As New York City voters prepare to pick from the dozens of candidates running for mayor, it’s important to understand what the occupant of the job can and cannot do. Want to expand early childhood education, create a new municipal identification card, add more bike lanes — do it! Feel like instituting a millionaire’s tax, changing the subway fare, or building a casino – not so fast. To help voters evaluate which candidate is best suited for this job and all that it entails, here’s a quick look at what the mayor of New York City does.
Serves as the Chief Executive
The mayor serves as the city’s Chief Executive, with the power to appoint and remove the commissioners of more than 40 city agencies including the police, fire, education, sanitation, health and more. The mayor also appoints dozens of representatives to City boards and commissions. Serving up to two four-year terms for an annual salary of $258,750, the mayor sets the agenda for the city in terms of policies and budget priorities. The mayor has full control over the city’s public schools, authorized through state approval, which means the buck stops with the mayor on all things education. The mayor also functions as the chief influencer with a citywide and national bully pulpit. The job is often referred to as the second most important, and difficult job, in American politics and government.
Sets budget priorities for billions of dollars
The city runs on a fiscal year calendar that starts on July 1 and runs through the end of June. The mayor oversees the preparation of a preliminary budget each January, as well as the capital budget and financial plans. That proposal becomes the first step in a months-long negotiation between the mayor and the City Council over how city’s money should be allocated, what departments should grow or shrink, which programs should be expanded or contracted and how big the municipal workforce should be. The mayor also oversees the office that contracts with the city’s municipal labor unions negotiating wages and benefits.
Last month, Mayor Bill de Blasio presented a $92 billion preliminary budget plan for Fiscal Year 2022, which emphasizes essential services and the public response to the coronavirus pandemic. After receiving input from the Council, the mayor will present an updated executive budget in late April. The mayor and the Council must agree and enact a balanced budget by June 30th.
Manages relationships with state and federal lawmakers
The mayor serves as the city’s advocate, champion and negotiator, (hopefully) fostering productive relationships with state and federal lawmakers. One of the early distinguishing characteristics of the de Blasio mayoralty was his fractured relationship with Governor Andrew Cuomo. Both Democrats, the two began battling from the first months of 2014, over how to pay for pre-kindergarten and whether to expand charter schools. Each year, the feuding seemed to escalate, often making the mayor’s annual trips to Albany to testify before a joint committee of the state legislature over the city’s budget needs into moments of heightened drama. That strained relationship persists and has continued to be problematic during the city’s response to Covid-19. The mayor also needs to foster productive relationships with federal lawmakers. Ultimately, it is about ensuring the city receives the funding and sees legislation enacted that benefit those living within the five boroughs.
Proposes, enacts and vetos local laws
The mayor can propose new laws to be passed by the Council or signed through executive orders. The mayor can also veto legislation passed by the City Council. (Any veto can be overridden by a two-thirds vote of the Council.) That can include policies from banning smoking in city bars and restaurants, a credit to Mayor Micheal Bloomberg; or the expansion of the city’s paid sick leave law, one of the early accomplishments of Mayor de Blasio.
Oversees major zoning, land use and housing policy decisions
The mayor plays a major role in the city’s development when it comes to zoning and land use. That can mean proposing changes to citywide zoning regulations like de Blasio-backed Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH), a change that was intended to spur affordable housing development across the city. The mayor also plays a decisive role in so-called ULURP decisions, those are instances where a developer is applying to build something that is different from what the land is currently zoned to be used for. Essentially, the mayor can leave a lasting mark on neighborhoods, coastlines, streetscapes and the people who love or hate them based on what does or does not get built.
Makes judicial appointments
The Mayor appoints Criminal Court Judges, Family Court Judges and Interim Civil Court Judges, pursuant to state law.
Line of Succession
If the mayor resigns, dies or is removed from office, the Public Advocate serves as acting mayor until a special election or general election is held, depending on when the vacancy occurs.
The Mayor sits ex officio on the boards of the 33 City-owned cultural institutions that are part of the Cultural Institutions Group as well as the Brooklyn Public Library, Center for Arts Education, Jazz at Lincoln Center, Museum of Arts and Design, Museum of Modern Art, New York Public Library and Queens Borough Public Library.
Can the mayor raise taxes?
The mayor can raise property taxes if approved by the City Council, something that Mayor Michael Bloomberg did in 2002 to address the fiscal crisis triggered in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. For every other tax (Millionaire’s, Mansion, Personal Income), the mayor must receive approval from the Council before seeking approval from state lawmakers.
The other options for raisings revenues: fines, fees and what the city charges for water and sewer payments.
Can the mayor fix the subways?
The subways are controlled by the MTA which is essentially controlled by the state. Several mayoral candidates, past and present, have proposed taking control of the system. But the idea would require changes in state law, a new budget structure and major cooperation with Albany.
The mayor can have a big impact on city streets however in terms of parking rules, bike lanes, bus-only lanes and streets, and outdoor dining, proposals that have become part of transforming the city streetscape during the pandemic. The mayor also can create new forms of transportation, like setting up bike share programs or launching a citywide ferry system.
Can the mayor open a new casino?
No. The state regulates gaming operations in the state and issues licenses for casinos. While the idea has gained traction among some real estate developers and at least one mayoral candidate, it’s far from something that falls under the purview of what the mayor can do, without assistance from Albany.