Mayor de Blasio’s statement that the city needs saving during last week’s State of the City address brought out different reactions from those listening.
“We need to further develop and improve ourselves as every city does but I don’t think we necessarily need any major redemption or saving,” said Kevin Forrestal, president of the Queens Civic Congress, as the Chronicle canvassed some borough leaders for their take on the mayor’s assertion.
He said things are going reasonably well, despite a surge in crime, but there is room for improvement.
“The whole area of zoning and how we’re going to grow and how we’re going to maintain our infrastructure is a concern to many of us,” Forrestal said.
He added that “bike lanes are wonderful but the amount of bicyclists compared to the amount of people who drive, especially in the outer boroughs, is a major concern. And we’re taking lanes out to accommodate a small number of bicyclists.”
Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) said the city does need saving.
“We need saving from gentrification and from the increased cost of living — two problems that are very difficult to control,” the councilman, who is the finance chairman, said in an email.
He said de Blasio seemed to agree that more affordable housing is needed, “which is a revision from his original plan of adding 300,000 units of affordable housing,” which Dromm did not believe was enough.
The minimum wage was raised to $15 an hour but Dromm said it’s still difficult to make ends meet on such a low income.
“The city needs to continue to address these issues,” he said. “Otherwise, we risk losing the working families who contribute so much to our communities.”
Queens Chamber of Commerce President Tom Grech said he believes “it’s never been a tougher time to have a business in New York City.”
He said small businesses have been taxed and penalized “as if they were cash cows and I think people are fed up about it,” adding that it’s jeopardizing the ability of businesses to remain and flourish.
Grech also wants to see the city stop spending so much money. The budget is nearing $95 billion.
“I think the top-line growth needs to slow down and pile some resources back into the small business organizations out there,” Grech said.
De Blasio raised the idea of a vacancy tax against landlords who keep storefronts off the market.
Grech said he is not in favor of the idea because he believes the vast majority of outerborough landlords are mom-and-pop businesses themselves.
“They’re trying to maximize what they can rent the building for but in cases like those, a vacancy costs them money as it is,” he said.
Loycent Gordon, owner of Neir’s Tavern in Woodhaven, called de Blasio last month during one of his weekly radio appearances and told the mayor it looked like his bar was going to close. De Blasio intervened and a handshake agreement kept the 190-year-old bar open.
Gordon said there is room for improvement when it comes to the “small businesses that we all know and love.”
He spoke about how landlords leave storefronts open, ones “that could be occupied by a local business, an immigrant that’s looking to start a business.”
Gordon would like to see “the mayor and everybody work together to level the playing field. I think that’s what the saving is all about.”
Councilman Bob Holden (D-Middle Village), a frequent critic of the mayor and his policies, said it was appropriate that the address was delivered with the “save our city” theme.
But “it needs to be saved from Mayor de Blasio and his programs that go nowhere,” he said in an email. “This administration is filled with fraud, waste and abuse, coupled with a failure to listen to the communities that are affected by his ineffective leadership.
“After six years in office, it’s nice to see that he’s finally being honest with himself about the state he’s left our city in,” Holden said.
Sylvia Hack, co-chairwoman of Community Board 9’s Land Use Committee and a longtime Kew Gardens civic activist, said the city needs saving but that de Blasio’s priorities are wrong.
“If the mayor wants to save the city, he’s got a long way to go,” she said.
Hack has been opposed to the city’s plan to close Rikers Island in favor of four borough-based jails, including one in Kew Gardens. She said more pressing is the “tremendous” homeless population.
“Yet this mayor is going to spend billions on building a jail not for the population for whom it was intended,” she said.
Hack is also concerned because supporters of the borough-based jails say many offenders are nonviolent but bail reform and an uptick in crime could mean violent offenders being placed in the neighborhood.
Hack added that when she travels around Manhattan, “It’s hard to find a block where there are not homeless people sleeping on the street. I’ve lived in this city all my life. I was born here. I have never seen anything like it.”