Well, that was deeply weird. Mayor Bill de Blasio just stalked out of a City Hall press conference after refusing to answer any questions about Speedgate, leaving behind an angry, disbelieving pack of reporters, and thus ensuring that coverage of the “truly historic … transcendent moment” the mayor had just spent an hour promoting would be buried by his walkout.
Or maybe it wasn’t so weird. The bulk of De Blasio’s appearance was devoted to announcing the “saving” of Long Island College Hospital. Seven months after being arrested in a protest against LICH’s closure — a turning point in De Blasio’s campaign — he declared victory.
It is, however, an odd kind of victory. A lawsuit by community groups and labor unions to stop the hospital closing is being dropped. In exchange, the activists and the unions get a larger say in designing the rules by which SUNY, which owns LICH, can sell the hospital site. Bidders who promise to construct medical facilities, and not just residential towers, at the corner of Atlantic Avenue and Hicks Street will get priority.
In that respect, De Blasio and his allies can claim credit, and progress: Before the lawsuit, SUNY could have sold the property without restriction. Today’s agreement strongly favors the inclusion of medical facilities.
But a full-service hospital is not required. Neither is so much as a cotton swab. And the timeline is optimistic, to say the least: Three weeks to submit a bid with a minimum price of $210 million. If such a medical-friendly deal can’t be reached by May 22, the settlement appears to allow SUNY to close LICH completely and sell the place to whomever it pleases — pretty much where things stood seven months ago, before the court-imposed delay burned through $100 million in state money. After 40 minutes of self-congratulation by the politicians today, the lead lawyer for the community groups made it plain: “It’s not a settlement that is going to guarantee anything.” It’s hard to imagine that the key plaintiffs, like the hospital workers union, agreed to this bargain unless there’s something else in it for their members.
Shortly after leading multiple rounds of applause, De Blasio read a brief statement referring everyone to Police Commissioner Bill Bratton’s remarks on why NYPD drivers had ignored traffic laws in speeding De Blasio around the city. Then the mayor bolted, on foot. Maybe he’s been advised that discussing security arrangements increases his security risks.
He clearly seems to be betting that the public will see this story as unimportant, a petty episode blown out of proportion by the media. And he may be right about that. But if big, important things, like this hospital deal, don’t work, the mayor just tossed away a whole lot of media goodwill seven weeks into a four-year term.