A year ago, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio was an overlooked New York City mayoral candidate who was coldly received by a small group of business leaders when he outlined his plan to raise taxes on the wealthy to fund a universal pre-kindergarten program.
He returned to the same gathering on Friday, making a similar speech. But political circumstances surrounding the candidate have changed.
De Blasio is now the Democratic nominee for mayor with a huge lead in the polls, and the crowd that packed a Times Square hotel ballroom greeted him with a standing ovation.
“We all benefit when the middle class is growing, and more of our fellow citizens are lifted out of poverty,” de Blasio said. “Over the course of this past year, our case has only grown stronger.”
When he spoke there a year ago, De Blasio dubbed the gathering of the Association for a Better New York, made up of business and real estate leaders, “the lion’s den.” Polling in the single digits, he unveiled his plan to raise taxes on those making $500,000 a year or more to pay for his ambitious pre-kindergarten plan.
The plan, which elicited little reaction from the group then, became the centerpiece of his mayoral campaign and his message of ending “the tale of two cities” by combating income inequality that propelled him to a rout in the Democratic primary. A pair of recent polls has him up nearly 50 points over his general election foe, Republican Joe Lhota.
De Blasio’s ascension has created a sense of nervousness within some corners of the city’s business community, which prospered during Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s 12-year reign and is fearful of more liberal policies emanating from City Hall.
The candidate has acknowledged the tension, sending reassuring signals to leaders in a series of closed-door meetings and fundraisers, and praising Bloomberg far more often than usual in his Friday speech.
“Look. I know not everyone in this room agrees with every part of my plan,” de Blasio said. “Today let’s go forth together and resolve that the tale of two cities will be in our past and that building one city will be our future.”
The cheers for de Blasio did wane during the event, as the candidate outlined his hopes to expand paid sick leave and create a stronger living wage bill. But many in attendance were comforted by what they heard.
“I think his objectives are something that New York City clearly accepted, welcomed in the primary,” said Steve Spinola, president of the Real Estate Board of New York. “Now the question is how do we as an industry, how does everyone in this room and beyond help him accomplish those goals and still keep the city moving forward.”
Page 2 of 2 - De Blasio also raised eyebrows in the Marriott Marquis ballroom when he dubbed himself a “fiscal conservative.”
“I’m a progressive activist fiscal conservative, but I’m still a fiscal conservative,” he said while fielding a question from the audience. “And so we can’t talk about tax cuts in any sector until we sort out our financial situation.”
De Blasio later explained his remark to reporters, saying his “progressive” plan “begins with balancing the budget.” By law, the city is required to balance its budget.
Lhota is scheduled to address the same business group on Tuesday. Later that day, Lhota, de Blasio and Bloomberg are scheduled to share a stage for the first time during a panel discussion partly sponsored by the mayor’s philanthropic organization.