York City have spoken,” said the mayor, pointing repeatedly to his election margin. “When you have a majority like that, it’s supposed to rule the day, isn’t it? And political machinations are not supposed to overcome that kind of majority,” he added, leading the crowd in a standing chant of, “We want a vote!”

Later he called on the leaders in the room to pay a visit to Albany to “remind our leaders … to respect the will of the people.”

“It can’t be business as usual. Your congregations have to feel this in a way I can only describe as personal. People have to feel like this is about their survival and their children’s survival, because in fact it is,” he told them. “We are all brothers and sisters in this fight. We will accept nothing short of victory.”

The speech closed with the blow of a horn–cementing his call to action.

The mayor and the Rev. Al Sharpton after the speech.

The mayor and the Rev. Al Sharpton after the speech.

Speaking to reporters after the event, Mr. de Blasio continued to demanded a vote, describing it as “shocking … that in the year 2014, Senator Skelos thinks he can sweep this under the rug.”

One reporter wondered why Mr. de Blasio was so surprised by Mr. Skelos’s decision, given Albany’s history of bottling up legislation important to New York City mayors, including Michael Bloomberg’s push for congestion pricing.

“We don’t accept the notion of not allowing a vote,” said Mr. de Blasio, who added that he was “miffed” by Mr. Skelos’s move, saying he had spoken with the senator several times and was under the impression that “there would be ongoing discussions to see if we could work out a plan to go forward together. This was quite a surprise to me that he would not allow a vote.”

Mr. Sharpton, who also spoke at the event, doubled down on the message and argued the fight represented the next step in the larger civil rights movement.

“We intend to saturate the churches and all of the civil rights organizations starting this weekend in a statewide drive to bring this vote about,” he said.

Mr. de Blasio said he hoped the intervention would have “a seismic impact” on the fight, lending new energy and pressure over the next four weeks before the state budget is introduced.

“I think this is going to be a game changer in terms of the level of intensity of this fight,” he said. “We’re going to use every recourse we have—legal and otherwise—to guarantee a vote.”