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DeBlasio’s New York

As the dust particles resettle over the status quo in New York City their trail has left a bag of mixed results. On one hand the two week work slowdown undertaken by the NYPD in the wake of the murders of Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu was well on its way to proving that instant mayhem, mainly in the form of unsupervised dark skinned hordes, would not in fact ensue in the absence of broken window policing. Pat Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (PBA) and a man who disgraced himself more than anyone, will be facing the first challenge to his office this coming June and local newspapers have reported several incidents where Lynch hasn’t been received kindly at precincts- and while images of rows of police turning their backs on Mayor DeBlasio made headlines only a miniscule percentage of officers actually signed Lynch’s petition to block DeBlasio from attending funerals for slain officers (issued before the murders of Liu and Ramos). As for DeBlasio himself, while he rhetorically bent some, he can be credited with not breaking in the face of incessant banter that he apologize for publically stating, in the wake of the Eric Gardner non-indictment, that he tells his biracial son to take care when interacting with police. Meanwhile, with the NYPD itself now a force mostly made up of minorities, a Reuters’ story from last December interviewed 25 African American male officers, both retired and current. All but one claimed to have been victims of racial profiling at one time or another.

On the other hand DeBlasio and Police Commissioner Bratton have vigorously defended Broken Windows policing throughout the turmoil and only several days ago Bratton announced the creation of a new 350 officer team to be equipped with long rifles and machine guns for what Bratton eerily stated “It is designed for dealing with events like our own recent protests, or incidents like Mumbai, or what just happened in Paris.” Several New York media publications, including the Daily News and the Times, have printed modifications of that, claiming that there will be two new units and the one slated to deal with protestors won’t pack automatic weapons but still dark clouds linger. Bratton recently put forward the idea of upgrading the charge resisting an officer from a misdemeanor to a felony.

The same mixed bag dynamic can be applied to DeBlasio’s overall reign thus far. He dropped the city’s appeal (so militantly pursued by his predecessor Michael Bloomberg) against a Court of Appeals ruling that the infamous ‘Stop and Frisk’ program was unconstitutional and (along with Bratton) has stated that the police would be ordered to back off arrests for marijuana. According to the ACLU’s data stops by police were down substantially for the first three quarters of 2014 (along with a slight decrease in stops of the totally innocent- 82 percent in 2014 as opposed to an average of about 88 percent the previous decade), yet the people being stopped were the same: over 80 percent black and Hispanic (54 percent and 27 percent respectively).

The progress towards universal pre-K under DeBlasio has been admirable, though perhaps that such progress was needed reflects greater on a reactionary political climate. In the face of a class action lawsuit, joined by the U.S. Attorney General of Manhattan, against violent conditions at Rikers Island, DeBlasio issued a plan to ban solitary confinement for inmates 21 and younger and proposed $130 million plan to decrease the number of mentally ill prisoners. And perhaps DeBlasio deserves some credit for negotiating solid contracts with various public unions, again solid for today’s political environment. In fact the main exception being Lynch’s PBA, a fact that probably bears on Lynch’s confrontational stance towards DeBlasio- though Lynch as always preferred holding tough for state arbitration which in 2008 slapped rookie officers with an absurd $28,000 salary. It took years to undo that damage. Yet it’s also worth noting that the structure of the new contracts was the same one Bloomberg used around his first reelection in 2005 (it may be forgotten but at the time public unions backed Bloomberg’s reelection in a quid pro quo). DeBlasio also backed Bloomberg’s silly ban on sodas of a certain size before that was struck down by the courts and has taken the Bloomberg-ish step of issuing a bill to outlaw horse-drawn carriages in Central Park.

More significantly DeBlasio shares Bloomberg’s penchant for neighborhood rezoning, including the rezoning that Bloomberg himself left in the pike-rezoning arguably being the main cause for the destruction to the fabric of so many city neighborhoods from Williamsburg to Washington Heights. Central to this is housing policy and again here DeBlasio’s approach takes after Bloomberg: subsidize large developers in exchange for a set number of units reserved for below market rents (albeit DeBlasio has apparently been more aggressive in negotiations thus far than Bloomberg, himself literally a walking corporation). Last week DeBlasio’s state of the city speech focused on his plan, involving rezonings in East New York, Long Island City, and the area surrounding Jerome Ave in the Bronx, to build or preserve 200,000 affordable housing units to go along with building 160,000 market-rate apartments. This vision of denser, mixed income evoke romantic connections to Antebellum New York, however it’s unclear if such an approach will have a major impact on housing costs. For one thing the poorest residents receive no special consideration in the lotteries for the affordable housing and these lotteries have already become elaborate and time consuming affairs. Thus far rents have shown no real decline and even DeBlasio seems to easily accept at least some continued displacement as inevitable. No more aggressive approaches like revitalized public housing or cooperatives are in the conversation, nor does it seem rezoning ever reaches wealthy, desirable Manhattan neighborhoods where height restrictions (and landmark statutes) on buildings leaves million dollar brownstones intact forever and spares locals there the presence of many newcomers who would desire those locations, while gentrification pressure is funneled to working class neighborhoods in the outer boroughs.

In other words, seen in a certain light one would have to search hard for great difference between DeBlasio and Bloomberg. Still, at the risk of getting ahead of oneself, there is reason to suspect DeBlasio’s term, and especially his possible reelection in a few years, may by accident be the beginning of a new era for the city: Namely it may be the final end of the Koch-Giuliani-Bloomberg coalition (it may be unfair to list Bloomberg completely with those other two windbags but it’s also probably true that Bloomberg was only elected the first time after being endorsed by Giuliani who was basking in his fraudulent post-9/11 glory, and it’s also the case that Stop and Frisk was Bloomberg’s baby). Despite the hysteria at places like Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post, the junky mouthpiece of old Giuliani voters, crime has not spiked since Stop and Frisk has been limited (despite the effort of the Post to sensationalize every possible crime the past year) and there’s no reason to think New York will buck the long national trend in falling crime. That could put a crimp in any fear mongering campaigns that elected Koch and Giuliani, and the city, even in the face of relentless gentrification, is as diverse as ever. It makes for a winding road, but with a dose of strong activism it could be a brighter one.

Joseph Grosso is a librarian and writer in New York City.

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Joseph Grosso is a librarian and writer in New York City.

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