ECONOMY

De Blasio’s Timidity Hurt NYC Recovery, Mayoral Hopeful Garcia Says

New York City mayoral candidate Kathryn Garcia criticized Mayor Bill de Blasio for lacking the courage to steer the recovery from the pandemic, saying her run grew out of a mix of frustration and ambition.

The former sanitation commissioner quit in September. By Dec. 11, she said she would run to fill the seat vacated by her former boss. If she wins, she would be the city’s first female mayor.

“The mayor was no longer listening,” Garcia, 51, said during an interview Thursday with Bloomberg News editors and reporters. “When you cut the sanitation budget by more than $100 million, you have to understand the implications of that. When we see dirty streets, people intuitively think either government isn’t doing its job or things are really bad. People are really sensitive to that. So that’s why I took on this challenge to run for mayor.”

Garcia stepped down as Covid-19 cases began to rise in what turned out to be a second wave of the pandemic. De Blasio and the City Council had cut $106 million from the sanitation budget and threatened 400 jobs. Trash was piling up as the cuts reduced collections from trash cans on street corners, as well as composting services and rat control.

Garcia had spent seven years as New York’s de facto crisis manager. She took on assignments such as managing public housing and setting up a system that tapped cab drivers to deliver meals as more than a million New Yorkers went hungry after Covid hit. The tasks cemented her reputation as an indispensable fixer, but she resigned when critics say the city needed her most. Garcia said she isn’t worried that voters will hold her abrupt departure against her.

“The city needed to have a pathway forward and I could do that better on the outside than the inside,” she said. “I would have left earlier, but I wanted to be sure that all the programs were in good hands.”

A de Blasio spokesman said Wednesday that the mayor isn’t timid.

“It’s a strange point to make,” press secretary Bill Neidhardt said in an email. De Blasio “has never been influenced by polls, he’s driven by progressive values. I don’t think anyone truly believes otherwise.”

In a city in which registered Democrats outnumber Republicans about 7 to 1, the winner of the June 22 primary is likely to be the next mayor. Among the major candidates, Garcia has the most experience in city government. She’s held multiple appointed managerial and policy-making positions for the past 15 years and as sanitation commissioner, she ran one of the largest such departments in the world.

The city banned the use of Styrofoam during her tenure, and she revamped the approach to snow plowing and started programs for composting and curbside electronics pickup.

In October 2018, when the de Blasio administration was reeling over a federal investigation that revealed the city had underreported lead exposure in public housing for years, the mayor appointed Garcia to supervise abatement and prevention. Within two months, de Blasio appointed her to head the New York City Housing Authority, which houses half a million people, after a federal monitor was appointed to oversee problems with lead, broken boilers, elevators and windows, leaking roofs and unsafe conditions.

As she runs for mayor, Garcia has been endorsed by labor unions representing workers she managed, including the Sanitation Officers Association, the Uniformed Sanitation Chiefs Association, as well as Teamsters and Service Employees International Union locals that represent city and private trash haulers. She said she’d focus on the rebirth of arts, culture and restaurants, as well as reducing the red tape and bureaucracy that she said has slowed the pandemic recovery.

Still, she lacks the name recognition afforded to former presidential candidate Andrew Yang or Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.

Only about 29% of likely Democratic voters know who she is, the lowest name-recognition among eight top candidates, according to a poll this month by Fontas Advisors and Core Decision Analytics. Only 2% of likely primary voters named Garcia as their first choice, the poll reported.

Garcia said the race is young and that she was holding back a big advertising push for May, when more voters would be paying attention. She said ads by Yang and other competitors “aren’t resonating with the public” and criticized what she called undeliverable promises and a lack of understanding of the city. She said Yang mistakenly told 16-year-olds that if they can drive they should be able to vote. Most New York City residents can’t get full driver’s licenses until age 18.

Garcia said she recently took the first Covid vaccine shot and is ready to get out and meet more voters in person. “There will be boots on the ground,” she said. “I have been very cautious.”

Half the electorate is still undecided and “they are looking for someone who can get us back on track,” she said. “They don’t want to be sold a rose garden, because they don’t think you’re going to actually deliver.”

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