In his final State of the City address, Mayor Bill de Blasio offered a sprawling vision of New York City’s recovery from a pandemic that has taken tens of thousands of lives and destroyed the city’s economy.
Even the speech was affected by the virus: Instead of delivering it before an audience, the mayor recorded a video ahead of time, and it was posted online on Thursday night.
But it still borrowed from his earlier addresses and was rooted in his long-term goal of reducing inequity: The theme of the address was “A Recovery for All of Us.”
The mayor committed to accelerating the city’s vaccination efforts and set a goal of vaccinating five million New Yorkers by June. He said he would begin in May to bring back to offices the thousands of city employees who have been working remotely, and would safely reopen schools for all students in September.
“New York City’s vaccination effort is the foundation of a recovery for all of us,” the mayor’s plan said. “With every vaccine shot, New York City moves closer and closer to fully reopening our economy, restoring the jobs we lost and ensuring equality in our comeback.”
The mayor’s recovery plan will require a herculean effort from city agencies and depends on securing significant federal funding to address the city’s many budget woes.
The video featured regular New Yorkers who said the city would rebound from crisis and offered an optimistic vision for the future, with the mayor serving as cheerleader — a role many have said the city needs filled. Business leaders have questioned Mr. de Blasio’s ability to respond to rising crime and concerns over quality of life.
Mr. de Blasio said that if the federal government provides enough stimulus dollars to the city, he would create a City Cleanup Corps of 10,000 temporary workers to focus on beautifying the city — an idea he compared to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression.
Mr. de Blasio also proposed two plans to help small businesses: a $50 million “recovery tax credit” program for businesses that have faced hardships from the pandemic, and a $100 million “recovery loan” program to help shops stay open. The city will provide low-interest loans of up to $100,000 to roughly 2,000 small businesses, according to the mayor’s plan.
But Mr. de Blasio has also warned that the city is facing major budget cuts and layoffs. He recently announced that the city’s property tax revenues are projected to decline by $2.5 billion next year, driven by a drop in the value of office buildings and hotel properties that have emptied out during the pandemic.
The mayor also addressed concerns over police brutality raised in protests last summer. He said the city would allow communities to have a direct role in selecting police precinct commanders — a proposal he announced with Eric Adams, the Brooklyn borough president, earlier in the day. He also said he planned to strengthen the Civilian Complaint Review Board.
One idea from the mayor’s speech was immediately celebrated by bike advocates: taking a lane of car traffic from the Brooklyn and Queensboro Bridges to create new bike lanes under the name “Bridges for the People.” Mr. de Blasio also pledged to build new public spaces like pedestrian plazas or green spaces in more than 30 neighborhoods hit hardest by the virus.
For Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat in his second term who cannot run again because of term limits, the speech was a sign that he is not resigned to being a lame duck mayor.
But he will face challenges that few mayors have had to confront in their last year. More than 10 months after the pandemic hit, New York City is struggling to fight off a second wave of coronavirus cases. Restaurants are closed for indoor dining, and middle and high schools have not reopened. More than 26,700 people have died in the city of Covid-19.
The arrival of a vaccine has brought hope, but the rollout in the city and across the nation has been plodding and chaotic. About 575,000 first doses of the vaccine have been administered in the city since mid-December, and the mayor has pledged to speed up the process once the city receives more doses. Mr. de Blasio plans to open mass vaccination sites at Yankee Stadium and Citi Field, and officials have been setting up more than 400 vaccination sites across the city.
Some critics were skeptical of the mayor’s lofty rhetoric when he has so little time left in office. Benjamin Kabak, a transit advocate, applauded the Brooklyn Bridge bike lane, but questioned whether Mr. de Blasio could tackle everything he proposed.
“It’s easy for him to get up there in late January and say what he knows people want to hear,” Mr. Kabak said.
The race to succeed Mr. de Blasio as mayor is heating up ahead of the June 22 primary and is likely to be the most consequential in a generation. The candidates have criticized the mayor’s handling of the pandemic, including early missteps that allowed the virus to spread and delays in reopening schools.
Mr. de Blasio’s speech gave the mayor an opportunity to try to define his legacy. His greatest achievement came early in his first term when he introduced a popular universal prekindergarten program for 4-year-olds. But Mr. de Blasio’s approval rating dropped after investigations into his fund-raising and a failed presidential bid.
Mr. de Blasio and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo have expressed optimism that President Biden, along with a Democratic-led Congress, will bring substantial assistance to the city. Mr. de Blasio also called for higher taxes on wealthy New Yorkers in his speech — a policy he has pushed for years, but that Mr. Cuomo has opposed.
On Thursday, Democratic leaders including Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jamaal Bowman urged the state to raise taxes on the rich — part of a new campaign to sway Mr. Cuomo.
Mr. de Blasio noted that more than 100 billionaires in the state increased their net worth by billions of dollars during the pandemic and called again for a redistribution of wealth.
“There is clearly enough money in New York to invest in a fair and fast recovery — it’s just in the wrong hands,” he said.