Mayor Bill de Blasio, promoting his message of income equality and empowering the less fortunate, pressed influential New York City business leaders on Thursday to raise their workers’ starting pay to $13 an hour.
The liberal mayor made his call in front of a group that broadly supported his predecessor, billionaire businessman Michael Bloomberg, and at times had been skeptical of de Blasio’s agenda: a gathering of the well-heeled and powerful known as The Association for a Better New York.
“I want to call on you, the business leaders gathered in this room, to do your part,” the mayor, a Democrat, said. “I need you, we all need you, to take responsibility for providing the great people in this city with the opportunities, the better wages, the chances for advancement that they need and deserve.”
De Blasio has repeatedly asked Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature to raise New York’s minimum wage to $13. Albany, to this point, has balked, leading the mayor to make his case to the private sector to do more for those at the margins of society.
“It means raising wages for your workers,” de Blasio said. “This is the crucial need for our times. Companies across our city should move as quickly as possible to raise their minimum wage to over $13 an hour.”
The mayor’s request was met with polite applause and a few audible chuckles from the crowd gathered in the opulent ballroom of The Pierre Hotel just off Fifth Avenue. The state’s current minimum wage, $8.75, is slated to go to $9 at year’s end.
The governor, who has frequently thwarted or co-opted elements of de Blasio’s agenda, has unveiled a budget plan that would raise it to $11.50 in New York City and $10.50 outside the city.
Kathy Wylde, head of the business coalition Partnership for New York City, said she supported a raise in wages but signaled that the more gradual approach may be preferable for many business leaders gathered in the room. She also suggested that the jobs that many companies are trying to fill are higher-paying posts for employees who need more enhanced training than what is currently being offered.
But she said that the business community would be a “full partner” in battling the city’s affordability crisis.
“The business community of New York looked to Mayor Michael Bloomberg as one of their own and that was easy,” Wylde said. “They are getting to know Mayor de Blasio. And I think that relationship is going in a very positive direction.”
De Blasio urged the business group to support his plan to develop or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing by 2024 and back his overhaul of New York’s workforce-training program. The mayor also announced other smaller policy initiatives, including a $150 million investment to revitalize the Hunts Point Market in the Bronx, through which much of the city’s food supply passes.
He received warm applause from the group when he discussed his idea to expand commuter ferry service and when he touted his effort to expand pre-kindergarten. But the crowd was quiet for most of this speech, the clinking of silverware often the only sounds heard from the audience during the mayors’ nearly hour-long remarks.
“Think of the all the success stories in this room that wouldn’t have even been possible without something paying off, a reward for those who struggle with a singular sense of purpose,” de Blasio said. “That idea — one that has paid huge dividends for so many here today — is now at risk.”
The association holds a significant place in the story of de Blasio’s political rise.
In 2012, he was an overlooked, long-shot mayoral candidate when he used a speech to the group to announce his plan to raise taxes on the rich to fund the pre-kindergarten expansion, a proposal that became the centerpiece of his campaign. Many opposed the tax, which later died in Albany. The program was instead funded by money in the state budget.
A year later, he returned to address the association again just days before he became mayor. Thursday marked his first remarks to the group as mayor.
Though de Blasio’s relations with Wall Street executives and other business leaders could hardly be considered cozy, they have improved somewhat, in part due to the mayor’s outreach. He recently hosted several industry heavyweights for meetings at City Hall and worked with several business leaders during the city’s ill-fated bid to host the 2016 Democratic National Convention.
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