New York City elections hold promise of change

NEW YORK — The New York City Nov. 5 elections can mark a turning point. During the last 20 years of the Giuliani and then Bloomberg administrations, the living standards of the 99 percent have steadily declined, while the wealth of the 1 percent has risen. It is now a city of stark contrasts. Seventy billionaires live in the city as well as several thousand additional millionaires. At the same time, one-third live below the poverty line. Twenty percent earn $9 to $11 an hour, while unemployment is back up to just under 9 percent, higher than the national rate.

Conditions for the 400,000 people living in public housing are acknowledged to be abominable. Housing costs are a major problem for most, as many people must spend 50 percent of their income on housing. Hospitals in poorer neighborhoods are being closed. Public education is under attack with many schools being closed, charter schools pushed into public school buildings with staff being reduced. These are especially sharp conditions for the 70 percent of the city who are racially and nationally oppressed people.

The economy and the politics of the city has been run by and for the developers, real estate interests, Wall Street, and insurance industries. They seek to feed off the public trough and radically increase their profits, while driving the poorest section, especially the racially and nationally oppressed, out of the city. Thus we see a decline in the oldest racially-oppressed communities, African American and Puerto Rican, who no longer can afford to live in the city, though they still remain very important populations in the city. Newer racially oppressed move in by doubling up with relatives. Public spending goes toward the top 1 percent, tourists and some in the upper to middle income strata, while services and conditions for the poor are made ever worse.

But with elections, a different direction can begin. After all, the population of the city is heavily registered Democratic and Working Families Party; it has nearly a million trade unionists, and is heavily people of color. It has a significant women’s equality movement, and large numbers of students and other youth, all of whom, given a chance, vote even more in a democratic direction than does most of the rest of the country. If these class and social forces substantially unite, campaign and vote together, candidates seeking to move in a democratic, progressive direction, can begin to impose that direction.

The Republican candidates for mayor (and the Independence Party), Joseph Lhota and Adolfo Carrion, represent more of the same and maybe even worse. There are four significant Democratic Party candidates. Unless one of them receives 40% there will be a runoff of the two highest. Probably both the first and second primary election rounds will be September.

It is widely agreed that the politics of the four range from Christine Quinn, toward the right, to Bill DeBlasio, to William Thompson, to John Liu on the left. Council Speaker Quinn’s politics are similar to Michael Bloomberg’s but still better than any of the non-Democrats. Yet her election would hardly change the direction of the city. While appealing to some because she would be the first woman and first openly gay mayor, her positions on issues go against their interests. She continually slows down and compromises all pro-working families legislation, such as holding up a vote on sick leave. She joins the Republicans in pledging to reappoint Ray Kelly as police commissioner, despite his stop-and-frisk policy. She has strong real estate developer financing.

Liu is widely considered the most consistent person towards the left. He calls for an $11 an hour minimum wage, and calls for ending stop and frisk entirely.  But his poll numbers are the lowest of the four, 9 percent, probably because of the smear campaign run against him around apparent fund raising violations by a couple people on his campaign. The government admits they cannot indict him. Liu is an excellent campaigner but virtually no one thinks he can win. 

William Thompson was the president of the Board of Education, and a good one, before Bloomberg made the board a department of the city government. He was then comptroller and ran against Bloomberg who narrowly beat him. Thompson calls for ending the present educational system and going to one that is responsive to the parents and teachers, and opposes the closings of the schools.  He calls for firing the leadership of public housing. As an African American, he is sensitive to the issues of his and the other racially oppressed communities, while seeking the support of liberal whites, such as the city’s large Jewish community. 

The other Democratic candidate, who along with Thompson has a shot at coming in second after Quinn, is DeBlasio. He is the current public advocate, and tries to appeal both to moderates and liberals, without taking a clear-cut position either way on key issues. He presents himself as a champion of small business and a friend of labor. His record with regard to big development projects is that he begins as a supporter of the developers and then moves as opposition builds.

Both Liu, who is the comptroller and is Chinese, and Thompson, promise to sign contracts with public workers and opposed Bloomberg on his anti-labor policies.

The possibility for a turn in direction also depends on the outcome of the city council elections, where there is a substantial Progressive Caucus led by Melissa Mark Viverito and Brad Lander. Viverito will seek election to the powerful post of speaker and has a real shot at it. There are also progressives running with serious shots at victory, such as Letisha James for public advocate and Ken Thompson for Brooklyn district attorney.  Robert Jackson is running for Manhattan Borough president. All three are African American.

Serious relief for the lives of the poor and middle income people requires big funding at the expense of the big corporation, the millionaires and billionaires, and that needs political will. Victory for a turn in direction will depend on the activism and unity of the labor movement, the many organizations in the communities of the racially and nationally oppressed, women, youth and a section of the white liberal community. Turnout will be exceptionally important in the initial round and possible second round of primaries, which usually have small turnouts. Thompson was able to strongly challenge Bloomberg in 2009 because of just such a coalition, which he built both in the primaries and in the general election, starting from his African American base.

Photo: Michael Fleshman/Flickr