Mayor Bill de Blasio has a reputation for being inattentive to the minutia of governing New York City, favoring broad policy initiatives to nuts-and-bolts metrics. But behind the scenes, his top aides maintain a painstakingly detailed collection of the mayor’s public promises, and his progress in achieving them.
Each of the promises — 228 during the campaign, and more than 1,000 overall so far — is tracked on a color-coded smartphone app: Red is a bad sign, green is a good one, and a check mark is the goal.
How many check marks de Blasio deserves on his promises, as he gears up for a re-election fight this year, will be one factor for voters judging his performance. For many top officials, including the mayor, it is among the most important, a signal that his administration has lived up to its commitments.
By City Hall’s reckoning, de Blasio has delivered or begun work on 94 percent of the promises made during the 2013 campaign, according to an internal report. Only about a dozen are marked as “not done” or “reconsidered.” The vast majority are still being worked on.
The 149-page report, an annual synopsis of the commitments that was shared with The New York Times, provides a broad view of de Blasio’s approach to government, one less evident from speeches: “Transcendent” ideals are matched, in many cases, to incremental goals.
Provide free lawyers for tenants in housing court? Check. Sign up thousands more seniors and disabled New Yorkers for rent breaks? Mission accomplished. Increase the city’s use of solar energy? In progress.
Addressing a rise in homelessness, perhaps the thorniest issue perplexing the administration, was not among the major 2013 campaign commitments; reforms to address it are among the 850 or so commitments made since the election. Of those in progress, three-quarters are listed as “on track” with the rest either “at risk” or “off track.” The mayor’s office did not provide a list of those newer promises.
The mayoral commitments, which are arranged in a three-level ranking system by priority, are expected to take on a central role in his re-election efforts. His campaign staff is already highlighting some of the biggest commitments, like the promise to create affordable housing, and the success at keeping crime at or near record lows even as the Police Department dialed back on activities like street stops to improve community relations.
There are 18 people in the mayor’s office of operations who spend at least some of their time attending to the commitments. The administration has built on, and improved, the Bloomberg-era tools that allowed City Hall to measure the huge flow of data collected by city government. In addition to a massive screen in City Hall, a holdover from the Bloomberg administration, the data also flows onto the desktop computers and into the smartphones of deputy mayors, chiefs of staff and other top officials.
The “dashboard” provides the most recent statistics, sortable by agency, in order to flag problems daily, and they eventually end up in the mayor’s management report. (A preliminary version of the report was released Monday.)
The verve for data is driven by the first deputy mayor, Anthony Shorris, and shepherded by Mindy Tarlow, the head of the mayor’s office of operations, who describes herself laughingly as “the Rain Man of city government,” a reference to the fictional 1980s Hollywood savant.
“This is how we manage,” said Shorris, displaying a dashboard app that blared red to show trends in the wrong direction. “Because I’m a dark kind of guy, I have them sorted by worst to best. Because if things are going well, I don’t have to worry about them.”
While 20 top officials carry the commitments app, and several dozen more have the mobile dashboards, the mayor does not have either on his BlackBerry smartphone, preferring to get updates from Shorris. (Neither would work on his flip phone, which he favors for many calls.)
There are only three 2013 campaign promises listed by the administration as “not done” in the report. Two are oversight issues with the City Council: doing away with the system of doling out funds to individual members, known as member items; and creating an independent inspector general for the Council. The third is the prolonged and unsuccessful effort to ban horse carriages.
However, the grading, in the administration’s accounting, often appears on a favorable curve.
Take, for instance, the mayor’s promise to provide advanced placement classes in every city high school. Presented by the mayor as “AP for All” in recent news conferences, the 2013 promise as tracked by City Hall is more modest: “expand advanced placement programs.” In that, the administration has been successful. Dozens of high schools now have courses they did not have.
But the success has not been seen at all of the city’s more than 400 high schools. The commitment is recorded, in the report, as “done with ongoing work.”
Another commitment recorded as “done with ongoing work” is a pledge to diversify the Police Department to reflect the “breadth of New York’s residents.” There, success has been less apparent. The report cited the makeup of the most recent graduating class from the Police Academy, whose ranks were 12 percent black, but that is below the roughly 16 percent of patrol officers who are black, and far below the quarter of the city’s population that is black. (About 1 in 5 members of the previous academy class was black, City Hall officials said.)
Others were listed as accomplished, though the promise was not exactly kept. For instance, de Blasio wanted to get a new state law to ban the use of condoms as evidence in prostitution cases, a police tactic seen by critics as discriminatory in some cases and potentially dangerous to public health. No law was passed, but the Police Department agreed to no longer use condoms “as the primary item of evidence,” and so the administration considers it done.
Even the mayor’s signature achievement of providing prekindergarten citywide — heralded by supporters and detractors alike as a major accomplishment — contains an asterisk when held up against the promise made by de Blasio, who vowed to pay for the program through a tax on the city’s wealthiest. Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Republican state legislators balked at that idea, which had been a central plank of de Blasio’s campaign and inaugural address. The state instead provided funds to support the program.
The mayor has more recently taken up a related vow: to see that Albany enacts a “mansion tax” on expensive home sales this year. The prospects of that effort remain uncertain; a similar push failed in 2015.
A pledge to outfit every New York City patrol officer with a body camera by 2019 is among the newest and most ambitious commitments, one that grew more daunting after word this week that the contract for supplying the devices is under scrutiny by the city’s Investigation Department. Despite the inquiry, police officials said they would go forward with purchasing the cameras.
City Hall officials said that the mayor’s focus is about getting to the goal, rather than worrying if the means to get there align with how he originally envisioned them.
De Blasio still faces grumbling from supporters over signature issues like police reform, on which critics argue he is not moving fast enough, and the creation of new housing, which some argue has not been affordable enough.
Homelessness has also emerged as one of the central concerns of City Hall and is likely to figure into this year’s mayoral race. The mayor is set to announce a new plan, and a new set of goals, in the coming weeks.
“Making good on the last campaign’s promises are like marshmallow calories: They can taste good, but they provide little nutrition,” said Bruce Gyory, a Democratic political consultant. “For voters the real meat and potatoes comes from addressing their current concerns and priorities. It is the test of salience.”