From the floor of the Barclays Center in downtown Brooklyn, — itself a monument to his ambitious and controversial development agenda — Mayor Bloomberg declared victory over “obstructionists” and “naysayers” who sought to block his vision for New York City and vowed not to retreat into a state of ribbon-cutting resignation.
This year, he said, he will attempt to ban plastic-foam products, ease the consequences of marijuana possession, install curbside charging stations for electric cars and legalize European-style youth hostels across the city.
Prior to the speech, City Hall produced statistics, lists of accomplishments and fact sheets that cemented the Bloomberg legacy and in keeping with the Barclays Center setting, black and white, NETS-styled banners hung from the ceiling, each with a number proclaiming one of the administration’s record-setting achievements.
“Back in 2002, we were told that you couldn’t bring crime down any further without locking up more people. But today, murders and shootings are at new record lows – and so are incarceration rates,” Bloomberg said, working his way through a list that included higher graduation rates, increased park space, outer borough job growth and longer life expectancy.
“For the first time since La Guardia was mayor and FDR created the WPA, we’re not only conceiving big plans that fundamentally change the landscape of our city, we’re achieving them,” said Bloomberg.
Speaking on his 71st birthday on Thursday, Bloomberg, repeatedly mentioned the city’s “unfinished business” and pledged his determination to rebuild neighborhoods damaged by Hurricane Sandy. He insisted that the city “cannot, and will not, abandon the waterfront,” and he promised that the city’s storm-scarred public beaches would open on schedule on Memorial Day weekend.
Mayor Bloomberg also vowed to push through a series of development projects, like a new applied science campus on Roosevelt Island, a soccer stadium in Queens and a giant Ferris wheel, modeled on the London Eye, on Staten Island
In what became a recurring theme in the 7,000-word speech, Mr. Bloomberg ominously suggested that without him, lobbyists, unions and campaign donors might retake their powerful places in city government.
“Given all the politics and special interests, if we don’t do it this year, it may never get done,” he said of his proposed rezoning plan for the area around Grand Central Terminal, intended to encourage the construction of modern towers.
At times, his speech struck defiant tones. Addressing one of the most contentious issues of his third term, Mayor Bloomberg dismissed those who questioned the fairness of the city’s stop-and-frisk program, which has predominately focused on black and Hispanic men.
“Make no mistake,” he said. “We have a responsibility to conduct them. And as long as I am mayor, we will not shirk from it.”
The data on the stop-and-frisk practice is a subject of much debate: even as the city’s police force significantly reduced the number of stops it conducted in 2012, in response to mounting criticism, the murder rate fell to historic levels.
Bloomberg said that “the possibility of a stop is what scares would-be bad guys into not carrying guns,” and he referred to Detroit’s runaway murder rate as an undesirable alternative.
“I understand that innocent people don’t like to be stopped,” he said. “But innocent people don’t like to be shot and killed, either.”
At that point, a member of the City Council, Jumaane Williams, from Brooklyn, objected loudly from the audience, saying the policy “doesn’t work.” He later apologized for the outburst.
Taking the Democratic lawmakers sitting before him to task for failing to support his efforts to break the union representing striking school bus drivers, Bloomberg hinted that the officeholders were beholden to organized labor.
“The special interests and campaign donors have never had less power than they’ve had over the past 11 years,” he said, alluding to his ability, because of his personal wealth, to refuse campaign donations. “And this year, we’re going to show them just how true that is.”
In the audience were three candidates seeking to replace him, including Council Speaker Christine Quinn. She gave the mayor a lot of credit for this speech and rejected the idea that he was picking on his potential successors.
“I think the mayor has done a very good job of focusing his decisions, many of which I agree with, not all of them, on the facts and the data and the statistics as he sees them and as he interprets them, and I hope and believe that that’s the kind of attitude that will continue in City Hall, because that’s what New Yorkers deserve,” she said.
Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, though, didn’t like the mayor’s insinuations about what’s coming next.
“He loves to suggest the notion that none of the leaders past, present or future could possibly understand what he understands and it’s just not accurate,” said de Blasio.
Still, the mayor’s mix of liberal social policy proposals and a strong economic growth record forced even critics like de Blasio to give mixed reviews. “He offers some very good ideas mixed in with a lack of long-term vision and attacks on crucial parts of this city.”
Democratic Comptroller John Liu took a similar approach. He praised the mayor’s push for immigration reform — but pointedly laughed off Bloomberg’s suggestion that his administration has been uniquely insulated from special interests.
“I think Mayor Bloomberg is putting himself a little bit too high on the pedestal when he says there have been no special interests,” said Liu. “Many would argue there have been very deep special interests that have had the ears and the purse of the mayor these past 11 years.”
And it wasn’t just Democrats offering critiques. Adolfo Carrion, who’s pursuing a mayoral run on the independent and Republican lines, said he’s aligned with most of Bloomberg’s policies, but said Bloomberg’s style is not always helpful.
“You know, I think that unfortunately, chief executives when they’ve been around for a long time, get a bit grumpy,” said Carrion. “You know, twelve years is a long time.”
Gripping the felt covering of his mayoral podium, Bloomberg paused briefly to acknowledge the finality of the occasion. “This is the 12th time we’ve done this. There will be a 13th, but not by me.”