Ben Max, left, of Gotham Gazette, and Jarrett Murphy, right, of City Limits
Max & Murphy is a podcast focused on New York City politics and policy hosted by Ben Max of Gotham Gazette and Jarrett Murphy of City Limits. Past episodes of the podcast can be found here and can be dowloaded from iTunes and other podcast networks. The podcast began with a focus on housing in early 2016, but has expanded into other areas, now turning to the 2017 city elections, especially the race for Mayor.
For the June 12 episode of Max & Murphy, we began a series of interviews with mayoral candidates. Bob Gangi, a Democratic candidate for Mayor running to incumbent Mayor Bill de Blasio's left, was our guest. Gangi, a lifelong New Yorker and longtime police reform activist, is focusing his campaign on "social, racial, and economic justice." He says de Blasio is not a true progressive -- that, in fact, the mayor "damages progressives" because he is as moderate as he is but claims the mantle of progressivism -- and Gangi promises to push the city far to the left if elected.
Gangi is a first-time political candidate concerned with gaining traction -- our interview took place three months before September's primary and the campaign has yet to take off. But, Gangi is hoping that his message will resonate with New Yorkers disappointed that de Blasio has not lived up to the lofty expectations many had for him when the current mayor was elected in 2013.
(Along with Gangi, de Blasio's most serious primary competition is from former City Council Member Sal Albanese, who we'll be inviting onto the podcast soon. We'll also be talking with Republican mayoral candidates Paul Massey and Nicole Malliotakis in the coming weeks. See the full list of 2017 candidates for all offices here.)
Listen to our interview with Democratic mayoral candidate Bob Gangi through SoundCloud below. Let us know what you think: we're on Twitter @jarrettmurphy & @tweetBenMax. Gangi is on Twitter @GangiForMayor. (There is also a lightly edited transcript of the interview available below the SoundCloud embed.)
June 12th, 2017
Ben Max: What’s your elevator pitch for your candidacy?
Robert Gangi: We’re a campaign that’s promoting social, racial, and economic justice for all New Yorkers across a range of issues: policing, public schools, public transportation, homelessness, affordable housing. We’re running in part because de Blasio has failed to deliver on his promises from his 2013 campaign to address these issues effectively. To rewrite the tale of two cities narrative. He’s failed in those efforts, he’s failed as a progressive, and we’re challenging him and we’re putting forward a series of proposed reforms that we think are meaningful and far reaching.
Jarrett Murphy: Are you trying to win or influence the race?
RG: Both, I mean we know that we’re clearly underdogs. We’re longshots given lack of resources in particular. And, so we definitely want to send a message, we definitely want to push the debate to the left for want of a better term. We want to make it more politically acceptable to discuss very specifically and substantively which steps the city has to take to address social and racial and economic inequities in the city. De Blasio has failed to do that. And we want to win. Again, recognizing that we’re underdogs, but all the world loves an underdog.
BM: Give us your thinking on if winning is goal, what are main steps to take/what has to happen for you to have that shot.
RG: It’s a good question. You know, I’m not sure. I mean clearly we have to achieve lift-off. We have to sort of breakthrough more to I think the mainstream media. We have to get our name to be more in our -- the issues -- more alive and well on social media. And we are putting forward...
JM: Could be the mayor conceding...
RG: The very fact that you guys are here interviewing me was probably the thing that put him over the edge, right? Sorry about that. So, that’s our challenge, and we have a variety of strategies to pursue it. A friend of mine who was helping me petition on Saturday said ‘you have to have a big rally. You have to get a famous celebrity to perform and then you speak to this rally.’ So I said if we advertised Beyonce and Springsteen, and then at the last minute said they couldn’t make it, do you think we could get away with that? So -- but we are reaching out to famous people, famous journalists, who we think support our agenda, or likely to support our agenda, and just see if they would pick up the cause.
JM: First run for elected office....
JM: Tell us about your career before this. What’s the Bob Gangi story?
