One hundred days have passed since that frigid January afternoon when we gathered outside City Hall to witness the inauguration of our city’s 109th mayor. While Bill de Blasio has long proven himself as an effective elected official who understands the struggles of the average New Yorker and as a close ally to New York City’s Jewish community, in his short time in office de Blasio has already hit the ground running and is taking concrete steps to uphold his promise of bringing progressive change to the five boroughs. With his refreshing style and his vision for an administration that will serve the needs of all citizens, not just the chosen few, our new mayor is doing an admirable job of steering this great city towards a brighter future.
As someone who has enjoyed a close personal friendship with the mayor for years, I can personally testify to de Blasio’s commitment to the Jewish community and the State of Israel. Not only is he extremely attuned to our particular needs, having served as Boro Park’s city councilman, but I have seen firsthand how he has been instrumental in providing help and support in various communal projects.
Since the mayor took office, possibly no one group has been happier to see de Blasio in City Hall than small business and restaurant owners, particularly those in the outer boroughs, who for years have been subjected to arbitrary and onerous fines. A favorite cash cow of the previous administration which would routinely levy punitive financial measures against small businesses that were struggling just to survive, these businesses are now heaving a sigh of relief, knowing that they can finally expect to be treated fairly and equitably. Both de Blasio and Maria Torres-Singer, head of the city’s Department of Small Business Services, have stressed that they will work together to reduce fines levied on small businesses, often viewed as a convenient way to raise revenue within the city, and reforms to the previously enacted restaurant letter grading system will balance public safety standards with fair treatment of restaurant owners. Changes for the better have already been seen and, in fact, a case brought last year against seven Williamsburg businesses alleging that signs requesting modest dress in those establishments violated shoppers’ human rights was settled this past January, much to the store owners’ relief and a newly signed bill that provides small business employees with up to five days’ paid sick time has half a million New Yorkers, who are now eligible for this new benefit, breathing a little easier.
The rare politician who is so well acquainted with the Jewish community that he has no need for a Jewish community liaison, de Blasio, who has always worked closely with yeshivos and the Agudah, is finely attuned to our religious needs and has developed close, personal relationships with several members of our community. Among de Blasio’s diverse staff of trusted advisors is Avi Fink, son of Rabbi Reuven Fink of the Young Israel of New Rochelle and grandson of Rabbi Yehoshua Fink, z”l, whose hiring as deputy director of intergovernmental affairs marks the first time that an Orthodox Jew has ever held such a prominent position at City Hall.
With the latest report from the Anti Defamation League indicating that the number of violent anti-Semitic assaults in New York City quadrupled in 2013, de Blasio expressed his unwavering commitment to combating hate crimes. At the recent Jewish Community Relations Council dinner, the mayor vowed to work hand in hand with the NYPD to take a tough stance against bias crimes, saying that not even a single incident of anti-Semitism will be tolerated in New York City.
“We will never rest,” said de Blasio. “If someone is assaulting a fellow New Yorker because he’s Jewish, that is something we will not accept.”
The need for affordable housing within New York City is a cause that resonates within the Jewish community and the mayor’s commitment to this pressing issue is laudatory. De Blasio’s goal of building or preserving 200,000 affordable apartments over the next ten years for lower income New Yorkers will do much to stem the housing crisis and his recent budget included a reduction of $52 million to the New York City Housing Authority for police services, freeing up a substantial sum of money to be used for housing repairs. Additionally, the mayor’s plan for inclusionary zoning would give developers the ability to build taller structures within the city in exchange for setting aside a number of units within that building for the poor and middle class.
Throughout his first 100 days in office, de Blasio has been carefully sowing the seeds for a successful tenure as mayor by surrounding himself with highly qualified individuals who share his vision for a better New York for all New Yorkers. With each thoroughly researched and well-chosen hire, including the return of Bill Bratton as chief of police, hailed by many as a strategic move, de Blasio has been meticulously assembling a staff of strong, talented individuals who can best serve city residents.
Crime rates have continued to drop since de Blasio took office, with NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton citing impressive statistics at a recent press conference. Overall crime is down two percent and there has been a twenty-one percent drop in homicide rates and a fourteen percent decrease in shootings as compared to the same period in 2013. Additionally, the city boasted an impressive ten-day murder-free streak in February, the longest such period ever recorded by the NYPD. In a winter that went down in the record books as one of the snowiest in recent memory, de Blasio never lost his cool, adding $35 million to the Sanitation Department’s budget to ensure that city streets were kept clean, and keeping schools open whenever possible so that working parents were not forced to scramble to make child-care arrangements due to inclement weather.
As a parent and a former school board member, de Blasio fully understands the importance of a quality education that begins with the smallest of students. The newly passed state budget, which includes $300 million in pre-K funding for New York City’s children, will broaden the scope of the current early education program in an effort to better prepare children for success in later life. Current half-day programs will be expanded into full-day programs and, with the opening of more classes and the hiring of approximately 1,000 new teachers, universal pre-kindergarten will be available to over 50,000 additional youngsters in the upcoming school year.
While for most of us Hurricane Sandy is but a distant memory, almost eighteen months later there are still those for whom the October 2013 mega-storm continues to be a devastating reality. In an effort to help those who have become tangled in miles of red tape as they attempt to restore their lives to some semblance of normalcy, de Blasio recently announced that $100 million in funding has been made available to help all homeowners rebuild their destroyed homes, a move that was hailed as “a turning point” by Senator Chuck Schumer.
Vision Zero, a plan that accepts no traffic fatality as inevitable, is yet another example of our mayor making it clear that the people of New York City are his number one priority. By making public safety the primary mission of his administration and by taking a strong stance on the safety of our streets, de Blasio is doing more than just paying lip service to an empty promise — he is putting into play a multifaceted plan that will encompass safer street designs and configurations, expanded enforcement against moving violations and all new legislation that will increase penalties for those who break the rules and put citizens’ lives at risk. From ensuring the well-being of our precious children as they get off the school bus, to educating the public about proper use of seatbelts and child car seats and the necessity of conforming to cell phone laws and speed limits no matter what the circumstances, Vision Zero has a proven track record of improving public safety, with traffic fatalities tumbling 43 percent, 48 percent and 40 percent respectively in Minnesota, Utah and Washington since similar programs were adopted in those states.
As part of his plan for a more humane NYC, de Blasio has already begun the process of banning horse-drawn carriages, a move that has garnered wide support from both kind hearted city dwellers animal rights activists. Calling the over 100-year-old presence of carriage horses on today’s congested city streets “inhumane,” de Blasio is moving to replace the horses with vintage-style electric cars, providing current carriage drivers with jobs as operators of the distinctive replacement vehicles, while still giving tourists the ability to experience New York City sights in style.
Just three months after settling into City Hall, we have already seen our new mayor taking great strides in bettering the quality of life here in New York, giving us all good reason to believe that, as time goes on, Bill de Blasio will continue doing a stellar job of improving the lot of all New Yorkers.
Ari Noe is a community activist and the CEO of OTR Media Group.