De Blasio Calls for Unity in State of the City Speech

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On Thursday evening at Lehman College in the Bronx, Mayor Bill de Blasio gave his third annual State of the City address, celebrating the accomplishments his administration has made over the past two years and explaining his plans to improve the city in the future. The speech's main theme was unity, and the mayor delivered his speech from under a banner that read “One New York: Working for our Neighborhoods.” Throughout the speech, he stressed his administration's commitment to improving all five boroughs.

“Our mission is to put the powers of City Hall to work to help all of our neighborhoods thrive and prosper,” said de Blasio. “Our challenge is to make our great city greater still. Our vision is One New York, Working for Our Neighborhoods.”

One of the night's most anticipated moments was de Blasio's announcement of the Brooklyn-Queens Connector, which will cost an estimated $2.5 billion to build. The state-of-the-art streetcar will run from Astoria to Sunset Park through neighborhoods historically underserved by public transit, and has the potential to add an additional $25 billion to the city’s economy, according to de Blasio.

Looking back, the mayor took care to highlight the programs his administration has put into place to improve the lives of working New Yorkers, such as paid sick leave, paid family leave and an increased minimum wage for city workers. He also pointed to a decrease in crime—the overall crime rate has fallen 5.8 percent over the past two years, he said—and the city's record-high 4.2 million jobs, 220,000 of which were created in the past two years.

De Blasio also touted his administration's efforts to remedy the city's perennial lack of affordable housing options. In 2015, the city financed a record number of new apartments, added affordable housing for senior citizens, enacted a rent freeze for more than a million living in rent- regulated apartments and ended chronic homelessness among veterans, de Blasio said.

The city also plans to add 15,000 units of affordable housing to the city over the next 15 years, and is on track to do so, he said.

On a darker note, the mayor mentioned recent terror threats made against the city. Shortly after the Islamic State attacked Paris last November, the group released a video highlighting Times Square and Herald Square as potential targets for future attacks. Officials said that there was no credible threat, but acknowledged that, as a big city, New York must always be prepared.

“We are a target. We are a target because New York City is founded on the values of democracy and inclusion,” the mayor said.

In order to promote public safety, de Blasio said, more than 2000 police officers will be added to the NYPD by the end of 2016. He also pointed to the new Critical Response Command, an NYPD counter-terrorism unit that deployed its first 100 officers in November and now consists of more than 500 officers specially trained to respond to terrorism.

The NYPD will also start requiring officers to undergo “implicit bias” training in the spring, he said. The new training comes in the wake of racial unrest resulting from the deaths of unarmed black Americans at the hands of police officers around the country. While de Blasio did not give details on the training, he did say that it would help officers to understand and overcome racial bias in order to better serve the public.

De Blasio ended his speech on an idealistic note, saying that strong neighborhoods will lift up their people and thus lift up the entire city.

“Neighborhoods that are great in their own right and together  unite as a 21st-century global capital of fairness, opportunity and innovation,” de Blasio said. “That is our work. That is our future.”

CityMatthew Sheffield