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Analyzing NYC’s Mayoral Elections: Bill de Blasio (Part IV of V)

This is an on-going series analyzing New York City’s mayoral race. To read the introduction, click here. To read on Independent candidate Adolfo Carrion Jr, click here. To read on Republican candidate Joseph Lhota, click here.

Bill de Blasio – Democratic candidate

Bill de Blasio is the last person in this series as the election comes to a close. It is fitting since many publications and polls have stated he is heavily favored to win the election. Yet, since he is on the Democratic ticket and making such a huge stride, I must wonder why a person like de Blasio is having such an edge and whether his rhetoric matches his actions.

Bill de Blasio is definitely someone guaranteed since the beginning of this race to win the election through a landslide. However, his work within the Democratic establishment merits further discussion of his overall role in this race and what may occur in the future. It is more important to start off during his politically active days as an outsider to the system.

During his upbringing, his volunteering with the Sandinista government in Nicaragua was pointed out as another instance of a “Communist”  guaranteed to bring his communist friends to have communist policies with communist parties and erect Lenin statues across New York City, especially across Wall Street. If that seems ridiculous to you, the New York Post had a cover with the face of Bill de Blasio and the USSR symbol of the hammer and sickle. The Gothamist poked fun of such talk by saying:

Coincidentally, the news emerges on the eve of tomorrow’s election, and could cost de Blasio the crucial ‘senile conservative’ demographic.

The New York Post, a Rupert Murdoch-owned publication, discussed his trips to communist — or state capitalist — countries during the 1980s. Their ridiculous “analysis” wouldn’t even be taken as serious, but it is interesting to observe his status as a person with a revolutionary spirit against the capitalist system.

Then, de Blasio joined Democrats for campaigning and he would slowly lose such status as a left-wing revolutionary and more of an establishment individual. As the New York Times pointed out on Aug. 25:

The campaign for an open Senate seat [for Hillary Clinton] was a turning point in Mr. de Blasio’s life; it was the biggest and most high-profile political effort he had ever been put in charge of. And it turned out to be his last, as an operative.

His work with the Clintons goes back to the late 1990s where he was appointed in the Department of Housing and Urban Department as Regional Director for New York and New Jersey. One interesting point from historian Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States is housing under Clinton:

The United States (forgetting, or choosing to forget, the disastrous consequence of such a policy in the twenties) was consigning its people to the mercy of the “free market.” The “market” did not care about the environment or the arts. And it left many Americans without jobs, or health care, without a decent education for their children, or adequate housing. Under Reagan, the government had reduced the number of housing units getting subsidies from 400,000 to 40,000; in the Clinton administration the program ended altogether.

Bill de Blasio later, as the previous New York Times article points out, ran for different positions after realizing his talent as a campaign manager. He mentions, reflecting his time under the Clinton Senate campaign in 2000, what he gained and applied to his own style of campaigning:

“It has affected my view on how to run a campaign and how to lead,” Mr. de Blasio said in an interview. “You can’t do something like that and not come out with a sense of wanting to perfect the craft.”

Yet, Bill de Blasio would need to carefully analyze what he needs to do when in office as some publications, like the New York Daily News, point out. In their endorsement, they compared him to Fiorello LaGuardia — a famous mayor who implemented many programs similar to Franklin Delano Roosevelt — but commanded pragmatism must occur:

To paraphrase his hero LaGuardia, there is no progressive way to pick up the garbage. The great imperative is that de Blasio — who calls himself a progressive — must trade ideology for pragmatism starting on day one, when New Yorkers will demand much more than earnest intentions.

It is very peculiar that New Yorkers would demand pragmatism when they inhabit the same city as Wall Street and I am sure many would love to arrest all the criminals and redistribute the wealth among themselves.

Yet his seemingly pragmatic views almost question whether they are pragmatic in the first place. For instance, journalist Steven Wishnia wrote in the Indypendent about when met de Blasio and covered his encounter with him in a recent piece. When he listened to de Blasio’s solutions on economic inequality, which he called a “liberal version of trickle-down economics,” he mentioned a solution from a previous time where Democrats had such rhetoric working to their advantage:

I suggested a new Works Progress Administration, the 1930s federal program that at its peak employed 3 million people nationwide. It built LaGuardia Airport and Brooklyn College, refurbished Central Park and hired artists, writers, and actors.

What surprised me was de Blasio’s response to Wishnia’s suggestion:

‘In a perfect world,’ de Blasio answered. As if this idea, one of the greatest achievements of 20th-century Democratic liberalism, was hopelessly idealistic.

The entire New Deal, as Howard Zinn mentions in A People’s History of the United States, was a pragmatic solution to ensuring capitalism could survive:

Were the New Dealers-Roosevelt and his advisers, the businessmen who supported him-also class- conscious? Did they understand that measures must be quickly taken, in 1933 and 1934, to give jobs, food baskets, relief, to wipe out the idea “that the problems of the workers can be solved only by themselves”? Perhaps, like the workers’ class consciousness, it was a set of actions arising not from held theory, but from instinctive practical necessity.

