Mayor De Blasio to head to Albany to push city's agenda

Sunday, February 22, 2015

ALBANY, N.Y. -- Rent control. A higher minimum wage. The Dream Act. Greater investments in public education. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio will head to Albany this week with a sprawling agenda and no shortage of political challenges.

De Blasio's visit comes at an unusually turbulent time in the Capitol, one that could prove pivotal to the always fractious relationship between City Hall and the Capitol.

Manhattan Democrat Sheldon Silver - long the city's key advocate - is out as Assembly speaker, consumed by a corruption scandal. New Speaker Carl Heastie of the Bronx could be a formidable ally for de Blasio, but his leadership is untested.

While they profess their friendship, the mayor and Gov. Andrew Cuomo often don't see eye to eye. De Blasio's relations with Senate Republican leaders are even frostier, with many in the GOP linking de Blasio to an agenda that they see as too liberal, too expensive and too urban.

The tension isn't new. Albany has long been the arena for bruising sparring between mayors, lawmakers and governors contending for power, influence and budget allocations.

"It's the largest city in the country, and the state's economic engine, but the city can't do very much without the state's approval," said Darren Dopp, who was an aide to former Gov. Eliot Spitzer. "The mayor has to come through the governor and the world of Albany in order to achieve his goals."

The stakes this year may be especially big - not only for the city but for de Blasio, Cuomo and Heastie.

The state laws governing the city's rent stabilization rules are set to expire in June. The rules regulate the rents of 1 million apartments occupied by more than 2 million city residents. Lawmakers could vote to strengthen, weaken, or simply renew the rules - which to progressives like de Blasio represent a key way of ensuring the city remains affordable at all income levels.

De Blasio also supports letting New York City raise its minimum wage to $13. Cuomo has suggested raising the statewide minimum to $10.50 and letting the city raise it to $11.50. Republicans have dismissed de Blasio's proposed increase as too large and a Cuomo spokeswoman called it a "non-starter."

Affordable housing is another top de Blasio priority likely to be featured in his address to lawmakers Wednesday. His vision focuses on Sunnyside Yards, a 200-acre rail yard in Queens where de Blasio wants to put thousands of affordable housing units. The idea got a cold reception from Cuomo.

"The MTA uses Sunnyside Yards as an important facility for our transportation system, and it is not available for any other use in the near term," Cuomo spokeswoman Melissa DeRosa said.

De Blasio and Cuomo may also be at odds over Cuomo's proposed educational reforms, which include allowing more charter schools in New York City and an overhaul of the teacher evaluation and tenure system. Both men support the Dream Act - which would extend financial aid to students in the country illegally - but Senate Republicans do not.

The governor and mayor have known each other since both worked in the Clinton administration and say they're good friends. Their relationship has had its bumps, however, when it comes to policy and administrative matters.

Last year they clashed over de Blasio's plan for universal prekindergarten. In the fall Cuomo instituted a new Ebola quarantine policy for the city's airports - without telling the mayor. Last month Cuomo gave the mayor a few minutes' notice before he announced an unprecedented shut down city subways in advance of an approaching snow storm.

Despite Cuomo's occasional cold shoulder, de Blasio endorsed Cuomo's re-election bid last year and worked to mend the governor's damaged ties to the Democratic left.

But the frequent roadblocks imposed by the governor have made de Blasio's team resolved to be less conciliatory and deferential in this year's budget process, according to City Hall officials.

De Blasio may have a new ally in Heastie, who was elected Speaker this month after Silver resigned following charges that he took nearly $4 million in kickbacks and payoffs. The mayor toured a Brooklyn housing project with Heastie two weeks ago to tout his affordable housing plan and quietly ventured to Albany last weekend to a reception honoring him.

"New York City needs a strong voice in Albany ... there is a lot of work ahead," de Blasio said in a statement following Heastie's election last month.

Heastie said he has to represent the interests of the entire state, but acknowledged that "a large number" of the Assembly's Democratic majority comes from the city.

"It's always been the Assembly Democrats who make sure the city of New York - and the rest of the state - are looked after," Heastie said.

Associated Press writer Jonathan Lemire contributed to this report from New York.