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DeBlasio: A Midterm Evaluation

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Josh Greenman provides a midterm evaluation of Bill DeBlasio. The evaluation and the evaluator are both mixed, as Greenman tends toward conventional wisdom sorts of platitudes that help generate valueless narratives that can dog good politicians.

Start with de Blasio’s record so far. It’s mixed.

On the positive side of the ledger, homicides remain near historic lows while overall crime, the key indicator of the city’s health, continues to drop; this, while the NYPD has stopped and frisked far fewer New Yorkers, reducing to a bare minimum the tactic that drove a wedge between cops and the people they serve. Thank de Blasio for bringing back Bill Bratton, and for ultimately agreeing with his call to add 1,300 new patrolmen.

Civilian fire fatalities are down to historic lows.

Far fewer pedestrians are dying on the streets, an early mark of success in de Blasio’s Vision Zero rethink of the speed limit, intersections and traffic enforcement.

The economy is healthy, with job creation outpacing the rest of the state and the nation. That is not exactly the mayor’s doing, but it’s something for which the chief executive of a city gets credit.

De Blasio carried out his campaign pledge to create a universal pre-K program in one year almost out of whole cloth; 68,500 kids are now enrolled, with nary a hiccup in the rollout.

He’s created a city ID that’s already provided two-thirds of a million people, including undocumented immigrants, identification and free access to museums, zoos and more.

He’s shifted money to neighborhood parks that had fallen into disrepair, even as a few high-profile jewels of the system glistened.

He’s strengthened the safety net for those at the lower end of the economic spectrum by making paid sick leave the law.

He handled public health crises, including the potentially debilitating appearance of Ebola, with competence and calm.

And, with tax collections surging, his fiscal stewardship has been better than many expected from an allegedly wide-eyed liberal. He settled outstanding contracts and has done a “fair to good job” balancing budgets, in the words of one city fiscal hawk. “He deserves lots of credit for not spending it all — he replenished and added to the retiree trust fund and created other reserves.”

That seems pretty bloody good to me. What’s the downside?

Despite an improving economy and a mayoral pledge to wield smart new strategies against homelessness, more unfortunates have shown up on the streets, in parks and on grates. Often abysmal shelters are bursting. Having decried Mike Bloomberg for supposedly callous neglect, de Blasio is so far failing what turns out to be a crucial management test.

His plans to turn around struggling schools have been blurry. In many cases, he has vowed to achieve ambitious if not impossible goals far in the future, even after two terms would be over.

Violence at Rikers Island, the city’s jail, has exploded.

He wasted time and political capital on a failed campaign to freeze the growth of Uber, a car service that threatens political allies in the yellow cab industry but otherwise fills a real need for real New Yorkers.

He’s loosening work requirements in welfare, threatening to turn back a reform that got thousands of poor New Yorkers off the dole and into the workplace.

His political thrusts in Albany — where he’s alienated both the Republicans who control the state Senate and Gov. Cuomo, a fellow Democrat (though, to be fair, both have been out to get him from day one) — have hurt the city.

And he’s had trouble running his own shop at City Hall, with long delays filling key slots and top members of his administration abruptly exiting. As a political veteran who works closely with the administration told me, City Hall is “thin at the top,” so “execution is weak.” And “political agenda trumps substance.”

That’s the record, in a thumbnail. Then there are the promises.

To build or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing within a decade. To get all second-graders reading at grade level over that same span. To extend mental health help to thousands upon thousands of New Yorkers who struggle with everything from depression to schizophrenia. To reengineer the city for a future of climate change. To create streets on which no one dies in a car crash, ever.

And, not least, to wrestle with and pin down national and global economic forces whereby rich people keep getting richer, the middle class struggles and the poor are losing hope in economic mobility entirely.

Goals are good. Ambitious goals, maybe even better. But de Blasio’s pledges are so seismic, his language so grandiloquent, that he gives the impression of being insufficiently grounded, destined to overpromise and underdeliver.

This seems slightly unfair to me and I think DeBlasio has been treated unfairly throughout his administration by a cynical media who feels a lot more comfortable with the centrist pablum of Andrew Cuomo than DeBlasio’s crusading liberalism. DeBlasio hasn’t been helped either by the abandonment of some of his allies on the left who expect immediate transformations and who damn politicians to hell the first time they have to compromise or slow down. Here, this isn’t too different than the left response to Obama. If you believe that just electing the right leader will solve your problems, you will always, always, always be disappointed. If we want campaigns that promise transformative change, whether from Obama or DeBlasio, Warren or Sanders, we have to know that they will not actually lead to immediate transformative change. That is on us.

