No, the de Blasio family still hasn’t moved from Park Slope. But tonight the mayor makes his first official appearance in Gracie Mansion since January 5, when he hosted a post-inaugural open house and posed for thousands of pictures. Tonight’s crowd won’t be as big, and this event won’t be open to the public or to the media. But the choice of subject and high-profile location are significant: Even as the political momentum seems to be running against de Blasio, he continues to push steadily for his pre-K tax-the-rich plan.
“The next four weeks will be critical to finishing the job,” the mayor will tell his guests tonight, according to an advance copy of his remarks. “When we win — and we will win — you’re the people who’ll have made it happen.”
The Upper East Side event — a pep rally for the troops supporting his proposal, including labor-union leader George Gresham, education advocate Kim Sweet, and Reverend Al Sharpton — comes on the heels of yesterday’s mayoral trip to P.S. 130, in Little Italy. Compared to his recent press conferences, this one was a bore: No walkouts, no screaming reporters. Okay, the mayor’s reading of Dr. Seuss’s The Foot Book to a class of 4-year-olds was kind of cute.
The overt purpose of his elementary-school appearance was to release a report on the city’s progress in lining up 53,604 new pre-K seats by this September. Set aside, for a minute, questions about the objectivity of a report by city agencies that comes to the shocking conclusion that the same agencies are doing a magnificent job in preparing to implement the mayor’s highest priority. The real message was that de Blasio won’t stop methodically pressing his political case.
The mayor calmly keeps insisting that his plan, financed by a tax increase on the city’s wealthiest residents, is the only one capable of creating the ambitious new programs. Meanwhile, his allies at UPKNYC keep staging forums and jawboning legislators. The efforts, on the surface, don’t seem to be making much headway: Two of the key Albany players, Governor Andrew Cuomo and state senate Republican leader Dean Skelos, remain solidly opposed to higher taxes, though Cuomo is offering a state-budget-financed alternative, which would supply a whole lot less money and is vague on the policy particulars.
But the mayor — by not trading angry words with Albany’s leaders, and by acting as if some form of pre-K is a sure thing this fall — is sticking to his strategy: that to show weakness, or hint at a willingness to compromise, would surely kill the prospects of making anything substantial happen by September.
Could all of this be elaborate posturing, laying the groundwork for the mayor to declare victory and claim he fought the good moral fight even if his tax increase goes down in flames? Sure. But by relentlessly making the case as long as possible, de Blasio believes he increases the chances of increasing state funding — and that four years from now, most parents, and voters will only care that the mayor delivered on the educational half of his campaign promise.
Which is another subtext of de Blasio’s keep-chugging-forward approach. Even as he jousts over how to pay for expanded pre-K, de Blasio’s team is trying to show that it has learned from the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, where disastrous implementation destroyed the president’s political victory. Yesterday’s report described how private “community-based organizations” would provide thousands of the pre-K seats. If he gets his way, even partially, de Blasio will need to make sure those CBOs don’t become the equivalent of outsourcing the Obamacare website to an over-matched Canadian contractor. Fighting Albany for money may turn out to be easy compared with ramping up a gargantuan pre-K program.