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De Blasio pushes ahead on prekindergarten plan

Mayor elect Bill De Blasio visits the Northside

Mayor elect Bill De Blasio visits the Northside Center for Child Development in East Harlem. (Dec. 3, 2013) Credit: Linda Rosier

Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio charged forward Tuesday with his plan to bring universal prekindergarten to New York City, naming six education experts to develop the program, and vowing he will win a fight in Albany to pay for it with higher taxes on the rich.

"I'm not ever going to be interested in bargaining against myself and this vision," de Blasio said after reading to preschoolers at an early-childhood education center in East Harlem. "We're sticking with the plan we have."

De Blasio announced an "all-star" team to help him recruit teachers, find space for the new students and study similar initiatives across the country.

The volunteers, who include his transition team co-chair Jennifer Jones Austin, are charged with "making sure we are ready to go as soon as legislation is approved in Albany," he said. He said he wants the programs to begin next September.

Critics have cast doubt on whether de Blasio's proposal to raise taxes on those making more than $500,000 will pass in the state legislature -- especially in a Senate partly controlled by Republicans. De Blasio ally and fellow Democrat, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, seeking to cut taxes, has been largely noncommittal on the funding.

Cuomo Tuesday said he supports de Blasio's push for prekindergarten "100 percent."

"The question is going to be how do we pay for it, what are the finances," he said. "And we're going to have that question writ large next year to deal with in Albany."

De Blasio Tuesday said public support of his plan -- the hallmark of his mayoral campaign -- was apparent in a Quinnipiac poll last week that showed voters back the proposal 2-to-1 and his election "mandate." He took 73 percent of the overall vote Nov. 5.

"I see that as the glass much more than half full," de Blasio said, adding that he will "relentlessly" lobby Albany.

De Blasio read "Where the Wild Things Are" to the preschoolers, likening a dragon in the book to "the fiscal challenges we face."

The mayor-elect also vowed that his choice for schools chancellor would be an experienced educator. He alluded to Mayor Michael Bloomberg's ill-fated appointment of magazine executive Cathie Black as chancellor in 2011. Black lasted only three months in the post.

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