Stringer delivers a big, progressive speech; rivals and fellow Dems enjoy it, mostly
When Scott Stringer said the city needs to pass the paid-sick-leave legislation "now," Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and City Comptroller John Liu applauded, but City Council Speaker Christine Quinn didn't.
The four likely mayoral candidates were at the New-York Historical Society on Central Park West last night for Stringer's State of the Borough speech. The speech hinted at the economic theme of Stringer's mayoral campaign: reducing income inequality and making things easier for the middle class.
Stringer called for a readjustment to the tax code that would lower rates for families making less than $300,000 a year and raise them for earners of more than $1 million a year. He talked about facilitating loans to small businesses, and called for a $250 million fund to pay for the conversion 110,000 foreclosed housing units into low-cost housing. and called for a new loan program to help small businesses secure financing.
Stringer's three likely rivals in the mayor's race were seated shoulder-to-shoulder in the front row. De Blasio and Liu support the paid-sick-leave legislation currently held up the Council; Quinn, a Bloomberg ally who is the reason the legislation isn't moving, opposes it.
Reporters kept duck-walking over to them to take pictures and watch their reactions. De Blasio sat with his giant legs crossed. Liu slouched. Quinn sat holding a folded piece of paper.
When Stringer complained about overcrowding in city schools, they applauded. When Stringer critiqued the mayor directly, de Blasio and Liu applauded and Quinn did too, but very lightly. Right after Stringer said "nothing is more important than educating our children," Quinn left.
Stringer read from two teleprompters and didn't use any visual aids. He paused at key moments to let the audience applaud, and they did. He also veered slightly off script.
When discussing expansion plans from Columbia Univeristy and New York University, Stringer said he supported them, while, "always, always, always balancing the needs of the community with those of the university."
As the audience applauded, Stringer, added, "God help me."
When they finished applauding, he emphasized his point: "Always, always, always" and "where's the community board?"
That elicited some more laughter, including Quinn's, which is distinctive.
"Chris is laughing," Stringer noted approvingly.
Liz Holtzman, the former city comptroller, arrived late and got a seat in the second row next to C. Virginia Fields, the former Manhattan borough president. One row behind them, four seats in from the aisle, was David Stringer, the borough president's brother.
After the speech, Stringer walked to the front of the stage, shook hands with a number of people who all wished him well. His wife stood a few feet away, smiling politely. Trudie Mason, a fixture in Manhattan Democratic circles, was in the crowd and somehow managed to kiss Stringer on the cheek while he was still on stage.
"Pretty awesome; a lot of good ideas," Liu said after the speech.
A few steps behind Liu was de Blasio, who said there was "a lot of good stuff" in the speech. When asked about sitting next to potential mayoral rivals, de Blasio said it was "too early for that."
Norman Seabrook, the head of the corrections officers union, was seated in the front row center seat for the speech. Stringer's people had saved him the seat. He told me afterward "what he's talking about makes a lot of sense," particularly the tax cuts for most middle-income and poor New Yorkers. "It makes a lot of sense and nobody's talking about it."
I asked Seabrook to compare Stringer's vision to his likely rivals'. He said it was hard to do. "I haven't heard [Bill] Thompson give a speech like this. I haven't heard Bill [de Blasio] give one like this."
"What he's saying is resonating because he's talking about is the middle class," said Seabrook.
Joan Roth, a 69-year-old photographer who attended the event and lives on the East Side, said she liked Quinn's advocacy for progressive causes, but said Stringer is "the heart and soul of our city. He's Bella Abzug's nephew."
She said he "articulates the same kind of feeling."
Stringer made his way to the back of the auditorium, and repeated some of his comments for an interview on NY1 News. Later, he hung out by the doors and showed off a picture of his newborn son on his cell phone.
C. Virginia Fields, the former Manhattan borough president and mayoral candidate, said Stringer "made it clear" he was laying out a citywide agenda.
State Senator Adriano Espaillat, whose district is in Upper Manhattan, said of Stringer's speech: "I think his main message was fairness. I've never seen the stars aligned in such a fashion as they are today" to get economic "fairness" achieved.
"Mayor Bloomberg and Shelly [Silver] are looking to up the minimum wage, the governor announced and got a package of tax reforms," he said. "The president is talking about a tax package that'll help the middle class and the poor. And there's no reason why that shouldn't happen on the municipal level. There's no reason why there should be tax reform on the state level and not at the municipal level."
When the staff at the Historical Society finally succeeded in kicking everyone out, people came streaming down the large steps in front of the building. There, on the right, was a statue of Abraham Lincoln. City Councilman Robert Jackson threw his arm around the statue, then stepped back and started a conversation with him. He hugged me after I took a picture of it and walked away laughing. An aide with him reminded me he has a fund-raiser on Saturday.