RG: Well, I -- born and raised in Brooklyn, and moved to Manhattan after I graduated college. I went to college in Manhattan, I went to Columbia. So, I’m a lifelong New Yorker. Care deeply about my city. I was politicized by a number of things in my life. A lot of it was the politics of the 60s, because that’s when I came of age. Recognized the terrible inequities in our country regarding race and poverty. And like a lot of young people in the 60s, made a decision to devote, to the extent that we could, our life and careers to those issues. Also personally, my old man had multiple sclerosis all my life, and I think in ways that I wasn’t conscious of at the time, since I couldn’t help him, you know I couldn’t do anything to stop the progress of the disease, I think that instilled in me, again unconsciously, a strong desire to fix things and make things better for people. And, I’ve worked -- my two jobs previous to running for office was -- one at the Correctional Association of New York, a prison reform organization. So I became very familiar with the problems with the criminal justice system and the deep, deep injustices that are inflicted on mainly low income people of color by our sentencing policies and police policies and imprisonment policies. And then for the last six years before declaring for mayor, I ran an organization called PROP, the Police Reform Organizing Project, that aimed at exposing and ending abusive and discriminatory policing. And when de Blasio won in 2013, we at PROP, my organization, were very hopeful. We were encouraged. And, it’s sorta interesting for me to look back on that history because when he appointed Bratton, a number of people said ‘de Blasio is going down the road that all mainstream politicians do. You make promises, you’re not gonna follow through’ because Bratton, as you guys know, was Mr. Broken Windows. And, a group formed right away, New Yorkers Against Bratton, and I disagree with that strategy. I’m very friendly with Joe [something], who’s a key activist and one of the people behind the New Yorkers Against Bratton, and I said ‘you gotta give him a chance. You gotta see what they’re gonna do. There’s gonna be a lot of political pressure on them to change things.’ So, they did reduce the use of stop and frisk, but what they didn’t do was change the fundamental approach of law enforcement in New York City. It’s broken windows. It targets every day low income people of color. I used to say, in our view, the policing in New York City is racist, I don’t say [unclear] is just racist. There’s no denying it. The numbers show it, people’s experience show it. So by June of the first year, we had been completely disenchanted with their policing policies. We knew what they were gonna do politically, and de Blasio continues to do it during the campaign. ‘Well we reduced the use of stop and frisk, what are you complaining about?’ So the driving issue for me initially was policing, because it does -- it inflicts a trauma on individuals and it inflicts a trauma on a community. And part of the painful recognition when you think about it and study it is, while broken windows as a philosophy of policing is new, and it creates this overlay over intellectual defense for the kind of policing that goes on, policing in New York and across the country has always been racist. The police department was established in 1845, and one of its purposes was to contain two unruly populations: recent Irish immigrants, and freed black people, because New York State abolished slavery in 1827.
JM: BDB’s poll numbers among blacks and Latinos are quite strong. Maybe not quite as strong as four years ago, but still strong. Given that those communities are affected by problems you’re talking about, why do you think he still runs so strongly at least in the polls...?
RG: That’s another good question. The -- I think there are a number of factors. One is that he has a black family. I think that, to use a term that has fallen into disrepute, that trumps a lot of things. And, I think the other thing is that, and this is, I’m being speculative, the other thing is, in my experience working with black and Latino people in New York City, and I have for virtually all of my career in one way or another, they -- there’s a resignation, I think it’s changing, to the way the police treat them. When I was at the Correctional Association, I was part of a campaign promoting the repeal of the Rockefeller Drug Laws, it was called the Drop the Rock campaign. And we’d have these wonderful meetings, 30-40 people, and at least some of the people were African-American, Latino people. And occasionally the meeting would go off agenda and we’d start talking about policing issues. And everybody had a story about what cops did to them, their children and their families. And the sense you had was, there is no possibility that will ever change, it’s just this is part of our life, we have to figure it out, we have to adjust to it, we have to -- the famous anecdote that de Blasio got in trouble for, we have to talk to our children, particularly to our boys and our young men about how to avoid problems with the police. But they had hope they could change the Rockefeller Drug Laws. And that’s part of the reason that the organizing was effective, because the people we engaged believed that they could be effectively politically. So, you know that whole thing when Obama was talking about hope. It resonated with me, because I think it is meaningful. People have hope, and then they’re gonna be more likely to be mobilized and organized. [Unclear] policing issues in New York City, I think that probably, and again, this is speculative, a lot of people in our inner cities don’t blame de Blasio for what happens day to day. We of course -- they should blame him, because he runs the police department. Broken windows and the quota system could be ended literally on day 1, you direct the police department to stop it. It’s what the cops did themselves when they went on that work slowdown at the end of 2014 and 2015. They stopped abiding by the quota system and they stopped engaging in broken windows policing. Arrests dropped by 66%, summonses dropped by 90%, and crime went down. And I think a large reason why the cops did it was not only their anger at de Blasio, it was, they prefer that. I mean, broken windows policing and the quota system is not popular among police officers.
