De Blasio Digs In on Call for Education Reforms

NEW YORK (AP) -

New York City Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio delivered his first major policy speech since his landslide victory on Monday, citing his historic margin of victory as a “clear mandate” to enact sweeping reforms to the city’s schools even as he faces opposition for the tax hike needed to fund the plan.

De Blasio, who takes office Jan. 1, largely avoided new policy proposals, instead sticking to his campaign promises of delivering universal pre-kindergarten and free after-school programs to middle schoolers.

He aims to pay for those programs with a tax hike on wealthy New Yorkers but needs approval from the state legislature. Several leaders in Albany, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a fellow Democrat, have signaled a reluctance to deliver.

But de Blasio, giving the keynote speech at an education conference hosted by Columbia University, called his nearly 50-point win “substantial” and the source of enough political capital to enact his ambitious agenda.

“We are very proud to have won the way we won and within that vote was a clear mandate for serious changes,” he said. “I have not offered a small, Band-Aid solution. I haven’t offered a pilot program or a boutique concept.”

“I have offered a game-changing investment in early childhood education and after-school,” he continued. “Nothing else will do.”

But some skepticism exists, and some of the doubts were voiced at the conference by de Blasio’s old boss, former mayor David Dinkins. Dinkins, who hired de Blasio as an aide in 1989, suggested fighting instead for a commuter tax, which would apply to people who work in the city, but reside elsewhere.

De Blasio gently side-stepped the suggestion.

“I take your point to heart,” he told his former boss, “but I think in the here and now, this is the right path and the attainable path.”

De Blasio also announced that he will be forming a committee to flesh out some of his education proposals. He revealed Monday that he has yet to interview any candidate for schools chancellor. He said that that post, along with police commissioner and first deputy mayor, are the most important to fill. He said he was further along the process of hiring someone to run the NYPD.

De Blasio also dismissed the notion that next year’s balanced budget would complicate contract negotiations with city unions, who have been pushing for significant raises and back pay.

“The way I look at it is: it’s a good, strong starting point,” de Blasio said. “It doesn’t negate the huge challenges created by the open contracts.”