Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s top communications deputy isn’t entirely pleased with the way Bill de Blasio’s inauguration speakers presented his ex-boss’s record.
The deputy, Howard Wolfson, reached out to WNYC this morning to argue against some of the claims made by the event’s speakers, who presented the city as a deeply divided “plantation” in need of new leadership and direction.
“There were a few things yesterday that I thought deserved to have the record corrected on,” Mr. Wolfson said, speaking on The Brian Lehrer Show today.
While Mr. Wolfson generally called the inauguration a success, he contested the notion that New York City “plays a tragic role in the fact that our nation has the largest prison population in the world”–as argued by civil rights activist Harry Belafonte, a prominent de Blasio supporter and the first speaker at yesterday’s event.
“One of them–I think most importantly [and] is very important to former Mayor Bloomberg’s heart–during the period of the time he was mayor, we actually reduced incarceration rates in this city by almost a third,” countered Mr. Wolfson.
In the closing days of his administration, Mr. Bloomberg himself touted the city’s record low incarceration rate as one of his crowning achievements, which Mr. Wolfson also said should be acknowledged.
“We actually locked up many fewer people. And so I think it’s important to make sure that the facts are out there about what we did accomplish during the last 12 years. Everyone will have an opinion about the Bloomberg mayoralty and everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I think it’s important at least to be talking from a common set of facts,” Mr. Wolfson continued.
Of course, it wasn’t only Mr. Belafonte skewering Mr. Bloomberg’s record yesterday. With the notable exception of Mr. de Blasio’s own speech, speaker after speaker tore into the Bloomberg legacy, including Public Advocate Tish James, who described the city in starkly dystopian terms. Among other criticisms, Ms. James declared: “We live in a gilded age of inequality where decrepit homeless shelters and housing developments stand in the neglected shadow of gleaming multi-million dollar condos, where longtime residents are priced out of their own neighborhoods by rising rents and stagnant incomes.”
Played a tape of her remarks, Mr. Wolfson stressed that he didn’t have any problem with the “rhetoric,” but again wanted to establish a “common set of facts.”
“This was a very data-driven mayor and we should talk about the data. And so to respond to that: 175,000 affordable housing units were built or preserved in the last 12 years. That’s an extremely admirable record. We have the most private sector jobs in the city’s history today. At a time that poverty grew in every other big city in America, poverty was flat in New York City,” he said.
“Is there work to be done? Absolutely,” Mr. Wolfson added. “And as Mayor Bloomberg has said both publicly and privately, we want Mayor de Blasio to succeed, to do well, to make this an even better city, to build on our successes and create an even better place to live.”
“But let’s be clear about what happened,” he said.