Bill de Blasio, liberal allies clash over budget

May 13, 2014 Associated Press
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Mayor Bill de Blasio’s executive budget proposal has led to a rare showdown with his powerful liberal allies in New York City’s government.

The mayor, the first Democrat to lead the nation’s largest city in a generation, has often boasted about the lockstep vision he shares with Public Advocate Letitia James, the city’s official watchdog, and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, a longtime de Blasio ally whom the mayor helped elevate into her position.

But some strain has emerged after de Blasio rejected a pair of council budget ideas that James also endorsed. He declined to hire 1,000 more police officers and decided against offering all public school students free lunches.

“It’s really disappointing that the mayor of the city of New York did not recognize that there is really a concern with the understaffing of the NYPD,” James told The Associated Press in an interview Tuesday.

James says the NYPD, which currently has a headcount of more than 34,000 officers, needs the help because of a backlog of cold cases and a rise in crime in the city’s public housing developments. Crime has climbed in the developments, which house more than 400,000 people, by 2.6 percent from this time a year ago, while the number of shooting incidents has jumped by more than 30 percent.

“I think most individuals are out of touch when it comes to public housing,” said James. “We need to do all we can do to reduce crime in public housing.”

Police Commissioner William Bratton has said he would prefer giving his current officers a raise to hiring new ones, but said he would not turn down more manpower. De Blasio said last week that “with the resources we have we can keep crime low,” becoming the first city mayor in recent memory to turn down more police officers, and saying he’d prefer to focus on other priorities.

Overall crime is down 2.7 percent from a year ago. The council estimates that hiring the new officers would cost about $100 million, which would be more than offset by the savings in overtime.

The mayor was more supportive of a council plan to fully subsidize school lunches — currently, 75 percent of students qualify for free lunches — but expressed concerns at the cost and whether the move could endanger federal funding. James said that setting up a universal lunch program would “reduce the stigma of poverty” for the students who currently qualify for the free meals.

Though supportive of much of de Blasio’s plans, Mark-Viverito said she was “disappointed” and “distressed” the council’s signature proposals were tossed aside.

“After the feedback we received in our extensive budget hearings it makes sense to propose expanding the police force to meet these new goals,” she said in a statement Tuesday. She has vowed to push for them during a second round budget hearings that are slated to begin this week.

A deal must be reached before the start of the next fiscal year on July 1. A spokesman for the mayor declined comment.

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