BM: You mention reduction in S+F, a lot of that was dropping quickly at end of Bloomberg admin, in part b/c of BDB (lawsuits and marches and such)
RG: And one high level retired police official said, it was the cops themselves getting it. You know, seeing the handwriting on the wall that this was discredited practice...
BM: Had built to point where it was no longer sustainable. So there’s that piece. If mayor or one of his people was here, and he has numerous times, it’s not just reduction of S+F. Community/neighborhood policing, reducing penalties on low level offenses. He has litany of half dozen things that he says show that he’s a reformer. Lot of what we’re talking about in this campaign, from yourself and others unhappy with mayor from left, is difference b/w being reformer with incremental steps versus sort of a revolutionary, and that’s what it seems like, I don’t want to label you but what’s the difference?
RG: Well there’s a couple of things. One of the things that’s striking in the article in the Observer today about de Blasio being criticized from the left, he again is making the claim apparently that we have ended marijuana possession arrests. And it’s just not true. Last year, the cops arrested over 18,000 people for marijuana possession. The first three months of this year, there were over 5,000 arrests for the sale or possession of small amounts of marijuana. So, one of his claims is just flatly untrue, and the reason we’re still critical after these incremental steps, one is, the drop in stop and frisk is real and substantive. And as far as it goes, that’s a good thing. Many of the other things are meaningless. Cops don’t necessarily follow them, they don’t really change in terms of what the impact is on people on the ground. The main reason we continue to be severely critical, this too, one is that he’s hypocritical. He’s claiming that he has significantly changed things, and he hasn’t. Law enforcement in New York City continues to target low income people of color every day. PROP, my old organization, still does court monitoring work and they did court monitoring in Manhattan Criminal Court last Wednesday. I wanted to go, I wasn’t able to go because of some campaign activities. And the young woman who went, it was an intern for PROP, reported 19 out of the 20 cases are people of color. The arrests: suspended license, petty larceny, marijuana possession. Same old crap. And the reason we so aggressively criticize these practices is not technical -- it’s not because they’re illegal, they are, I think, often or unconstitutional -- is they hurt people. And when you say well, as obviously de Blasio does, and people defend him, ‘well we’ve reduced this to a certain degree,’ you’re still hurting people. You’re harming people every day, and you’re harming people who are vulnerable, who are virtually politically powerless. And it is inexcusable, and it’s our -- excuse me -- f***ing city that you are doing this in. And running as a progressive who cares about justice for those very constituencies. And we know, Ben, to, a little bit to take issue with the word revolutionary, we don’t think it’s revolutionary. If you stop broken windows policing, which you could do literally on day 1, that’s, to me, that’s a fundamental reform but it’s manageable, it’s doable, and the police department could carry it out. And it would make a significant different in the day to day lives of the constituencies that de Blasio claims he cares about and that we should all care about. Another issue, to take a jump into another issue area, is public education. So, we knew at my campaign that we couldn’t just be a one issue campaign. Not only because it’s not sufficient to galvanize the people, but we wanted to address other issues where we saw similar problems in terms of social and racial inequities. And in the public school system, it’s clear. What the research shows that more often than not, the schools that are attended mainly by black and Latino students are gonna be more dilapidated, have younger teachers, and less services than schools attended by middle class white kids. We also learned, I learned, because I spoke to some experts, that there is one factor that all the research shows and common sense tells you can change the outcome, academic outcomes, not only for middle class children or children who come from families with resources, but low income children of color. Small class size. So we’re putting forward that one of our priorities will be a very aggressive campaign to have small classes in all public schools. And that would provide, and again, there’s a Mack Truck load of research that documents this, that would provide for significant improvements, significantly better lives for the students who now go to those schools.
JM: You’re not one issue, you also mention free MetroCards, infrastructure plan, small class sizes. Well that costs some money, so cliche question, it’s good one, how are you gonna pay for all that?
RG: Right, I have two answers, or three. One is shut up...
RG: Sometimes I even include a vulgarity in that. Two answers. One is, and again, I came of age politically in the 60s, and I was a big fan of Robert Kennedy. And in his last campaign in ‘68, before he was killed, he would frequently, I think it was actually part of a stump speech. It was a George Bernard Shaw quote, something along the lines of ‘some people see things’
JM: As they are, and ask why...
