Bill de Blasio's biggest challenges before he's sworn in
Bill de Blasio faces many immediate challenges in the weeks leading up to his Jan. 1 swearing-in and in his first months as the 109th mayor of New York City.
Before he can fulfill campaign promises of progressive change, there are crucial jobs to fill, including deputy mayors and commissioners. He faces budget deadlines amid a projected $2 billion deficit and labor contracts.
“You get sworn in and you have a party, everybody’s happy, and then on Jan. 2, you go to work. You might even want to get to work on Jan. 1,” said Bill Cunningham, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s former communications director.
Here’s a look at some of the tasks ahead:
De Blasio will secure as many appointments as he can before moving into the mayor’s office, though not all of his team needs to be in place by Jan. 1, Cunningham said.
His choices for police commissioner, schools chancellor and deputy mayors will be closely watched.
There are also about 50 city agencies with commissioner and deputy commissioner jobs to fill, Cunningham said.
De Blasio has floated the names of former Commissioner Bill Bratton and Chief of Department Philip Banks III as possible replacements for Commissioner Ray Kelly in leading the NYPD. He has said he wants his schools chancellor to have a background in education.
Former Port Authority executive director Christopher Ward’s name has been floated as a possible deputy mayor, but Ward said he has had “no communications whatsoever” with de Blasio’s team.
Much of January will be dedicated to drafting a budget as well as a four-year fiscal plan, which is updated on a rolling basis, Cunningham said.
“The emphasis and the priorities of a new mayor start to bump up against the reality of how much money you have to spend,” Cunningham said.
The challenge will be balancing a budget with a $2 billion gap, and the process will be further complicated by ballooning pension, health insurance and debt service costs.
Pension obligations make up 11%, health benefits 7% and debt service is 8% of the budget in the current fiscal year.
The percentages are expected to rise in the next year, said Maria Doulis, Citizens Budget Commission director of city studies.
While state-level reforms have begun to curb the rise of pension costs, “insurance and debt service are the two fastest-growing items. It’s going to be important to make tackling those issues a priority,” Doulis said.
All of the city’s municipal unions, representing most employees in a workforce of 300,000, are working under expired contracts.
De Blasio has said he is open to retroactive pay raises for employees, but said the city cannot fully cover what is estimated to be about $6 billion in potential back pay. He would ask the unions for cost-saving concessions in return for more money in paychecks.
Cunningham said he doesn’t expect de Blasio will ink new contracts in his first few months as mayor. However, preliminary talks in advance of formal negotiations likely will begin as soon as possible, Cunningham said.
“I have to believe that the labor unions who have waited so long to get treated with dignity and respect are willing to wait a little longer to see that he gets organized,” said George Gresham, president of the 135,000-member 1199 SEIU health-care-workers union, which endorsed de Blasio.
De Blasio acknowledged in his election night victory speech that some key promises will take time to achieve.
His signature proposal to raise taxes on New Yorkers making more than $500,000 to fund universal prekindergarten and after-school programs especially will require much lobbying in Albany.
De Blasio said yesterday that he would begin reaching out to the state legislature, which would need to approve such a tax hike.
“He’ll travel to Albany to try to get his tax increase. Their budget session ends in April, so he’s going to have to begin discussions immediately,” said Democratic Public Advocate-elect Letitia James.
James said she expects de Blasio immediately will pursue more affordable housing by pushing mandatory inclusionary zoning, which gives developers density bonuses or tax abatements in exchange for below-market units in or near their structures.