With unity, New Yorkers could elect mayor for the “99 percent”

The New York City elections are exceptionally important this year, and a large part of the electorate understands that. For 20 years, the Giuliani and Bloomberg administrations have fed the big real estate developers, Wall Street and the city’s 70 billionaires while imposing austerity on almost everyone else. Now there is a real possibility of moving forward.

To move forward would mean jobs creation (to deal with nine percent unemployment), and measures like a living wage and a higher NYC minimum wage (30 percent of the population live in poverty). It would mean increasing the stock of affordable housing, and keeping the definition of affordable at 25-30 percent — not 50 percent — of income. It would mean immediate improvements in the conditions facing the 400,000 public housing residents, and a halt to threats to privatize city housing.

It would mean putting the brakes on the Bloomberg-led drive to privatize public facilities, services, institutions and resources.

The potential is there to elect a mayor who will be responsive to the needs of the city’s “99 percent” and who will begin to tackle these grave social issues. But it will require a high level of unity. A winning coalition will have to start with the city’s working class, which includes a million union members of diverse backgrounds. It must be rooted in the seventy percent minority and immigrant population, and also include liberals including the large section of the Jewish population who regularly vote for progressives. It must include women and young people and seniors.

In all areas vital to a decent life, the overwhelming majority at the bottom are African Americans, Afro-Caribbeans, Africans, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Dominicans and other Latinos, Chinese, and many other peoples from East and South Asia. It is a matter of racism in all its forms. The Giuliani and Bloomberg administrations over the last 20 years have protected and favored the corporations and the wealthy, and pushed the poor and especially the nationally oppressed out of the city, especially Manhattan. The NYPD’s stop and frisk policy is a part of this effort.

While the powers that be have succeeded in reducing the African American and Puerto Rican populations, new groups of immigrants have made their way to the city in search of a better life. Living conditions for many immigrants are also dire, and abuse of undocumented workers in a range of industries is part of the landscape.

The last 20 years have also witnessed strong anti-union city administrations, and at present, none of the municipal workers have union contracts. Bloomberg has especially singled out the teachers and the school bus drivers for attack.

To do anything significant to tackle these problems will require substantially more public spending. For example, class size reduction — a key goal – will require hiring substantially more teachers.

Basically, to meet these needs the billionaires and several thousand additional millionaires and the big real estate interests must be seriously taxed. Also, the city must receive its fair share of financial support from the state and federal governments matching how much they collect from the city now. And this means cutting the military budget in the first place.

The question is how does such an alignment need to express itself, to compel the city to move in this new direction, defeat the forces that want to continue the path of the last 20 years or even go further to the right with a Joe Lhota on the Republican ticket? And how should we judge the candidates?

The preferred candidates of Wall St. and the developers are evident several ways. One is by looking at who gets the biggest contributions from these sources. While such quarters donate to all candidates, covering their bets, Christine Quinn, Anthony Weiner (based on the money in his last mayoralty campaign coffers), Lhota and Bill DeBlasio are the favorites.

Lhota and Weiner on the police and stop and frisk issue are furthest to the right – supporting this system and Commissioner Kelly. Quinn was pushed to support an Inspector General for the police but then promised to reappoint Kelly. DeBlasio, Bill Thompson and John Liu all promised not to reappoint Kelly. Liu called for ending stop and frisk, while DeBlasio called for modifications and Thompson called for even more modifications.

This is the pattern of positions on issues. Since the city is now overwhelmingly Democratic in registration, the main contest is the Democratic primary and the likely runoff. Of these candidates, Weiner and Quinn are consistently to the right, and are at best compromisers on all issues. Weiner is also well-known as picking one issue to appeal to the left and one to appeal to the right. He is opposed to all tax increases, has called for tax decreases and makes no distinction between the wealthy and working people. On education he proposes vouchers to enable children to go to Catholic and other private schools at public expense. His “left” issue is a city “single payer health plan,” only it turns out public workers would have to pay more for their medical coverage.

Liu is clearly the most consistent progressive, calling for an end to stop and frisk and an $11 an hour minimum wage, among other things. The problem is the two-year long investigation and recent conviction of two of his fundraisers, who will be sentenced at the height of the election cycle. While Liu himself points out that he has never been charged, his ability to raise money has been seriously damaged, and he will probably be cut off from receiving public matching funds. He is not considered to have a serious chance of making the runoff.

Both DeBlasio and Thompson are inconsistent progressives, with both strengths and weaknesses in their positions. Thompson has an especially good proposal for funding sources. One is money from the state and federal governments so that it recovers the excess it pays them in taxes. Another is to cut outsourcing of work that had and could be done by city workers. The outsourcing proved to be riddled with corruption under the Bloomberg Administration. Another is reinstituting the payroll tax on companies to help finance spending on mass transit. Thompson has expressed a strong desire to help all sections of the population, including the racially oppressed on the major issues of living but mostly with small proposals for steps forward. He avoids discussion of higher taxes on the city’s big corporations and wealth, and he has said his education proposals will not require additional tax income.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew has praised a document issued by the Thomson campaign as containing “smart ideas.” One of them was to change the composition of the present policymaking board so it is no longer a rubber stamp for the mayor. He calls for teacher and parent input, and generally opposes closing schools against community sentiment and co-locating charter schools in public school buildings, and is for reducing greatly the importance of testing.

DiBlasio now claims he is the only genuine progressive in the elections. That does not match his history as a city councilman and then Public Advocate, where sometimes he responded to the developers more than to working people. He has avoided taking positions on more than a few issues. But now DeBlasio has issued a position paper on long-term development of the city, which is generally quite positive. DiBlasio’s signature issue is quite good — providing preschool education for all children by taxing Wall St. and the rich, although he does not say he will favors such taxes for other programs. As on this, his position on issues often has to be closely parsed to see where the commitment really is.

In the next article, we shall examine the most important criteria in judging candidates: who supports them financially, and who will pull out the campaign troops and the voters.

Photo: This youngster was among a coalition of immigrant groups, unions and Occupy Wall Street who took to the streets on May 1 in New York City, targeting restaurants and other low wage businesses with demands for sick leave and living wages. Thousands of people rallied at Union Square to march downtown to City Hall demanding jobs, decent wages and immigration reform. (Michael Fleshman/CC)