Omar’s Oration: De Blasio must speak out against 2031 during visit

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio will participate in a conversation on April 17 at the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts as part of the Speakers on the Square series. As the new-mayor-smell vanishes, it is time for de Blasio to get to work and begin tackling the city’s endless to-do list. During this week’s discussion, he will reveal the issues that he plans to prioritize in the coming years, both in the city and at NYU. As de Blasio learns to manage the duties of the office, he must not betray the promises he made to New York City’s residents during his campaign. This includes his commitment to mend the gap between the city’s wealthy and poor.

In addition to the citywide problems that will be discussed — the lack of arts in high school education, charter schools, enormous homelessness numbers, unmanageable cost of living — the mayor will be questioned on issues pertaining to the NYU community. If asked for comment on the NYU 2031 expansion plan — and it is likely that he will be — de Blasio must be careful but strong-willed in his response. An NYU graduate himself, de Blasio has a long history and healthy relationship with the university, and he has previously expressed public support for NYU 2031. But more than his loyalty to his alma mater, de Blasio has the expectations of the city’s people to meet. On Thursday, those people will be frustrated Greenwich Village residents who have felt silenced by NYU’s powerful, moneyed administration. Though it would be politically wise for de Blasio to rhetorically subvert the question, it would be more honorable and brave for him to reject the merits of NYU 2031 that NYU President John Sexton and the Board of Trustees want us to believe in.

During his first weeks in office, de Blasio appointed several NYU faculty to high-level positions in his administration, raising concerns over their potential influence on the mayor’s view toward the school’s planned expansion. A strong stance in opposition to the plan would quell any fear among Village residents that his appointments hold undue weight.

NYU’s expanding student body, faculty and academic programs need more room to grow, but corrupting the Village is not the right way to attain it. De Blasio must not worry about his allegiance to any institution or individual in crafting his responses for Thursday. His focus should be on upholding the duties of mayor while furthering the goals he presented while campaigning last year. Supporting a heedless, excessive expansion in the middle of one of New York City’s most historic neighborhoods only perpetuates the “tale of two cities” he warned against.

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, April 15 print edition. Omar Etman is a staff columnist. Omar’s Oration is published every Tuesday. Email him at [email protected]