RG: ‘And ask why, other people see things that never were and ask why not.’ And that is a political sort of point of view and spirit that animates our campaign. And so part of my answer is, to that question, and I’ll get more specific in terms of money, is given what we know how much small class size would improve the lives of people across the city and not just low income people of color, although that would be the main group that benefits, but it would benefit everybody in the city. How do we not do it? And then the other question is, we will significantly reduce some of the expenditures that de Blasio and the city has allocated to other things. As you guys know, in this year’s budget, there’s $1.1 billion to design new jails. We’re not gonna build new jails. We can close Rikers without building new jails. There’s $2.5 billion for the trolley or the train connecting the Brooklyn and Queens waterfronts. There’s $275 million to build a new police academy. We would take all of those things out of the budget. We would significantly reduce the resources now allocated for law enforcement, starting with policing. Once you end broken windows policing and quotas [unclear word] broken windows policing, that is the law enforcement practice carried out by the majority of police officers. And we think not only is it ineffective, we think it’s abus- -- not think, it is abusive and discriminatory. So, we plan to significantly reduce the resources and personnel for policing. And that would lead to less resources needed across the board. Defense, prosecution, jails. The closing of Rikers and the reduction of the jail population would save hundreds of millions of dollars on its own. And the reason we think we can close Rikers in a year is the, and you guys probably know this, about 70% of the people on Rikers are pre-trial detainees. 90% of them have not even been charged, are not even charged with predatory, dangerous crimes. The sentenced inmates are all charged with very low level, or convicted of very low level offenses. A significant portion of the Rikers population could be removed from the jails without any risk to public safety.
BM: Bail reform?
RG: Well not only bail reform, no no.
BM: Just not arresting in the first place.
RG: Yeah, first of all, not arresting. Also, it’s interesting if you’re following the Brooklyn DA race, how many Brooklyn DA candidates talking about ending broken windows and promoting bail reform. Well, the DAs have a choice not to propose bail. And the current DA is not doing that. We sit in the Brooklyn courts. And he could end broken -- he could end prosecution of broken windows policing tomorrow, just by telling his assistant DAs ‘somebody comes in here on one of these low level charges, we’re not gonna prosecute. We’re gonna come up with some other way to respond to these problems.’ Another thing, you mentioned, Jarrett, the, where, really exposes de Blasio’s claim to be progressive. He’s refused to support even reduced fare for low income people in the city. You know some cockamamie rationale.
BM: This is the Fair Fares MetroCard campaign.
RG: Yeah, yeah, right. And it’s really a head scratcher why he doesn’t, because it would be politically advantageous, plus it would be a good thing. So, in effect though, what the city policy is, is since fare evasion is the second most common arrest, marijuana possession is the fourth most common arrest, is the city punishes people who are jumping the turnstile or are attempting to jump the turnstile. And no one could have a productive life in New York City, it’s not even an exaggerative statement, unless you can use the subways and the buses in New York City. So by punishing people who are jumping the turnstile -- primarily because they’re too poor, they’re not jumping the turnstile for the thrill of it -- and instead you arrest them or you summons them, you are basically applying a regressive practice that criminalizes poverty to a group of people where another policy is available to enable them to take the subways and take the police and law enforcement out of their lives. And that’s why we’re promoting free fare for low income people. And also, 92%, this is their own numbers, 92% of the people that the NYPD arrests for fare evasion, [unclear] the last two or three years, have been New Yorkers of color. So it’s another racist practice.
BM: As Jarrett was like “where’s the money come from” and you answered, you had some ideas about moving some budget money around. My Q is a bit larger than that.
RG: The other thing is to galvanize the city around it. Nobody as far as I can see, no mainstream politician says ‘we can take a major step to fix the problem with the public schools by having small classes in every school.’ And I think that some of our positions are controversial amongst the broader public. Some of our position around policing would be controversial. I don’t think small class size would be controversial. People might worry about, well where’s the money gonna come from, people’ll say ‘yeah, small class sizes would really work.’
BM: You find almost no one who would be against that.
RG: Yeah, right, right.
BM: Some people say it doesn’t actually matter as much as quality of teacher. We can get to that another time
RG: No, no, I agree, quality of teacher is very important. It’s just, from a systemic point of view in terms of a solution, guaranteeing quality teachers in every class is more of a difficult challenge. But reducing the size of the class is in my view manageable and would improve our [unclear].
