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Bill de Blasio aims for a Cuomo-proof agenda

Mayor Bill De Blasio gives his annual State

Mayor Bill De Blasio gives his annual State of the City address at Lehman Center for the Performing Arts Concert Hall in the Bronx on Feb. 4, 2016. Credit: Getty Images / Eduardo Munoz Alvarez

If you can’t beat them, avoid them.

Bill de Blasio’s recently unveiled agenda for his third year as mayor suggests a strategic shift by steering clear of projects and proposals that require Albany’s blessing.

Nothing in the plans outlined in de Blasio’s Feb. 4 State of the City address rises or falls on cooperation from his frequent adversary, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, or State Senate Republicans.

In 2014 and 2015, they blocked the mayor on several fronts, including his ideas to tax the rich to fund universal prekindergarten and how to structure tax breaks to encourage affordable housing.

The latest big projects — including a $2.5 billion streetcar line along the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront and a retirement plan initiative for low-wage, private-sector workers — can be accomplished by the city alone, with minimal if any state input. So can an app-based parking meter payment system, a five-borough road-cleaning campaign and bus-arrival countdown clocks.

“I think that the mayor realized the challenges that he faces in Albany with both houses of the legislature and the governor,” Assemb. Phillip Goldfeder, a Democrat who represents southern Queens. “I think that while he’s working very hard to repair relationships, he’s trying to be pragmatic in his approach to get this done for the city.”

Though both are Democrats, the mayor and governor found themselves at odds shortly after de Blasio took office. De Blasio’s losing streak in Albany includes seeking a long-term extension of mayoral control of public schools and reining in the growth of charter schools.

Sometimes the governor dropped cold water on de Blasio the same day of the mayor’s announcements.

Such was the case within hours of de Blasio’s 2015 State of the City address. Top Cuomo aide Melissa DeRosa blasted out an emailed statement declaring that the Sunnyside rail yards, which the state partially owns, were not available to be decked for affordable housing, as de Blasio had just proposed.

DeRosa also called de Blasio’s proposal to raise the minimum wage to $13 an hour a “nonstarter” — even though later that same year Cuomo proposed a statewide $15 minimum.

But Cuomo has had little to say about the streetcar plan. “It’s a city project,” he told reporters last week.

De Blasio’s proposed construction of the BQX streetcar network from Sunset Park to Astoria would be funded with local bonds and property tax revenue, without the involvement of the state-directed MTA, which answers to Cuomo. De Blasio said on Friday that he’s not “asking him for any” money.

“This is something the city is going to achieve,” he told WNYC’s Brian Lehrer.

The project would require state cooperation to use MetroCards or a successor MTA system for payment and the option of free transfers between the streetcars and the MTA-run subway and bus systems. De Blasio spokesman Wiley Norvell said the city would welcome such an arrangement but will proceed with its own fare card if necessary.

The BQX’s projected completion date is 2024, after de Blasio would be term-limited out of office and Cuomo would be gone too unless he seeks and wins a third and fourth term.

The administration won’t need the MTA’s collaboration for another 2016 agenda item: 350 bus stop countdown clocks, which can be operated simply by using publicly available data.

Nor would de Blasio need state approval for the plan to revitalize further development of Governor’s Island, since the mayor appoints a majority on the island’s trustee board.

De Blasio aides won’t say whether they sought to make the project list Albany-proof by design.

“We are going to use every tool in our power to improve New Yorkers’ lives. That means leveraging everything we can do right here in the city, but also working in Albany to get the change our people need,” Norvell said.

Cuomo’s office declined to comment.

De Blasio is seeking re-election next year, noted Christina Greer, a political scientist at Fordham University, and could benefit from fresh accomplishments to tout.

“He’s trying to figure out a way to be succeed without relying on the governor,” she said.

But there are still limits of what the city can and cannot do without the blessing of the state, which controls everything from most taxation to the speed limit.

Even as de Blasio avoids needing the state’s approval for big projects, he still is battling to restore nearly $1 billion in state cuts to the City University of New York and Medicaid the governor announced in his preliminary state budget.

Bill Cunningham, a longtime political consultant who worked in Michael Bloomberg’s City Hall, said the de Blasio administration “has decided to play small ball,” adding: “It could be that they want to limit their downside, but it also sort of limits their upside.”

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