The Limits of Electoral Politics

In late October, I was walking out from the local C-Town supermarket to my parents’ apartment building, carrying groceries with both hands when two women working for Bill De Blasio’s campaign attempted to hand me pamphlets, urging me to vote. In the week leading up to the election, I encountered many people on the cold city streets, bundled up, handing out flyers, and yelling after people, reminding them to vote for de Blasio, New York City’s ‘progressive choice.’ De Blasio was supported by many liberals and progressives including one of the largest labor unions, SEIU.  Heralding him as the mayoral candidate of the 99%, labor unions such as SEIU, endorsed him, after some of them initially supported Quinn[1]. Even though it is highly questionable at this point if SEIU should be even counted as a ‘progressive force’ since it has historically voted for whichever candidate would best push forth its agenda (here remembering 32BJ’s unconditional support for the re-election of Bloomberg in 2009). But hey, what can you expect from labor unions nowadays? Or worse yet by what qualifies as ‘progressive?’

Regardless, disillusioned with the Bloomberg regime, many New Yorkers, including liberals and progressives alike supported Bill de Blasio, whose campaign rhetoric centered on ending stop, question and frisk, building affordable housing and tackling gentrification and education; three areas in which el Bloombito, the former billionaire mayor, failed at. The media also took liking to de Blasio’s inter-racial family, and it did not hurt that he used the term “working-class”, previously non-existent in the vocabulary of many New York City politicians, who remained wedded to the woes of the ‘middle-class.’

The campaign promises and the appointment of a 60-person public ‘transition team’[2] have signaled to some that perhaps New York City is moving towards a potential populist leftist agenda[3]. But before we get ahead of ourselves, looking at two of the main issues brought up during the campaign, stop, question and frisk and affordable housing, de Blasio has proven to be more of a continuation in the same ol’ politricks than a break with the past. And his ‘public’ transition team is only half of the picture.

It was during Bloomberg’s reign, that the stop, question and frisk policing strategy expanded, ultimately reaching its apogee in 2012; thus, leading many non-profits and ‘progressive’ groups to rally against this form of racist policing, aligning with local politicians and passing legislation in City Council such as the Community Safety Act, which essentially seeks to only reform the NYPD. So, in comparison to Bloomberg and his outright support of stop, question and frisk to the point of appealing a federal judge’s decision to declare the policing tactic as discriminatory against minorities and hence unconstitutional, de Blasio is heaven sent. Right? Wrong.

In August, de Blasio campaign team released two ads that attempted to connect his family’s experiences with those of many working-class New Yorkers on the issue of stop, question and frisk. The first featured his interracial son, Dante, sporting an afro, reassuring potential voters that his father will truly break with the Bloomberg era by reforming stop, question and frisk which unfairly targets communities of color[4]. The second ad titled “Dignity” was released in late August and portrays de Blasio as the only candidate truly concerned with reforming stop, question and frisk. In this ad, de Blasio expresses concern about the harassment his son could potentially face by NYPD because of policing strategies such as stop, question and frisk, thus truly attempting to connect with communities of color throughout New York City, which are subject to such intimidation and harassment on a daily basis.  These ads coupled with his campaign promise of firing police commissioner Ray Kelly warmed up many voters to de Blasio, especially liberals and non-profit groups, who did not have a radical critique of policing, but instead tended to blame racist policing on a few bad apples, including its police commissioner. So how did the newly elect mayor of Gotham city tackle stop, question and frisk? To assuage the rallying cries of New Yorkers against stop, question and frisk, de Blasio handpicked Bratton, ‘the father of community policing.’ This was indeed an ironic move on de Blasio’s part, given that Bratton is no spring chicken to New York City politics. He is actually the person most responsible for carrying out zero tolerance policing in New York City in the late 1990s under Rudy Giuliani. And we are still reeling from those effects. So, in terms of policing, we cannot hope to see any major changes any time soon, especially by elected politicians. Instead, Bratton’s appointment to the post of police commissioner signals a continuation of same ol’ politricks enacted under Giuliani and Bloomberg.

What about his promise of affordable housing? Since the 1970s and 1980s, New York City has undergone several urban transformations, which have made the city truly unaffordable for many poor, working class and even middle class folks. Under Bloomberg, 104 neighborhoods have been rezoned. During his campaign, de Blasio often spoke of New York City as a ‘tale of two cities,’ calling attention to the inequality visible to many New Yorkers, as they noticed their neighborhoods overtaken one by one by luxury condominiums, fancy boutique shops and cafes selling overpriced lattes. And there is the invisible back-room deals brokered by Bloomberg to support his vision and that of developers of New York City as the playground of the rich. De Blasio’s vision of New York City, as touted on his campaign page, supposedly stands in stark contrast and includes relying on mandatory inclusion zoning to create affordable housing.[5]  How will de Blasio turn back the deals Bloomberg made with developers? Can we depend on electoral politics to create an alternative vision for New York City? Given his latest appointment of Goldman Sach’s Alicia Glen as Deputy Mayor of Housing, we can only imagine the types of changes we should anticipate.[6] This appointment should be disconcerting to the liberal forces of New York City, especially since de Blasio’s transition team also includes a hidden ‘private’ transition players, such as Civic Consulting, USA, a group whose top funders include Bloomberg Philanthropies, as revealed recently by Dana Rubenstein[7]. The suggestion was made to de Blasio aides in a meeting between de Blasio and Rahm Emanuel. The group credits its vision to the work of Civic Consulting Alliance in Chicago, which along with other consulting firms, has been crucial to Rahm Emanuel’s 2011 transition as Chicago mayor of the 1%. As a matter of fact, Civic Consulting Alliance was crucial to forging Emmanuel’s “New Americans Plan.”[8] The connections are indeed fascinating.

All that remains is education. Bloomberg in his tenures as mayor supported charter school initiatives and public school closures, threatened public school teachers with lay-offs, and appointed Cathy Black, a publishing executive to the post of School Chancellor. De Blasio has yet to reveal the next chancellor of education. But given his record thus far, we are hard-pressed to expect any changes from electoral politricks.

Zhandarka Kurti lives in the South Bronx. She can be reached at zh.kurti@gmail.com

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