New York Libraries Pt. II: Bill deGuardia: The right way for de Blasio to honor the New Deal legacy is to rescue aging public housing, hospitals, libraries and more

Photo by Kevin Wolf

NEW YORK DAILY NEWS  When Bill de Blasio set off for Washington last week to unveil a Progressive Agenda to rewire the rules of economic engagement and enable broadly shared prosperity, he proudly invoked the legacies of two great New Yorkers as paving the way.

Former Gov. and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, de Blasio said, showed via the New Deal 80 years ago how government can remake the economic order for the popular good.

De Blasio surely owns his claim on their vast progressive legacy, which encompasses public housing, mass transit and much more — great works that put New Yorkers back to work during the Great Depression and have enriched their lives ever since.

In rapid succession, he has delivered on universal pre-K, paid sick leave, municipal ID and a living wage for employees on government-funded projects. He continues to fight for a higher minimum wage for all New Yorkers and an affordable housing empire.

Yet all this ambition exposes a powerful irony: Even as de Blasio carries past innovators on his shoulders as heroes, and forges shiny new tools to combat economic inequality, New York’s New Deal brick, mortar and steel legacies, and those of more than a century of progressive endeavors, stagger for want of investment.

More than 400,000 public housing residents live with the consequences of $18 billion in unfunded maintenance work, heading to court by the hundreds in a desperate bid to force repairs to unsafe, unlivable conditions by judges’ order.

Public hospitals, our front line against epidemics and catastrophic injury, are burning through the last of their cash, and facing a billion-dollar annual budget hole.

Subways swell and stall for want of modern signals.

Libraries that can’t afford to keep a full-service schedule close their doors on patrons seeking a lifeline to jobs, literacy and the glories of the internet, in woefully outdated buildings.

None of these crises is new, or of this mayor’s making. But as de Blasio turns to the New Deal as his lodestone, the decay of the inherited legacy jumps into sharp relief.

To sustain these vital assets for a new generation, this mayor must muster the same courage and creativity that once drove his predecessors.

Paradoxically, that likely demands a break from the New Deal mold, which relied on generous infusions of funds redistributed via Washington.

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