De Blasio: Mayors should lead fight against inequality
WASHINGTON -- New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio Thursday told a group of mayors meeting here that "it's up to us" to tackle the problems of income inequality because cities can't rely on help from Washington.
De Blasio, in an address to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, highlighted his initiatives to address what he called the "crisis of inequality" that he said cities face, and he invited the mayors to join him in forging a "national urban consensus" agenda.
"We should have a consistent federal partner in that endeavor," de Blasio said. "We understand that's not today's reality. So it's up to us."
He said Washington cannot provide the answers because it is "gripped in a frustrating paralysis" -- the partisan gridlock in Congress and the standoffs between Republicans and President Barack Obama.
During his speech, his first national-issues address since becoming mayor, de Blasio highlighted his signature initiative -- his bid to raise taxes on people with incomes of $500,000 and up to underwrite the expansion of early education to all children. The plan has met resistance from New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who has offered a rival pre-K program paid for under the state budget.
Even as he lamented Washington inaction, de Blasio urged his fellow mayors to join together to press Congress to act on urban needs, which he later said would require new federal revenue to accomplish.
"Let's forge that new national urban consensus together, not just around priorities like pre-K and paid sick leave, but around strategic investments in affordable housing and 21st century transportation," de Blasio said to applause.
He also invited mayors to come to New York City.
"I don't happen to have the wealth of my predecessor," de Blasio said of billionaire Michael Bloomberg. "But I can guarantee you . . . the coffee and bagels will be on me."
Afterward, mayors said they agreed the issue of inequality is important for cities to address. But some balked at de Blasio's local tax hike to pay for a program.
Mayor Tom Henry of Fort Wayne, Ind., a Democrat, said, "I think he's right spot on. He's trying to do some very creative initiatives. Some of them I think are revolutionary."
But Mayor Danny Thomas of Morristown, Tenn., a Republican, said he has doubts about a tax hike. Instead, he said, he's offering grants to keep businesses in towns and attract new jobs -- that, he said, is the best way to close income gaps.
"I don't think one person can speak for all the country's mayors," he said of de Blasio. "Each city has its own problems."
Meeting with reporters after the speech, de Blasio downplayed being at odds with Cuomo over his tax for pre-K education and defended his decision to pass on state money.
"Albany has often changed its mind and had different political dynamics affect it," he said, citing a need for consistent funding to put his initiative into effect.
De Blasio defended Cuomo's controversial comment that "extreme conservatives" who are pro-gun, anti-abortion and anti-gay rights "have no place in the state" because "that's not who New Yorkers are."
He said he agrees with Cuomo's remarks, which he sought to explain.
"We all understand that there's a right to free speech," de Blasio said.
"But I think he's saying that the attitudes of those who want to continue the status quo in this country on guns, or who want to challenge and deny a woman's right to choose, does not reflect the values of New Yorkers."