Now, there’s no question that homelessness is a major problem–one that has New York’s rental market at its roots. That’s a hard problem to solve that takes real planning and political acumen. The violence at Rikers is hardly on DeBlasio, but of course he’s going to get blamed for both individual and structural police and correctional officer violence even though those people hate him. His actions against a racist welfare reform system and Uber are largely positive. And opposition from Cuomo and the New York exercise in corruption state legislature should be held in his favor.

So it seems to me that DeBlasio has done as well as can be expected given the circumstances. One certainly wishes for a strong managerial style at the mayor’s office, but providing that immediately can be a problem for an outsider campaign, including Obama’s first year when appointments dripped out and time was wasted as candidates were vetted.

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  • sleepyirv

    Sure, I haven’t gotten murdered, but when will DeBlasio focus on the REAL issues by kissing the ring of Uber?

    • N__B

      That’s not a ring, it’s an anus.

      • joe from Lowell

        In the land of Mordor where the sun don’t shine

  • Phil Perspective

    Isn’t Greenman a Conservative? If not, he’s certainly a Blue Dog Democrat.

    • LiveFreeOrShop

      Probably, as the Daily Snooze is conservative, although not nut-bag level like the Rupert Post (or the Wall Street Rupert, for that matter).

  • DrDick

    This search for a political messiah constantly amazes me, and constantly disappoints the believers. All politicians are flawed human beings and must work within a structure which deliberately impairs reform. It is never enough to change the person, you have to change the system. That takes a lot of time, effort, and money. There are no quick fixes.

  • “DeBlasio hasn’t been helped either by the abandonment of some of his allies on the left who expect immediate transformations and who damn politicians to hell the first time they have to compromise or slow down.”

    You and Scott seem to be devoted to this canard. Let us explain the difference in experiences:

    When George Walker “The Smart One” Bush took office, he immediately ramped up “Faith-Based Initiatives” and held secret “Energy” meetings.

    What BarryO took office, he immediately ignored Card Check (as you well know) and several other No-Lantern-Needed possibilities.

    Your conclusion is correct (modest, if anything; only the WSJ is still buying Cuomo’s lies about the Glories of Eva Moskowitz), but slamming people who have once again noticed they got short shrift is unbecoming at best, and will only cause them to notice it again at worst.

    • joe from Lowell

      Wait wait wait…Card Check, which required passage through Congress, was a “No-Lantern-Needed” possibility? And Obama didn’t “lose a bunch of his allies, who flip-flopped from their previous support,” but rather, he “Immediately ignored” Card Check.

      Uh-huh. I see.

      • Malaclypse

        Yes, but what’s your answer to Bush and Cheney holding meetings, smart guy?

      • Phil Perspective

        Obviously you miss the point. The GOP, at least since January 2011, rams their priorities through, by hook or by crook(See Scott Walker for just once example). The Democrats? Have to kiss the ring of Ben Nelson and “Holy” Joe Lieberman. And what did they get for it?

        • Malaclypse

          And what did they get for it?

          The largest expansion of the welfare state since 1968.

          • jim, some guy in iowa

            Perspective, like Esper, didn’t get his preferred perfect nothing, though. so what Obama got doesn’t count

            • sharculese

              At this point I’ve concluded that Phil actively relishes the prospect of things getting worse for people who aren’t him, so long as there’s a net increase for his personal vanity.

          • Scott Lemieux

            Also, it is trivially true that “Democrats” didn’t pass card check in 2009 or 2010. It doesn’t follow from this that card check failed because of Barack Obama (or, to use the racist term, “BarryO.”) And if anyone has ideas for getting staunch liberals elected to the Senate from Nebraska and Missouri, they aren’t sharing them.

            • Phil still hasn’t revealed his secret plan to elect leftist Democrats in Alabama. We are all waiting for it.

        • joe from Lowell

          The GOP has accomplished virtually none of its agenda since 2011, or even 2007, on the federal level. They have been able to slow the Democrats’ agenda somewhat. I didn’t “miss the point,” Phil. I understand what he’s claiming. It’s just not true.

          Have to kiss the ring of Ben Nelson and “Holy” Joe Lieberman. And what did they get for it?

          The passage of the greatest expansion of health care since Medicare in the 60s?

        • ajp

          You should’ve invoked Max Baucus for the full trifecta.

          And yeah, sure, if Obama had just twisted Lieberman’s arm a little more (with the threat of what, precisely, always conveniently omitted) we would have single-payer.

