Bill de Blasio and his surrogates have claimed repeatedly that previous New York mayors have ignored economic development in the outer boroughs. At a May press conference the mayor stated, “the goal when we set out was to have a five borough economy. . . . We did not have that back in 2013, we just didn’t. We had a government too focused on one borough, Manhattan, and we had an economy dominated by one borough, Manhattan.” In August, the mayor commented on Brooklyn’s strong job growth, saying, “once upon a time, no one would have believed that sentence, right? If you said job growth, you would have been saying Manhattan.”
This narrative—that previous mayors have ignored the outer boroughs in favor of Manhattan—is untrue. There has been some private-sector job growth outside Manhattan during the de Blasio years, but it has been largely continuous with employment increases starting in Michael Bloomberg’s third term. De Blasio is falsifying the history of economic-development policy in the city.
Outer-borough job growth has not significantly surpassed its pace during the last three years of the Bloomberg administration. Citywide, job growth over both periods was roughly the same: 5.7 percent over the period from 2011 to 2013, against 5.6 percent over the period from 2014 to 2016. Brooklyn has seen remarkable development under de Blasio, with 10.5 percent three-year job growth versus 6.7 percent growth from 2011 to 2013—but job growth in Queens was unchanged and actually slowed in the Bronx, Staten Island, and Manhattan.
As for de Blasio’s predecessors ignoring the boroughs that aren’t Manhattan, consider the record of Ed Koch. In the mid-1980s, he pushed for funding to develop an area of downtown Brooklyn as an academic-industrial research park. MetroTech Center added millions of square feet of office space, and today is the site of back-office operations for financial companies, National Grid, the FDNY, and the 3-D printing pioneer MakerBot. Thousands of jobs and millions of dollars of economic activity derive from the enormous development, which has been key to the revitalization of Brooklyn’s downtown. Koch also directed billions into housing development in the South Bronx and central Brooklyn—areas that had been devastated by fire and neglect. Through aggressive and creative financing, the Koch administration assisted local civic organizations in building or rehabilitating tens of thousands of units of housing for working- and middle-class people, revitalizing decayed outer-borough neighborhoods.
Rudy Giuliani also promoted outer-borough job growth, including the designation of seven high-tech districts in the outer boroughs to encourage digital-technology companies to locate in areas such as Long Island City (Queens) and DUMBO (Brooklyn). The initiatives were only partially successful, but Giuliani’s primary contribution to outer-borough job growth and prosperity was initiating the Compstat Era of law enforcement, along with Broken Windows policing. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, low-level criminality in New York City was largely ignored, and the rate of serious crime soared. Murders peaked at 2,245 in 1990 but dropped to about 700 by the time Giuliani’s two-term mayoralty ended. Car theft, burglary, and other crimes underwent similar declines through the nineties. This type of street-level criminality, over years, had vitiated the commercial districts of outer-borough neighborhoods. Following the crime turnaround, from Kings Highway in Brooklyn to Roosevelt Avenue or Main Street in Queens, local businesses began to return to the outer boroughs and thrive there. It is impossible to disconnect economic prosperity throughout the boroughs from the security that Giuliani delivered through crime prevention.
Michael Bloomberg’s economic-development policies truly put the lie to de Blasio’s claims about his unique concern for outer-borough job growth. The Bloomberg administration was singularly focused on all-city development. It was Bloomberg and his economic development chief Daniel Doctoroff who undertook the rezoning of the waterfront for commercial and residential purposes, which anchors de Blasio’s ferry and streetcar transit solutions. Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, including the Barclay’s Center, has its detractors, but is nevertheless an important Bloomberg-era development having a major impact on central Brooklyn. Bloomberg also rehabilitated Industry City, now a thriving center of innovation after decades of decay.
Mayor de Blasio is to be congratulated for helping foster entrepreneurship and job growth throughout the five boroughs. But his false history regarding his predecessors should be corrected.
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