Editorial: The State of the Two Cities

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s first State of the City speech sounded like recycled boilerplate from his campaign addresses. Once again, we were treated to variations on his Dickensian themes of inequity and injustice. Halfway through the speech, it became clear that when it comes to the critical issue for New York—economic growth—the mayor really doesn’t have a clue.

Dickens makes for entertaining reading. But as a guide to economic prosperity? Maybe not so much.

The mayor once again told us he wants to raise taxes on the rich to pay for universal pre-K, even though Governor Andrew Cuomo has a similar plan that can be paid for without a tax hike. Mr. de Blasio’s stubborn insistence on his own plan suggests that his tax hike is designed not to increase revenue but simply to serve his populist politics. Call it what it is: a punitive tax.

Mr. de Blasio did not offer a reasonable solution to the city’s stubbornly high jobless rate. Instead, he offered campaign rhetoric. And he mentioned not a word about improvements to the city’s infrastructure. How is that possible?

The city needs to create jobs—good, middle-class jobs—but that’s not going to happen if the mayor continues to demonize the affluent. City Hall needs to implement creative policies and partnerships that encourage investment and spur growth. That’s how you create a more equitable city.

The speech’s essential cluelessness was clear when Mr. de Blasio announced a new science, technology, engineering and math program at City University, an institution, by the way, that has entered a new Golden Age thanks to one of his predecessor’s insistence on higher standards. That predecessor, widely condemned by many CUNY faculty members, was Rudy Giuliani. 

The notion of relying on STEM as an economic development tool isn’t exactly new. Legend has it that it was written on the Rosetta Stone. Here’s the problem: The city needs to graduate top-flight high school students who can handle the rigors of math, science and engineering. One way to achieve that goal is through the cultivation of gifted and talented programs and the continued high admission standards for secondary schools like Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, Brooklyn Tech and others.

But the mayor’s rhetoric and public positions would seem at odds with the goals of these selective—dare one say elitist—academic programs. Building a world-class STEM program at City University is a laudable goal, but it will work only if the city’s best students continue to be challenged in the classroom. And that means embracing the idea of merit, not mocking it.

What’s more, the tens of thousands who are without work in New York will find little solace in the mayor’s STEM proposal. It will do nothing to create the thousands of jobs we need right now.

There was, let it be said, some good news in the speech. The mayor once again pledged his support for more affordable housing, and as noted above, he has the people who can make that happen. 

Creating a more affordable city will, by definition, create a more equitable city. But the mayor has to put aside ideology and figure out how to get the city’s economy moving again. 

He needs to hear from the pragmatists he has on staff and pay less attention to the ideologues who seem to have his undivided attention.

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