NEW YORK—It was a rare moment of relief for Mayor Bill de Blasio Sunday afternoon as he shook hands and took pictures with families that had just signed up for prekindergarten, his administration’s top priority.
De Blasio and his wife, Chirlane McCray, visited an information session in Brooklyn Public Library, where volunteers were helping Brooklyn parents sign children up for pre-K.
It hasn’t been an easy week for the mayor. He’s in the middle of negotiating a contract with the United Federation of Teachers, the city’s largest union. He faced pushback in Albany on his idea of how to fund pre-K. And on Wednesday, the deadly East Harlem gas explosion brought up questions about the city’s aging infrastructure.
After attending services at two churches saddened by the loss of their members in the gas blast, the pre-K session was an opportunity for de Blasio to bask in public relations of a more comfortable kind. He chatted with 4-year-olds and grinned for photographers.
“What’s her name?” he asked about a girl in a pink jacket holding a book called “Teeny Tiny Animals.” “Mia,” replied her father, Edwin Melendez.
“Hi Mia, how are you?” the mayor said. “Are you ready for pre-K?” Mia didn’t reply, but smiled shyly. “That’s a smile,” de Blasio said.
“We have a lot of families coming out today, which is what we wanted,” said Kim Adams of the Department of Education’s Office of Early Education.
Some families with younger children came too, just to get information, Adams said.
“Families need to plan and have this be something they can depend on and be reliable,” de Blasio said.
De Blasio has argued that reliable funding in the form of a tax on New Yorkers who make more than $500,000 is necessary to implement universal pre-K. The tax hike, which needs approval from Albany, would be in place for five years and serve solely for pre-K and middle school after-school programs.
Yet the Republican-controlled state Senate opposes tax increases of any kind, as does Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The mayor was soon reminded of this reality while answering questions at a press conference after the info session.
The state Assembly passed a budget resolution Wednesday that includes the tax hike. Yet the Senate’s budget resolution offers the city’s pre-K the same amount of money the tax would, $340 million, but without the tax increase.
De Blasio said this is all part of “the democratic process.”
“I understand the Senate’s position. They have a different vision, but they still believe it has to happen, they still believe it has to be fully funded,” he said.