New Yorkers don’t really vote anymore. In yesterday’s mayoral election, where the Democratic candidate, Bill de Blasio, trounced Republican Joe Lhota, less than 9 percent of the city voted. Regardless, he’s now set to become the first unabashedly left-wing mayor of New York City in 20 years, and he’s put together an impressive base of white liberals, blacks, and Hispanic voters. Now both sides of the political spectrum expect him to turn the city into a leftist utopia, following a decade of billionaire incumbent Michael Bloomberg making life awesome for city elites.
Exactly what kinds of changes are in store under de Blasio’s Sadinista-loving administration? I spoke to some experts on urban policy and de Blasio’s pals across the city’s political scene to get a sense of exactly what’s coming.
De Blasio ran on a promise that he’d address the city’s massive wealth gap. Constantly referring to New York as “a tale of two cities,” where super rich Manhattanites ship their kids to DJ school and outer-borough minorities don’t even have two pennies to rub together.
De Blasio intends to raise taxes on the rich to fund universal pre-K and expanded after school programs. To do this, he’ll need his pal, and old boss in Bill Clinton’s Department of Housing and Urban Development, Governor Andrew Cuomo to sign off, which is tricky to say the least. But the need to reorder the local economy is obvious, as Bloomberg has been content to lionize the city’s wealthy for their occasional outbursts of charity. “In many ways, New York is like a spoiled child, living off Wall Street money and the investment of the local rich,” explains Joel Kotkin, professor of urban development at Chapman University and former columnist for the New York Times.
Early childhood education is generally regarded as one of the best ways to level the economic playing field, though the business community’s hisses decrying higher taxes can be heard already.
Photo via Flickr user david_shankbone
If de Blasio loves to wax poetic on economic issues, he’s less down to talk about weed. The candidate has made clear he does not support marijuana legalization, and didn’t even cave under on-air badgering from MSNBC’s closet homophobe Alec Baldwin. De Blasio does support decriminalizing of open possession of pot, which would reduce the insanely high frequency of weed-related arrests in the five boroughs, many of which stem from the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk regime.
Photo via Flickr user jumkiernan
Stop-and-Frisk, Muslim Spying
De Blasio has vowed to “end a stop-and-frisk era that unfairly targets people of color,” confirmed by his fantastically afro-ed son Dante in the TV spot that won over New York liberals. This issue actually looked like it might have been settled by the time de Blasio takes office on New Year’s Day, as the City Council recently voted to establish an inspector general for the NYPD as well as a ban on racial profiling. Meanwhile, a federal judge ruled stop-and-frisk unconstitutional and ordered the Justice Department to provide a monitor since city cops couldn’t get their shit together. The ruling was overturned on appeal, putting the ball squarely back in de Blasio—and the City Council’s—court. Between the legal setback and de Blasio hedging on just how far he intends to go in reducing the practice, stop-and-frisk might be around a while longer.
The same goes for surveillance of Muslim residents in their homes, mosques, and businesses, the main piece of the NYPD’s Zone Assessment program. I’ve repeatedly asked de Blasio and his campaign what he will do about Muslim spying besides hope his inspector general stops it, but the candidate (like most of his Democratic primary rivals) refused to get specific, and still won’t indicate whether he’ll keep on Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence David Cohen, the program’s architect and a veteran of the CIA. Given that de Blasio has made noises about appointing Kelly allies to take their boss’s job (one clear-cut promise from de Blasio is that the incumbent commissioner will get the boot), and that his more conservative backers (in the city’s Orthodox Jewish community, for example) expect him to keep up the status quo on policing issues, there’s reason to believe the NYPD won’t stop beating the shit out of black people anytime soon.
Keeping local hospitals open is central to de Blasio’s political identity. The biggest applause in his acceptance speech came after he mocked the concept of turning hospitals into luxury condos. He’s put his ass on the line for this conviction: in July de Blasio was arrested protesting the closure of Long Island College Hospital, right around when he started to jump up in the polls.
Besides trying to prevent more closures, de Blasio hasn’t made any grand proposals. Perhaps modest promises are better than empty ones, like Anthony Weiner’s so-called single-payer scheme, which was not actually single-payer. Interestingly, de Blasio stands out among city Democrats for supporting his nemesis Bloomberg’s initiative against large sugary drinks, as well as the less controversial ban of smoking in restaurants and parks.On the zanier side of the spectrum, he’s sworn to ban horse-drawn carriages used for tours of Central Park within his first week on the job.
So will New York metamorphose into a leftist utopia overnight under Mayor de Blasio? Obviously not. He’s too calculating to attempt a bunch of crazy policy initiatives, but the massive margin of victory should help him take steps on some of these pet causes, especially if organized labor flexes its muscles (in New York, unions are still a thing!). De Blasio has made himself a superstar to the Democratic left—for now—but will need to deliver the goods or else fear Weiner’s revenge (that is, the apocalypse) when it comes time for reelection in 2017.
Matt Taylor is a Brooklyn-based writer whose reporting about politics has appeared in Slate, Salon, the Daily Beast, the Atlantic, the New Republic, and New York. You can follow him on Twitter: @matthewt_ny