If such plans back then were viewed as pragmatic compared to the idealistic socialist and anarchist state of society, then what does it say about de Blasio’s policies to help society? Have problems gotten worse that a more pragmatic solution is needed or is it his fault for having extremely pragmatic (dare I say conservative) policies?

It reminds me of a passage from The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels:

Bourgeois revolutions, like those of the eighteenth century, storm more swiftly from success to success, their dramatic effects outdo each other, men and things seem set in sparkling diamonds, ecstasy is the order of the day – but they are short-lived, soon they have reached their zenith, and a long Katzenjammer [cat’s winge] takes hold of society before it learns to assimilate the results of its storm-and-stress period soberly. On the other hand, proletarian revolutions, like those of the nineteenth century, constantly criticize themselves, constantly interrupt themselves in their own course, return to the apparently accomplished, in order to begin anew; they deride with cruel thoroughness the half-measures, weaknesses, and paltriness of their first attempts, seem to throw down their opponents only so the latter may draw new strength from the earth and rise before them again more gigantic than ever, recoil constantly from the indefinite colossalness of their own goals – until a situation is created which makes all turning back impossible, and the conditions themselves call out: Here is the rose, here dance!

As was with Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 victory, the new tide of the bourgeois revolution in politics is occurring. Is it no wonder why de Blasio’s staff consists mostly of former Clinton and Obama team members who know their way to a victory?

Even the digital media team consists of former Obama staffers who helped on his re-election campaign. Kenneth Sherrill, a Political Science professor in Hunter College, spoke on the importance such a team holds when discussing their aggressive social media drive:

“That creates social pressure among friends to turn out and vote,” Sherrill said. “When between a fifth and a quarter of registered Democrats turned out to vote, that kind of mobilization was extremely important.”

Yet, like Obama, his political unity with labor is a key part in getting valuable endorsements.

In Public Employee Press, a paper by District Council 37 — a section of the AFL-CIO — on labor issues, they endorsed him as a candidate who would “reverse the rising economic inequality of the Bloomberg years with an agenda focused on creating affordable housing, fixing an education system that is failing the city’s working and poor families, curtailing the waste of contracting out and working with municipal unions to identify funds for pay increases for public service workers.”

All of this are fair policies to pursue, yet, strangely, Bill de Blasio has commented on certain labor issues with statements that have made other unions cautious. For instance, his admiration for Bill Clinton has made some uneasy:

“Bill [de Blasio] comes out of the Clinton model,” said one union official, referring to Clinton’s sour relationship with the Arkansas AFL-CIO, which yanked their support for him in his 1990 reelection campaign.

Additionally, during the primaries, he did not receive an endorsement from the United Federation of Teachers and used it as a point as to why he would be tougher on contract negotiations. Gotham Schools elaborated further on his statement:

Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio is casting his lack of support from municipal unions — including the teachers union — as a good thing for the city, saying it’ll make him a tougher negotiator if he sits down with labor leaders to hammer out new contracts as mayor.

Bill de Blasio has also received endorsements from local newspapers, like The Queens Tribune, to national newspapers, like the New York Times.

The Tribune was on board with de Blasio’s talk on change in many areas of society. They emphasized, in their endorsement for de Blasio, the need for a “progressive think to move past the policies” that has crippled many aspects of New York City. Their overall statement had no qualms over de Blasio and his ideas for change:

We believe that Bill de Blasio’s vision will provide a road-map toward the necessary goals for a stronger economy, a greater educational system and a government more open to the less fortunate.

Meanwhile, the Times was cautious in its endorsement not to match the rhetoric of de Blasio and felt pragmatism would be better suited for de Blasio’s campaign than idealism. In response to talk of “national rebirth of left-wing populism,” they stated:

Hold on. We’re electing a mayor here, someone to keep streets plowed and safe, budgets balanced, schools working well and constituents of five boroughs satisfied. Someone to sustain and build on the 12-year legacy of Michael Bloomberg, while realizing his own vision for New York. It’s a huge job, never mind the revolution.

Certainly a job of the mayor does require lots of decision-making and time, yet how can it be easy to dismiss the idea of a “revolution” if de Blasio was sincere in his words? Isn’t this a publication that has faced the ridiculous nature of the federal government in terms of civil liberties and covered the extraordinary wealth gap not only in New York, but the entire United States?

Yet, as Steven Wishnia mentioned, this may be a tactic used by the elite to ensure de Blasio does not escape their control:

An alternative plan would be to domesticate de Blasio, to tell him that yes, we know you have to talk populist to get elected, but you have to govern “responsibly.” He raised almost $4.5 million for his campaign, and among those giving him the $4,950 maximum were the Rent Stabilization Association (which actually lobbies against rent controls) and Leonard Litwin, a real-estate billionaire who is the most prolific stretcher of the state’s campaign-finance loopholes.

It is no wonder why Bill de Blasio has awkwardly stated he is a “fiscal conservative” — the running theme — at a “influential business group” as the New York Post states (who must be noted for their right-wing messages as they are owned by Rupert Murdoch). He later stated he was a “fiscally responsible progressive,” which does not make much sense considering progressive do not care about such titles of being responsible, their actions indicate they already are responsible.