          • Ahuitzotl

            Oneway ride in Marine One?

        • DrS

          Amazingly, Democrats are not able to leverage right slanted political institutions in the same way as Republicans.

          • Steve LaBonne

            Fuck that, I want my pony! And if I don’t get it RIGHT NOW I’ll hold my breath until I turn blue!

        • humanoid.panda

          Repeat after me: states are not the same as federal institutions, states are not the same as federal institutions, states are not the same as federal institutions.

          To cite one easy example: you can gerrymander a state senate, but not the US senate. Which is the beginning and end of Walker’s legislative successes.

      • Look, if Obama just wanted it as badly as Bush wanted to pass his Social Security privatization plan, he would have had as easy a time rounding up the necessary votes as Bush did.

        • LosGatosCA

          Perfect comparison.

          Now if Obama had wanted to bomb Iran and another country at random I’m sure he would have been able to ram that through, same as Bush.

  • He’s loosening work requirements in welfare, threatening to turn back a reform that got thousands of poor New Yorkers off the dole and into the workplace onto the streets, which I trust you won’t notice I just complained about above.

    FTFY, Mr. Greenman

    • Honoré De Ballsack

      Yeah, that line stuck out to me also as being particularly egregious.

      • postmodulator

        Right there with the complaint that he’s alienated Albany and Cuomo and the immediate observation that they hated his guts out of the gate. Great moments in self-refutation.

    • Ahuitzotl

      yes, I thought that should have been in the Wins column

  • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

    DiBlasio just fired the head of the Department of Homeless Services 2 weeks ago, and obtained an extra $1B in emergency funding for homeless services. Worth a mention, no?

    • sam

      not to mention that the uptick in the homeless population can actually be tied to the ending of rent subsidies under the Bloomberg administration in 2011. There’s a massive spike following that event (seen in the chart in this article), but of course people only noticed the additional homeless once our ‘commie liberal’ mayor took over.

      Di Blasio now needs to fix a problem created by the prior “smart” administration. But nevermind. We were all living in a capitalist utopia until 2 years ago.

      • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

        Bloomberg administration MO was: A) make life as comfortable as possible for people living in valuable real estate, B) ignore/ patronize/ immiserate the rest of the city (it’s their own fault they’re poor & can’t live somewhere fabulous). I saw it time and time again. They fought paid leave tooth and nail (“it’ll never fly”, “it’s a job killer”) and look what happened.

      • mds

        Di Blasio now needs to fix a problem created by the prior “smart” administration.

        Gee, that sounds familiar.

    • DocAmazing

      Looking at the homeless situation from the other side of the continent, I’m pretty convinced the problem isn’t NYC rents, it’s middle-of-the-country inhospitality. In the Bay Area, we have many, many homeless people from Nevada, Arizona, Florida, and so on. I can’t imagine it’s that different in NYC. Thus we see de Blasio blamed for what is a national problem.

      • In the Silicon Valley at least, it’s mostly about the rents.

        http://lawyersgunsmon.wpengine.com/2015/12/silicon-valleys-homeless-population

        Be shocked if that wasn’t a major player in New York as well. It’s true enough that the West has a national reputation for being homeless tolerant, which combined with the weather, leads to homeless migrations. But there are also local conditions involved.

        • DocAmazing

          Local conditions are involved, sure, but if Nebraska and South Dakota keep pulling Greyhound Therapy numbers on the West Coast (and NYC), rents will never be low enough to shelter everybody, or even most.

  • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

    Honestly, a better target is the Department of Buildings, known for decades as a cesspool and which actually *kills people* with its incompetence (the monthly preventable crane collapses, construction accidents, etc.) and which DiBlasio is arguably in a better position to tackle (more so than ahem certain of his predecessors). Apparently not worth much mention, though.

  • Steve LaBonne

    Every time an outspoken liberal takes office and proves to be a competent manager, it’s a small victory. We have to take our victories where we find them these days.

    • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

      There’s a whole upper-management “fixer” class in NYC politics (usually rich middle aged humps with thick Rolodexes) and DiBlasio apparently isn’t paying enough tribute to them. This is what anonymous grumbling about the Mayor’s Office being “thin at the top” means.

    • joe from Lowell

      Once upon a time, I thought I was going to help change the world.

      Now, I count it as a win if I can get three more votes to make the developer install street trees.

      • ajp

        Small victories are still victories. And local government is often overlooked by would-be world changers. So good on you joe. Changing your community.

      • Steve LaBonne

        I’m not convinced that positive, durable change works any other way. So you have every reason to feel good about things like that.

