The speech at NYU, attended by such machers as Related lawyer Jay Kriegel, Association for a Better New York head Bill Rudin and former MTA chairman Dale Hemmerdinger, was mostly dedicated to tackling the city’s unemployment crisis and keeping the city globally competitive—something that has been a major focus of the Bloomberg administration but hasn’t been talked about much in the early days of the race. He lambasted the administration’s “efforts [that] pale by comparison with the magnitude of the crisis in which we find ourselves,” talked about strengthening the position of the financial sector and, most surprisingly, slammed “knee-jerk NIMBYism” that slows real estate development.
The speech sounded like something Mr. Bloomberg himself could have delivered, and may depress those who thought that a softer era was coming to City Hall post-Bloomberg. He extolled the controversial Atlantic Yards development and criticized “heavy-handed, rapacious bureaucrats standing in the way of a local government that was doing everything right” who scuttled development around the Gowanus Canal, but still strong words from a former official at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. But most surprising was his casting of the billionaire mayor—who frequently touts his business-sector roots, his love of rich people and his defense of Goldman Sachs—as the enemy of business.
“I don’t want to say that Mike Bloomberg is anti-business,” Mr. de Blasio clarified later. “I want to say that the businessman mayor is not what he is cracked up to be. He is focused on helping the business community, but it does not extend to all types of business, it does not extend to all five boroughs. His polices have had the effect of hindering development and hindering the small business community, so how’s about we break out of the mythology and actually have a debate about what is working and what is not working.”
It is one thing, though, to advocate as the public advocate, and another to run the city. And it is one thing to call for more development, and another to have to listen to community concerns over new buildings that overcrowd schools and block out sunlight. While no one likes excessive restaurant fines, no one likes getting sick either. Mr. de Blasio says that Mr. Bloomberg is relying on fines as a way to boost city coffers; Mr. Bloomberg says that the alternative is higher taxes. On this point, Mr. de Blasio demurs.
“I don’t have a blanket statement on that. The goal is not raise taxes writ large, of course. The question going forward is what kind of revenues the city will have from all of its sources—the state and federal government, etc., and what do we need to achieve with it?”
It is unclear how much this push will help Mr. de Blasio. The city’s Democratic primary still skews very much to the left, and the candidates will be counting on labor unions to provide get-out-the-vote muscle. And the spot of the pro-business candidate seems to be already taken by Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who leads in early polls and fund-raising largely due to her close alignment with Mr. Bloomberg. But as Ms. Quinn moves to make nice with the left, Mr. de Blasio seems to spot an opening.
“In general, the core strategy in a Democratic primary in New York City is that you don’t want any significant segment of the city to be really against you,” said Jerry Skurnik, a Democratic consultant. “It is very unlikely that the Post is going to side with Bill de Blasio, but you probably don’t want them doing front-page attacks on you all the time. He might [not] be the real estate community’s first choice, but if he could be their second choice, or third choice, and in a runoff, his opponent could be their fourth choice.”
For now, leaders in the business community sound open to any candidate pitch.
“The major focus of the Democratic primary will be a race to the left, but I do think that they need to show some balance and sensitivities at a time when the unemployment rate is back around 10 percent and there is concern about the economic and fiscal future of this city,” said Kathryn Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City, a business advocacy organization. “There is a lot of concern. There is a fear of the unknown. Most people in the business world are not paying attention to the mayoral candidates at this point, so I think there is an opportunity for Bill to get a fresh start with them and establish his credentials.”
Mr. Hemmerdinger said that the next mayor will need to understand that “we are a financial and intellectual hub of the country. The next mayor, whoever he or she is, needs to understand how delicate that is. If you cross the line, the city can go south quickly.”
Asked if Mr. de Blasio understands this, he responded, “I think so. This is early in the campaign, but I think he does … I think he is a practicial politician, and I think that is very important.
“Making it work,” he added, “is more important in our next mayor than having an ideological position.”