“The city must finalize a plan quickly,” borough presidents Gale Brewer and Eric Adams urged in a recent letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio regarding next year’s L Train shutdown.
Among other frightening scenarios, the letter warned that “L train riders will find themselves crowded onto other subway lines that are dangerously beyond capacity and waiting to get onto platforms so crowded that the NYPD may make riders wait on the street.”
How the city will handle such chaos raises a series of logistical questions that planners, local businesses and countless impacted city residents are eager to address. Brewer and Adams singled out 24/7 shuttle bus service over the Williamsburg Bridge as just one of many necessary measures.
The tone of exasperation from elected officials points to an even larger problem: It’s nearly June but it’s not at all clear what Mayor de Blasio hopes to accomplish in his second term as mayor.
At his State of the City address this past February, de Blasio made no mention of planning for the L Train shutdown, nor did he say much about affordable housing or the homeless problem. Instead, the mayor championed various measures aimed at increasing voter participation and cleaning up government—a worthwhile endeavor, but not exactly in-sync with the ongoing allegations regarding de Blasio’s corrupt backroom deals with donors.
In recent weeks, de Blasio has declared his support for heroin safe-injection sites and his commitment to reforming the NYPD’s racially discriminatory marijuana enforcement. But in both cases his announcements have been reactive to pressure from criminal justice activists and the press.
Long before his first term began, city residents knew that de Blasio’s main policy goal was to enact universal pre-k. Most of the city’s large public-sector workforce also knew that they would get favorable contracts from the union-friendly mayor.
But along with recurring rent freezes for rent-stabilized tenants, pre-k and the union contracts also helped fulfill de Blasio’s main mission in his first term: to win reelection. As a product of the Dinkins administration, de Blasio shuddered at the prospect of becoming the next one-term Democrat to occupy City Hall.
Now that he is term-limited, de Blasio quite conceivably can limp along through the next 3.5 years as a large but very lame duck, responding only to the headlines while plotting out his future plans. It’s also a safe bet that if and when the L Train disaster occurs, he’ll be sure to blame Andrew Cuomo.
There’s still ample time for the mayor to push a big-ticket agenda, however. In addition to a clear blueprint for the L shutdown, de Blasio could put forward a viable alternative to congestion policing (which he has rejected). The calamitous closure of a large swath of Rockaway beach points to the need for comprehensive climate change planning. And if he wants the closure of Rikers to be a legacy project, de Blasio could link his positions on safe injection sites and marijuana enforcement to that larger goal.
In the wake of the “Agents of the City” email revelations, de Blasio’s frosty relationship with the press just got even frostier, meaning that the mayor may have a hard time selling his agenda. But sputtering along through his second term will hardly benefit de Blasio’s post-City Hall career.
C’mon, Bill. Give us something to look forward to in your second term.
Theodore Hamm is chair of journalism and new media studies at St. Joseph’s College in Brooklyn. He is the editor of Frederick Douglass in Brooklyn (Akashic Books, 2017).