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De Blasio launches ambitious education plan as prelude to possible run for governor

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2020 State of the State Address

New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio attends the State of the State address in Albany on Jan. 8, 2020.

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New York Mayor Bill de Blasio continues to sidestep questions about running for governor next year, insisting only that he remains committed to some sort of "public service."

But if he does run – and even if he doesn't – it's clear that working to expand education opportunities to include universal pre-K and summer enrichment programs for all New Yorkers will serve as the foundation for his immediate future. Announcing on Thursday his plan to "revolutionize education in New York State," de Blasio told The Buffalo News he will travel the state in coming months to build support for goals he thinks will not only improve the experience for children, but also relieve financial and emotional needs of families – even if it involves more taxes on rich people.

"It will be the single most ambitious education strategy ever launched in the history of this nation, and it should be in New York," de Blasio said in a Thursday phone interview.

"When it comes to kids, they need more guarantees than they get, and there should be a single standard for the whole state," he added.

Indeed, the mayor has successfully introduced some of his new concepts into the New York City school system over the last eight years. They include universal pre-K, expanding the program to include 3-year-olds, free after school programs and seven weeks of free full-day summer education and enrichment for grades K-12. Now, he says similar programs should be "all day, all year, all free," and seeks to implement them around the state.

"These are actually achievable things," he said. "I want to see those kinds of opportunities for the whole state, and I think it's the right moment in history. We're starting to realize we can do bigger things."

The mayor has said repeatedly in recent months that he is looking beyond the end of his term-limited tenure in Gracie Mansion on Dec. 31. While many include him on a growing list of those looking to challenge incumbent Gov. Kathy Hochul in a Democratic primary, he has made no commitment, even as others such as Attorney General Letitia A. James and New York City Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams have announced candidacies. He stuck to that position Thursday, though he acknowleded that he will soon address his political future.

Still, he now expects to campaign for his program around New York State, using contributions from a recently established political committee to publicly make his case.

"This is what I have devoted years and years to," he said. "I think there are a lot of people in the State of New York who care about kids and families and doing something different ... and who want to get this done."

Firmly entrenched in the state Democratic Party's progressive wing, the mayor proposes paying for his concepts by taxing the wealthy, pointing to the state's 118 billionaires as among those who would be asked to pay more. Hochul and her predecessor, former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, have always resisted that idea. But now he thinks the political will exists throughout New York State for Albany to "do something bold."

"It's amazing when you look at public opinion surveys that Democrats, Republicans and independents, too, believe the wealthy are not paying their fair share in taxes," de Blasio said. "For the working class and the middle class, it's still hard to make ends meet.

"I think that's something that will be appealing to people all over the state and different kinds of New Yorkers. They don't mind their tax dollars going to education."

The mayor noted he initiated similar programs in New York City during a time when Covid-19 had ravaged its school system and many other aspects of everyday life.

"I feel like I want to serve more. I feel more energized and not less energized, and certainly I'll be moving around the state," he said. "In the end, the most important thing is to define what you're about and what you stand for. This is a mission I'm going to be on, no matter what."

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