BM: Would you be prepared to run this city, to run a city that has an $85B budget, that has sprawling bureaucracy and these agencies. For whatever faults of BDB, the public advocate’s office is obviously very small, but he had governmental trajectory w/ city council, PA, familiarity w/ all inner working of gov. Maybe that didn’t translate into great management as many of his critics would say, but are you prepared to be mayor?
RG: Yes. It’s actually a question people ask me, ‘do you really want to be mayor?’
BM: Well that’s different, that’s actually very different.
RG: But I want to, and I’m prepared to, because it’s very important for these things to happen. And if I became mayor, we would make progress toward all these things. And I understand the question, you know, I ran an organization 15-20 people, the Correctional Association. But my judgment about leadership and even management doesn’t go to how often you’ve done it before, but goes to temperament and judgment about people. The key thing that I did well at the Correctional Association, and it took me a while, I was there for 29 years, was hire good people, and people not only who were very talented and very energetic and politically committed, but people who were team players and would cooperate and collaborate with other people. That was like a requirement. And so I would apply some of that sensibility and judgment to my work as mayor, and also the, I think we all know, it’s not anything we’ve emphasized in our campaign, I mean de Blasio is roundly criticized for his management style. I’ve talked -- I mean, the press has written stories about it. I’ve talked to a number of people who’ve worked in city government who left very frustrated because it’d take way too long to make a decision, and there were memos going back and forth from the agency people to the political people, and their criticism was the political people often trumped the agency people and what the agency people wanted -- wanted to do. And we would not be bogged down by things like that.
BM: Mayor, as you’ve acknowledged, is kind of a lock for reelection. He’s very heavily favored in primary. Are you worried about sort of hurting him in the primary and giving general election opponent, maybe your campaign takes off, but is that a concern you have?
RG: You know, I’ve thought about that. My bigger concern, and I’ll get to the concern about damaging de Blasio, is that we don’t get a sufficient lift off for our campaign so that people could say ‘well look, you know, Gangi made this effort, he had some people behind him, and clearly there are not enough New Yorkers who care about these issues, who want to eliminate racism from the police department, who want to provide decent housing for homeless people and poor people, who want to provide better education, free fares on the subways and the buses.’ Some concern about hurting de Blasio, and for me it’s a mix. And, it’s clearly become a stronger negative view since I declared and since de Blasio has in effect become my political opponent, is he damages progressives. He claims to be a progressive, he wears that mantle easily. Most of the press keep calling him progressive, and he’s not progressive. The two progressive things that he has done since he’s been mayor is the universal pre-K, and as you guys probably know, if you ever ask anybody why you’re endorsing or supporting de Blasio, that’s what they say. They forget, often, because I’ve been in debates at the clubs where a surrogate for him is talking, they forget the other thing that he’s done that I think has been a good thing is keep the rents down for people in rent stabilized apartments. That’s it. On issues like reduced fare for low income people, he takes what I consider to be a regressive position, because he’s not supporting it. This issue now where he’s at odds with Melissa Mark-Viverito where he has the nerve to say we’re not gonna defend people because they were convicted of a felony and could’ve been, who knows, five years ago, ten years ago, fifteen years ago, they did their time, and he’s saying we don’t wanna provide lawyers for them? That is a regressive position. He doesn’t have any serious position promoting diversity in the public schools. As you guys probably know, we came out with a plan last week; he won’t even have a press conference about it, and neither did Carmen Farina have a press conference about it. He supports and promotes racist policing. His affordable housing plan, and they keep claiming that he’s provided affordable housing, once you, again, look behind the rhetoric and see what actually they’ve delivered on, most of the housing units that they’re building in low income communities are not gonna be affordable for the people who live in those communities. He’s not a true progressive. And he damages, in my judgment, the progressive movement and the principle that we could have progressive policies based on social and racial and economic justice that could galvanize a broad public. He has not attempted to do that. He is essentially a mainstream, opportunistic politician. So, I am not as upset or concerned about the possibility that we could do such significant damage to him that he may not win reelection against whoever the Republican is, but the -- in part, it’s time will tell. Time will tell whether he moves more aggressively to be a true progressive, or how regressive and Trumpian whoever the Republican candidate is.
JM: Time will indeed tell, we have three more months, thank you.