New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg gave his 2012 State of the City speech Thursday in the Bronx, focusing on education, innovation and jobs in the wide-ranging address.
The mayor's lengthy discussion of city issues began after a brief introduction by Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and was sandwiched between a succession of student performances, including ones by the Keltic Dreams Dance Group and the Celia Cruz High School of Music band, which played a Latin-flavored version of New York, New York to close the event.
But the main entertainment of the evening was a video Bloomberg showed touting his outer-borough taxi initiative in which he took a livery cab to the Bronx, arriving late to a tune by Lady Gaga, as former Mayor Ed Koch, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott and other worthies made appearances along the way.
You can never get a yellow cab outside of Manhattan, the mayor said to kick off the clip, which was a genuine and funny way to introduce the man of the hour, and set a positive tone for the afternoon.
By hosting the event at the cathedral-like Morris High School -- the 110-year-old first public school in the Bronx and alma mater of Colin Powell and Queens Borough President Helen Marshall -- Bloomberg signaled that he would be speaking extensively about education.
And he delivered, introducing two new programs that he hopes will ensure the city can get and keep the best teachers but may threaten a bitter fight with the United Federation of Teachers over teacher evaluations and merit pay.
The first, less-controversial program would create an incentive for top-tier college graduates to teach in New York by creating a mechanism for them to have up to $25,000 of their student loans paid off if they teach at city public schools.
But it is the retention aspect of his speech -- which introduces a new version of merit pay -- that has the head honchos at the UFT up in arms.
We also want to retain the best teachers by offering them a big raise. If you are rated 'highly effective' for two consecutive years, we will hike your salary by $20,000 per year, Bloomberg told the crowd. Rewarding great teachers is an idea whose time has come, and we hope the UFT will join us in this effort. Tenure should be something that is earned, not automatically granted.
UFT President Michael Mulgrew said Bloomberg seems to be lost in his own fantasy world of education in a vitriolic response to Bloomberg's comments e-mailed shortly after the event.
It doesn't do the kids and the schools any good for him to propose the kind of teacher merit-pay system that has failed in school districts around the country, Mulgrew wrote. If he's really interested in improving the schools his administration has mishandled, he will send his negotiators back to the table to reach an agreement on a new teacher evaluation process.
That battle will play out over the coming year, but Bloomberg also announced a plan to open 100 new schools - including 50 controversial charter schools -- over the next two years, and to create at least 12 schools aimed at getting students good jobs after graduation through partnerships with private companies and the City University of New York.
The mayor also touted the success he has had so far toward fulfilling his dream of bringing an applied-sciences school to Roosevelt Island, shouting out Cornell University, which along with an Israeli university will build a major new campus there in order to complement the city's burgeoning tech sector.
But schools were not the only topic on a laundry list of plans and accomplishments Bloomberg ticked off throughout the afternoon, and he also made sure to emphasize development and jobs.
What the mayor's office billed in the days leading up to Thursday's State of the City as one of the most important initiatives to be announced was a new step forward on the repurposing of the long-empty Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx.
Borough President Diaz and the mayor have a history of disagreement on the project, and Bloomberg seemed to swallow his pride Thursday, saying that the issue of Kingsbridge is not about politics, and that he and Diaz are hoping to find a way to effectively repurpose the space in a way that benefits the surrounding community.
We're releasing an RFP -- a request for proposals -- for a new operator for the armory, the mayor said, adding that it is open to potential suitors from businessmen to arts groups. We're hopeful the Kingsbridge Armory, vacant for some 15 years, will soon be occupied.
And he said job-creating projects are coming to every borough in 2012, from the opening of the new JetBlue headquarters in Queens to the opening of the Barclays Center arena in Brooklyn.
In an unexpected move that likely came as a surprise to many who see Bloomberg as a pretty fiscally conservative mayor, he called for a raise in the city's minimum wage.
This year, our administration will join with [state Assembly] Speaker Shelly Silver to push for a responsible raise in the minimum wage. Our city just cannot afford to wait for Washington, Bloomberg said. You're going to have to work, but if you work, we're going to be there to help.
But Bloomberg could already count some unlikely figures as possible supporters in that effort as of Thursday afternoon, including conservative Republican City Councilman Dan Halloran.
Mayor's call for NYS to raise the minimum wage is another controversial (but likely necessary) glove dropped in his SOC, Halloran said on Facebook Thursday.
The speech ended on a high note, coming off as an exhortation of the city and its penchant for innovation and success, as well as a chance for Bloomberg to pat himself on the back and lay out a new vision for the city's future.
This is the state of our city: Never more promise and possibility, Bloomberg told the crowd. Together, we the people will build our future, and we will not rest - not for one second - until we have fulfilled the promise and possibility of our great city for every single New Yorker. Thank you.