When President Barack Obama was inaugurated a year ago tomorrow, many New Yorkers had sky-high hopes.
In the midst of a financial meltdown that began on Wall Street and spread out from there, Obama, a former fellow city dweller and the first black president, would be particularly in tune with the needs of New York, popular wisdom held.
After a rocky first year, Obama’s progress has been as halting as his agenda has been ambitious. Experts say 2010 will be a critical year, as political realignments in New York and elsewhere could lay the groundwork for the president’s future success and big-ticket items like health care are finalized.
Here’s a look at how Obama has fared on a number of issues important to New Yorkers:
Pro: The stimulus money is sluicing its way through the local economy, with the city estimating more than 28,000 jobs “created or retained” and more on the way.
Con: Unemployment in the city has risen to more than 10 percent, a 16-year high.
Looking ahead: Lawrence White, an economics professor at NYU, warned that the unemployment picture won’t likely get better until late this year, when companies who have been cutting or freezing costs feel comfortable hiring again. “Even with the stimulus, turning around unemployment was going to be a slow process,” he said.
Pro: Employment in the financial sector has been helped by the federal bailouts, with job losses less than expected.
Con: Obama has talked about reforms in executive compensation at the big banks but there is still a lot of uncertainty over whether stricter new regulations are coming.
Looking ahead: Wall Street bonuses are back, which stokes anger but also benefits the local economy, especially as the administration has pressured banks to stretch them out over a longer period of time.
Pro: Obama’s grass roots political organizing has provided a template for local insurgent candidates and political movements.
Con: By meddling in potential New York primaries for governor and U.S. Senate seats, he risks further dividing the Democratic party in a crucial election year.
Looking ahead: With statewide races on the ballot this year and congressional redistricting at stake, Obama is likely to become more involved in local politics. “The overwhelming motive is to protect Democratic seats,” said Hunter College political scientist Kenneth Sherrill. Obama “would be crazy not to get involved.”
Pro: With an estimated one million people uninsured, the health plan currently pending in Washington would give more people access to health care.
Con: If the Senate version of the bill becomes law, the city will lose as much as $500 million annually in federal aid, according to local officials.
Looking ahead: Unlike the House bill, the Senate proposal could mean closing free clinics and forcing public hospitals to operate with fewer resources. Dr. Barry Leibowitz, president of the Doctors Council, a New York-based physicians group, said federal money would be shifted to states that don’t provide the same level of care for the uninsured. “We’re being penalized for being progressive,” he said.
Pro: Obama’s historic election showed that a city, which at times has engaged in racially divisive politics, could unite behind a black candidate.
Con: Unemployment is still higher among blacks and the divisions caused by racial politics tend to be caused more by local issues.
Looking ahead: “As far as politics in the city, race is always going to play a part,” said City Councilman Robert Jackson (D-Manhattan). “But having a president who is African American helps facilitate better relationships overall.”