  • MaureenDowdsLudes

    What “real” need does Uber provide “real” New Yorkers?I can see the utility of such a service in an area underserved by real taxis. That is not the case here in NYC.

    • ajp

      I know one complaint was the difficulty of catching a cab in upper Manhattan or outer boroughs. But the green cabs have been very helpful to me as an upper Manhattan resident.

      I’ve sometimes had trouble getting a cab driver to take me to an outer borough at night. But that was years ago. And that’s when you just read their medallion number back at them.

      Anyway, “real” is obviously code for something, and the more I think on it the uglier it sounds.

    • Honoré De Ballsack

      In the pre-Uber era, if one found oneself way out in Queens or the Bronx at 2AM and wishing to go home, taxi service was essentially unavailable. I’m no fan of Uber–but a case can be made that it fills a need for on-demand transport in the distant reaches of the outer boroughs.

      • cs

        Couldn’t you call a limo service? I thought they were around in most of the city.

        Edit: maybe the problem was that if you aren’t from the area, you don’t have the number for a reliable local limo dispatcher? I can see how Uber fixes that problem by being citywide.

        • indefinitelee

          Yeah, basically your edit. But you know, duck into a bodega or bar and ask for the name/number of a car service or use that same smartphone you use to hail Uber to Google it.

          Uber solves the problem of transplants thinking that everything in nyc is dirty and so they need a sanitized experience that doesn’t involve speaking to someone who speaks in broken or heavily accented English.

          • Honoré De Ballsack

            But you know, duck into a bodega or bar and ask for the name/number of a car service or use that same smartphone you use to hail Uber to Google it.

            I mean, theoretically…yeah. It’s a bit sketchy, but doable. (The fact that I’m writing this implies that I always got home safe in the end.)

            However, I should also add that I am of the male sex, and the difficulty of getting back to brownstone Brooklyn always fell under the category of “annoyance” rather than “actual danger.” I have many female friends and acquaintances who consider Uber something of a godsend because of its usefulness in such situations.

            • sharculese

              This. I’ve spent time on my phone trying to find a cab service that was operating in my area at 1 in the morning, and this was coming home from work so I was stone cold sober. It was not fun.

              A service that turns that frustration into pushing two buttons? Yeah, it doesn’t shock me that there’s a market for that.

            • JL

              I have many female friends and acquaintances who consider Uber something of a godsend because of its usefulness in such situations.

              As do I, in a different city.

              Relatedly, a couple of years ago I was visiting [large city that I’d never been to before], trying to get back to where I was staying, alone, after midnight. I took the first taxi I could attract. The meter was broken, which I didn’t realize when I got in (which is probably a newbie mistake but I don’t take car services often). Midway through the ride, the driver told me that my ride would be $25. I told him that the previous night I’d gotten a ride between the same two locations for $15 and change. He told me I couldn’t have, and threatened to drop me – by myself, at night – in that city’s highest-crime area, which we were on the edge of, if I didn’t pay up. Which would have been a good mile and a half or so from my destination, with no way to figure out where exactly I was or summon another car or some other kind of help except with my easily-stealable phone, and no open businesses that I could duck into in sight. I convinced him to let me pay $21 or $22, I think. I don’t use either taxis or Lyft more than a few times a year. But damn I wish I’d had Lyft then. I could have avoided the whole mess.

              I want the same regulations (which are not necessarily the existing taxi regulations) to apply to everyone. I worry that the “car-sharing” companies are screwing over their workers, and hope that more of them unionize like in Seattle. Lyft seems to cost 60-70% of what a taxi would around here, and if it goes up to 100%, so be it, as long as that money is going to the workers and to compliance with needed regulations rather than to making bosses richer (yeah, I know, I might as well ask for a unicorn while I’m at it). It would still be better than the taxis even if the rides cost the same – better response times, quicker and easier to summon a car, more likely to get service at odd times and places, and I can use it in a strange city too. And the drivers get their routes optimized for them instead of asking me which way to go, and I can always be assured that I’m paying with my credit card instead of playing the “Does this one take credit cards or not, and is the card machine broken today or not?” game (though apparently Cambridge, MA taxis are finally required to take credit cards as of a few months ago). I walk, bike, carpool, or take public transit well over 99% of the time, but for those remaining few times a year, Lyft really is a very useful service.

