Bloomberg returns to Kingsbridge, where the ‘living wage’ revolt began

Mayor Bloomberg at a playground ribbon-cutting in Queens. (Dana Rubinstein)
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In tomorrow's State of the City speech, Mayor Michael Bloomberg will announce he's seeking plans from businesses that want to set up shop at the Kingsbridge Armory, where, two years ago, a fight over wage requirements led to the scuttling of a similar scheme.

The project's failure is regularly cited by the mayor as evidence that insistence on a "living wage" kills job-creation. But the show-down had the long-term effect of uniting liberal elected officials and labor groups in trying to pass a law that would require tenants in city-subsidized developments to pay their workers at least $10 an hour with benefits, or $11.50 without benefits.

Bloomberg opposes that legislation, which is believed to have support from a majority of the City Council, but which has been held up by Speaker Christine Quinn, a likely mayoral candidate who is an ally of both the mayor and the city's business lobby.

"That's a separate debate that we're having at the City Council," said Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., who advocated the wage requirements during the first fight over the armory.

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In an interview with Crain's, Bloomberg said, "I think maybe everybody understands that when you try to force people to do things, it just doesn't work."

Tomorrow's announcement will be similar to the city's first effort in 2006, when it sought developers who wanted to use the 575,000 square foot landmark building. The Request for Proposals will differ from the one issued in 2006 by adding an option for developers to lease the building long-term, or, if they want, buy it.

For Bloomberg, it's not only a second chance to make the project work, but is an opportunity to achieve something tangible and concrete on a relatively short time frame that doesn't require approval from Albany, where Governor Andrew Cuomo has taken an active role in shaping city-specific policy. Cuomo's State of the State included several major proposals that were news to Bloomberg, including a plan redevelop Manhattan's West Side and build the country's largest convention center in Queens, and a promise to eliminate the finger-print requirement for food-stamp applicants in New York City.

Bloomberg's push to allow livery cabs to pick up street hails was approved by the legislature, but only after it was blocked for months by Cuomo and, eventually, modified to the governor's specifications.