Reaching out to new yorkers

| 14 Feb 2017 | 01:36

The American Sign Language symbol for “Donald Trump” is communicated with a hand on top of the head, lifting briefly in imitation of the president’s hair in a breeze. It was used repeatedly by an interpreter on Sunday, Feb. 12 at Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer’s State of the Borough address, during which she and five panelists discussed action New Yorkers can take to oppose Trump’s administration. The next night, during Mayor Bill de Blasio’s State of the City speech at the Apollo Theater, it was used only once, though the spirit of Trump’s first weeks in office hovered over the event. Both the mayor and the borough president will be running for reelection this year, but the mayor’s address was far more overtly aimed at voters.

De Blasio focused on the “affordability crisis” New York City faces, citing rising housing costs and stagnant wages as major problems. He announced his intention to “create 100,000 more good-paying jobs” over the next 10 years, which he defined as jobs paying $50,000 annually or more. “These are jobs that we will make available whether people have pre-existing skills or not,” de Blasio said. “We’re going to provide the training and the support.”

He also touted the success of his affordable housing plan so far. “It’s actually ahead of schedule,” de Blasio said of the push for 200,000 new affordable units. “Sixty-two thousand homes have already been built or financed or preserved in three years.” Part of the financing for this, the mayor hopes, will come from the “mansion tax” on all homes sold for more than $2 million. The measure failed to gain enough support in 2015, but de Blasio tried again in his recent testimony on state funding for the city’s upcoming budget. Notably absent from the address was a mention of problems at Rikers Island and the multitude of transportation issues slowing down all forms of transit for New York City commuters.

In de Blasio’s only direct mention of Trump, he empathized with those who voted for Trump but are not seeing the change they were hoping for. “A lot of people voted in 2016 based on a pain that was very economic, very real,” he said. “Now, the sad reality is they’re unfortunately seeing the exact opposite of what many of them thought they were voting for.” The mayor went on to reassure viewers of his commitment to remaining a sanctuary city, and to continue to provide services like health insurance.

Brewer’s State of the Borough took on a less formal tone, consisting of comparatively brief remarks that also put housing front and center. “Getting more affordable housing into every new residential development that comes before my office is top priority,” Brewer said. She also listed accessible street signals, funding for public schools and a record 1,100 applications to Manhattan community boards among her accomplishments.

Brewer then moderated a conversation with five experts on the specific challenges Trump’s policies — like the recent travel ban and Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids — present to the city, and how New Yorkers can oppose them. “Community-based organizations are the lifeboat for communities in these uncertain waters,” Angela Fernandez, executive director of the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights, said. “Community pressure and moral pressure is another tool that we have.”

Andrew Rasiej, founder of Civic Hall and Personal Democracy Media, and Chair of the New York Tech Alliance, cautioned the audience to protect their online data and take their cybersecurity seriously.

De Blasio’s event, meanwhile, also served to generate support for his reelection. The use of the Apollo Theater in Harlem, for which the mayor’s office paid $35,000, appeared to be an appeal to his base of African-American voters, 96 percent of whom went for de Blasio in 2013. Hours before his speech, the mayor also announced that a branch of the New York Public Library at 115th Street would be renamed after Harry Belafonte.

So far only de Blasio has opponents in his race, all of whom are eager to hear whether the mayor or any of his aides will be indicted in an investigation by the Manhattan district attorney into his fundraising practices during the 2013 campaign. Should that happen, the race may open up to yet more challengers — potentially including Comptroller Scott Stringer — who would then have a greater chance at being elected.

Madeleine Thompson can be reached at