            • indefinitelee

              However, I should also add that I am of the male sex, and the difficulty of getting back to brownstone Brooklyn always fell under the category of “annoyance” rather than “actual danger.” I have many female friends and acquaintances who consider Uber something of a godsend because of its usefulness in such situations.

              good point

          • JL

            I don’t use Uber, but I do very occasionally use Lyft, which is the same concept, and I don’t understand this assertion (which I hear a lot) that techies, hipsters, and so on like the service because the drivers are similar to themselves and they don’t have to interact with diverse people who might have accents. More of my lift drivers have been immigrants than not. Which is fine, though since I have trouble understanding people over the phone and accents make that worse, I do like being able to summon a car with a couple of button clicks rather than a phone call.

            These companies need to be regulated on a more even footing with the taxis (which may mean adding regulations to them, or subtracting them from taxis, or both). Otherwise it’s unfair to the taxi drivers. But damn, Lyft really is convenient and useful (and cheaper than taxis) for those occasions when I’m trying to get back from somewhere with awful public transit or after the public transit stops running. I was trying to get back home from a non-subway-accessible corner of Roxbury (Boston) at night on a Sunday (so public transit was running infrequently) recently. I had a Lyft at the door within six minutes of requesting one. I don’t even know how one does that with a taxi in that area of the city, or if it’s possible.

      • sam

        In a place like NYC which already had a somewhat robust car-service system, Uber basically app-ified the existing infrastructure. Instead of needing to know the number for the local neighborhood dispatcher, you could just use an all-in-one app.

        Which is why it was particularly disingenuous in NYC for Uber to claim that it was somehow something “new” that was somehow not subject to existing regulations. In NYC, all it did was put a shiny app-face on an existing, already-regulated industry.

        I’ve used Uber maybe 3 times, and it’s been awful each time (drivers who don’t know where they’re going – in the manhattan grid, who spend 20 minutes driving around trying to find me, who then “drive” while staring at the GPS in their laps). I’ve started using the actual taxi apps to e-hail actual taxis. I’ve never had major love for taxi drivers either, and will take the subway until after midnight in many circumstances, but sometimes a taxi is necessary.

    • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

      Black people seem to love it, for exactly the reason you’d expect every time “black person” “taxi” and “NYC” appear in the same sentence. Bug, feature, yadda yadda yadda.

      • Honoré De Ballsack

        Yes. See also my comment re: women at 4:47 above.

      • LiveFreeOrShop

        I was hoping somebody said that. Yes, many of my friends-of-color use Uber because NYC cab drivers are notorious for ignoring blacks and hispanics. It’s ironic, of course, to have cabbies who recently moved here from the mideast or the Asian subcontinent pass by (other) people of color, but it happens all the time. Very annoying.

    • Chuchundra

      Wow, this is just such a spectacularly douchey comment. Who, in your mind, are the “real” New Yorkers? Do they have the magic ability to attract cabs at two in the morning?

      The quick adoption of Uber is the US proves one thing. Cabs suck pretty much everywhere. Some places, like NYC, they do suck less, but they still suck.

  • He’s loosening work requirements in welfare, threatening to turn back a reform that got thousands of poor New Yorkers off the dole and into the workplace.

    Well, he just gives the game away right there, doesn’t he?

  • ” … Obama’s first year when appointments dripped out and time was wasted as candidates were vetted.”

    Hear, hear. I hope one of HRC’s minions is reading this. She will have plenty of time to avoid a rerun. The ideal is to send Congress a full list of every single executive branch appointment requiring Senate confirmation on the day after her inauguration. Senators will complain about the sudden workload. To which she should reply: prioritize. Do you really need to spend time on my choice for Surgeon-General or Ambassador to Kazakhstan?

    I propose to keep raising this point. Rinse and repeat.

    • I will say this about Hillary–she has lots of friends who need to be paid off in appointments. I know that this has its down side. In fact, it contains probably everything people hate about the Clintons. But she will know how to fill offices. Obama, or more properly I suppose Axelrod and the other top advisors, really fell short here and squandered their limited time of full political capital dithering over this and that position.

      • LosGatosCA

        In obama’s defense, and really every first termer, they have just exhausted themselves winning an election that they couldn’t afford to look past, and usually don’t have experience dealing with appointments at the presidential scale. Add the state the economy was in at the time and the scorched earth (pre announced) one term strategy of the Republicans. Could have been better but drinking out of a fire house as big as Niagra Falls had to be a bit of challenge.

        As you suggest, Clinton machine should be both primed with candidates and staffed with more experienced transition resources (ex the Big Dog, himself).

        But the pace of filling positions will be set by the (likely) Republican senate, in any case.

        • LosGatosCA

          Fire hose

          I expect the White House travel office to be Vince Fostered on January 21, 2017

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