Most troubling when left-wing publications and individuals support de Blasio is when he turns his back on them and works for the wealth. The New York Times featured a piece on Sept. 11 that emphasized the other, lesser-known side of Bill de Blasio:

Mr. de Blasio, aware that his rhetoric has unsettled powerful people, has quietly been in touch with several establishment figures recently, including Rob Speyer, the chairman of the Real Estate Board of New York, and the financier Steven Rattner. Both men have close ties to Mr. Bloomberg, and supported the campaign of Christine C. Quinn in the Democratic primary.

The next paragraph in the piece further cements a telling tale of Bill de Blasio’s campaign:

In some of these conversations, Mr. de Blasio has played down his unabashedly liberal positions, pointing out that no public-sector union has endorsed him, and saying that he would represent the wealthy as well as the 99 percent if elected mayor, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Imagine, of course, an individual expressing support for both the wealth and the 99 percent. Would that individual be able to strike a balance or fall into one of the camps? The answer is obviously the latter.

More importantly, his talk on stop and frisk has separated himself from Joseph Lhota. As he writes on his campaign website:

Bill de Blasio has pushed for real reforms in stop-and-frisk by organizing communities and calling on Mayor Bloomberg to immediately end the overuse and abuse of this tactic. That’s why he has called for new leadership at the NYPD, an inspector general, and a strong racial profiling bill.

The Grio, a subsidiary of MSNBC, touched upon the subject of stop and frisk and the recent ruling that blocked the decision to changed the policy. One of their more interesting statements talked about de Blasio’s response to the ruling.

The de Blasio campaign, which is far ahead in the polls, has not addressed the ruling directly since it came down. Still, many watching the race believe it is a boon for de Blasio, serving to mobilize his voters – many of whom are black or Latino.

The entire campaign so far has been a charade since his talk of replacing NYPD Commission Ray Kelly is in reality a continuation of stop and frisk. His replacement for Ray Kelly is former Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton, someone who journalist Rania Khalek called “a staunch support of stop and frisk.” Furthermore, she gave criticism that merits further discussion of such a potential appointment by de Blasio:

De Blasio is right to criticize Kelly for his “overuse and abuse of stop-and-frisk.” But what on earth makes him think Bratton will be any different?

Bill Bratton spoke to the New York Daily News about numerous topics, especially criticism from Joseph Lhota over his tenure as NYPD Commission and the potential increase of crime if Bill de Blasio:

“He must be forgetting we have the greatest police force in the world,” says Bratton, who has lived in New York for the past four years. “As a city resident I don’t fear that happening because I have full confidence in NYPD. And listen, no matter who’s the next mayor or commissioner, the crime rate might go up initially in the transition. But then, NYPD will suppress it again.”

For an individual to say he’ll suppress any increase in crime says a lot about a de Blasio administration if he is actually appointed as Commission.

The talk de Blasio has done has really worked to his advantage, however, as The Nation was one magazine that supported and endorsed Bill de Blasio for mayor. They wrote:

[H]is commitment to reimagining the city in boldly progressive, egalitarian terms is the reason we are endorsing him for mayor.

One instance of such “progressive, egalitarian terms” should be his rhetoric on landlords, but, as Louis Proyect points out, it isn’t as progressive as some imagine to be:

Despite his anti-landlord rhetoric, he also endorsed Bruce Ratner’s downtown Brooklyn megaproject that ran roughshod over the local community’s needs. Originally based on a design by superstar architect Frank Gehry, the project so appalled novelist and Brooklynite Jonathan Lethem that he was inspired to write an open letter to Gehry calling the project “a nightmare for Brooklyn, one that, if built, would cause irreparable damage to the quality of our lives.”

Overall, Bill de Blasio’s entire campaign should be praised for being effective in considering talk of a landslide victory indicates the role de Blasio has had. Yet, that’s where all the praise should end.

His role in the Democratic Party should be viewed with suspicious since both parties are viewed with distrust in society and are used to promote the interests of the elite in society. The Democrats, however, are in the driver’s seat and are slowly starting to be taken as a necessity for big business in future elections. Is it no wonder why money is leaving the Republican Party in elections across the United States?

It reminds me of a joke Bill Hicks used to say in his stand-up before he passed away:

I’ll show you politics in America. Here it is, right here. “I think the puppet on the right shares my beliefs.” “I think the puppet on the left is more to my liking.” “Hey, wait a minute, there’s one guy holding out both puppets!” “Shut up! Go back to bed, America. Your government is in control.

Caution is what I hold whenever both parties are placed in the mainstream of society since the history of betrayal is still rich in minds of those aware. With Bill de Blasio, I reserve any praise due to him since I once made the mistake of giving praise to an individual who stated he is “really good at killing people.

It will be difficult to tell what Bill de Blasio will specifically do during his tenure and whether any significant changes might occur. When Bill de Blasio is sworn in as mayor of New York City and begins to implement an agenda he believes works well, then the real test of progressive values will begin.

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Brandon Jordan

Brandon Jordan

Brandon Jordan is a freelance journalist in Queens, NY and written for publications such as The Nation, In These Times, Truthout and more.