He's No Bloomberg, But New York's Next Mayor Is Your Friend
BY Diana Ransom
If it's true that what happens in New York City could ripple out to the rest of the country, you might want to pay attention to the Big Apple's next mayor, Bill de Blasio.
It's often said that New York City is a barometer for what's to come across the U.S. So it may be fitting to consider the business stance and potential policies of its incoming mayor, Bill de Blasio.
On the campaign trail, the sitting public advocate of NYC ran on a platform of stamping out inequality--offering to help bolster the middle class and end policies that crowded out this constituency in recent years. In the campaign address that would serve as the defining moment of his candidacy, de Blasio referred to NYC over the past few decades as a tale of two cities--where the gap between the rich and the poor is vast and becoming more so.
While surely this talk is welcome news for more than a few business owners, others fear that he would rain on their parade--an outcome that could still come to pass but isn't as likely as people think.
First, a bit of background: For the past 12 years, Michael R. Bloomberg, a billionaire businessman with a passion for numbers, has served as NYC's mayor. During that time, many entrepreneurs have chosen the Big Apple to base their businesses while giant companies like Google have expanded their footprints. The city itself has not only blossomed as a prominent tech and startup hub, it's also become what Bloomberg himself touts as "the safest big city in America" and tourism has skyrocketed.
Naturally, Bloomberg had his misses in the eyes of the business community--among others, the letter grades for restaurant hygiene and citywide bike lanes confounded some owners. But mostly, business under Bloomberg was humming.
"New York was notorious for insider deals and being closed to innovation. So, Mike rewrote the book," says Jigar Shah, founder of SunEdison and partner at Inerjys, a clean-tech investment firm in NYC. "From car sharing to solar and energy efficiency, to bike sharing, New York is a more innovative, friendly place to entrepreneurs."
The combination of seeing Bloomberg's departure and the arrival of de Blasio, a far more populist politician who has called for raising taxes on the wealthiest New Yorkers, has frayed nerves.
Notwithstanding his more flamboyant stump speeches, de Blasio does have some solid business-friendly ideas. Among other proposals, he has promised to crack down on "nuisance fines" for minor infractions, offer technical assistance to immigrant entrepreneurs and establish economic development groups in every neighborhood
Contrary to what some entrepreneurs and business owners think, the end is not near for NYC's thriving tech and business communities. In a recent article in the New York Times magazine, Adam Davidson spoke with Benjamin Barber, a political theorist and author of If Mayors Ruled the World.
As it turns out, Barber believes that political leanings don't matter much when actual governance comes into play, as mayors tend to be far less dogmatic once they take office than their counterparts in Congress. "The distance between Bloomberg and de Blasio is not as great as the media--and the two men--have made out," he says. "Being a mayor is about solving problems and not about striking ideological poses."
Wall Street and business owners may be quaking in their boots, but de Blasio's policies likely won’t be as severe as people think.
Just consider his proposed tax hike on the wealthy. To make way for the introduction of universal pre-K and after-school programs, de Blasio is proposing to raise income-tax rates on those earning more than $500,000 by one half of one percent to 4.4 percent from 3.9 percent. That would amount to an enhanced tax on just 40,000 New Yorkers--not exactly fanning the flames of a nascent socialist revolution.
To be sure, these are still early days, as de Blasio hasn't even taken office yet. And though it's certainly possible that he will alter the landscape of what it means to be a business owner and entrepreneur in New York City, it might also be a good idea to reserve judgment until a later date.
Like many of his predecessors in NYC and elsewhere, de Blasio is pragmatic. He's not likely to gift-wrap the city's tax base and ship it off to Connecticut any time soon, for instance. Nor would he go out of his way to crush the city's burgeoning startup scene.
The Big Apple's future mayor may be as ideological as they come, but he's also a politician with deep roots in NYC and a vested interest in keeping it healthy. This isn't to say that you stand idly by if you don't like something City Hall wants to push through--especially when newfangled startups are concerned. (Think, Airbnb's recent brush with a New York regulator.) But writing off this mayor--and the next few years under his watch--may be premature.
If what happens in New York City does in fact harbinger what's to come elsewhere, it's probably safe to say that startups and the business community in general will remain on solid ground.