Gotham Gazette

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Cynthia Nixon Should Avoid De Blasio’s Sham Progressivism

Mayor de Blasio

Mayor de Blasio (photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayor's Office))

It is impressive that Mayor de Blasio has succeeded in wrapping himself in the progressive mantle despite the reality of his record. While his rhetoric stakes claim to that mantle, his record fails to merit the honor. As the old saying goes, actions speak louder than words -- or should, at least.

Perhaps it is additionally important now to scrutinize that record since it is commonly understood that Governor Andrew Cuomo's well-publicized challenger from the left, Cynthia Nixon, will campaign very much in the spirit of de Blasio's first mayoral run in 2013, which she intensely supported.

His policing policies alone, involving starkly racially-biased "broken windows" tactics, undercut the political identity that he seeks and that many journalists grant him. These practices target people of color daily for petty infractions that have been virtually decriminalized in white areas.

Relevant facts include: 85 to 95% of NYPD misdemeanor arrests involve New Yorkers of color, including 91% of marijuana possession arrests -- despite research findings that white people use and sell the drug in equal or greater proportions to African-Americans and Latinos -- and 91.5% of fare-beating arrests, which is the third most common NYPD arrest. About 95% of NYPD juvenile arrests involve black and brown youth. About 90% of persons confined on Rikers Island are African-American and Latino, and they are there for two main reasons: they're too poor to afford bail and an NYPD officer has arrested them.

A major area where de Blasio has failed to meet the needs of disadvantaged New Yorkers -- supposedly a key part of his base -- is our city's dual, related crises: homelessness and the lack of affordable housing. Again, facts: over 63,000 people live in our homeless shelters, an increase of about 13,000 since de Blasio took office; over 90% of our homeless families are African-American or Latino; and research shows that lack of affordable housing is the primary cause of homelessness.

De Blasio's most recent proposal regarding homelessness, made last year, entails opening 90 new shelters over the next five years with the modest goal of reducing the number of homeless people by 2,500. Possibly trying to trick us into thinking that the plan would have a significant effect, he called it "Turning the Tide on Homelessness." More like "Flying the White Flag of Surrender."

In 2014 de Blasio unveiled a plan to build or preserve 200,000 affordable housing units. He touts its success as a major progressive achievement of his first term. Yet even the city's own numbers show that the plan has not resulted in providing truly affordable housing for New Yorkers who need it most. The de Blasio administration has stated that the city has nearly 1 million households earning less than $42,000 per year, and we know that New York has only 425,000 units that these households can afford. Despite this shortfall, 80% of the so-called affordable units created in de Blasio's plan will be unaffordable for these low-income households.

A central problem is that de Blasio's plan artificially inflates what's considered "affordable," measuring a household’s eligibility by an Area Median Income (AMI) that includes all five boroughs and comparatively wealthy counties outside of the city: Westchester, Putnam, and Rockland. This card trick masquerading as fair practice opens the door for developers to build housing that ends up displacing families it supposedly serves.

On other liberal litmus test issues, de Blasio grades an “F.” He's failed to dismiss, as he has the power to, any of the officers whose reckless conduct contributed directly to Eric Garner's death; refused to include in the city budget money to support reduced or free subway and bus fares for poor New Yorkers -- instead, his police department arrests them; substantially ducked pressure to diversify our public schools, the country's third most segregated system; in response to credible charges that his administration engaged regularly in "pay-to-play" transactions benefitting major donors, promised to publish a list of wealthy contributors who received no government favors, then failed to do so; despite loud outcry by public defender groups, refused to provide legal representation to immigrant New Yorkers facing deportation convicted of felonies no matter how long ago.

De Blasio's record also exposes his tenuous relationship with facts. He's publicly repeated that the NYPD has ended most marijuana possession arrests, when last year it made 17,880. He claimed in donor appeals during last year's mayoral race that "special interests have spent $13 million to stop us." According to The New York Times, that figure includes $5.8 million that Uber spent in 2015 lobbying to beat back his attempt to limit the number of its cars on the roads. He claims New York as a "sanctuary city" despite his "broken windows" policing putting undocumented New Yorkers at risk of deportation daily.

De Blasio often states that he is the first Democrat elected New York City mayor in 20 years. It's a disingenuous point -- his predecessor Mike Bloomberg was a life-long Democrat who switched party affiliation to run for mayor in 2001 and who supported many standard liberal positions, such as on abortion, gay rights, gun control, and immigration. Even the notoriously law-and-order mayor from the ‘90s, Rudy Giuliani, backed most of those stances, too.

As the truth sets in, more New Yorkers see past the mayor's liberal rhetoric and recognize what his record reveals, that he is a mainstream, opportunistic politician. Cynthia Nixon, who's had an impressive early run out of the gate, confronts an important political call. To maintain her credibility as a progressive alternative to the governor, she must put some distance between herself and her old friend de Blasio.

For example, she must call for an end to biased and abusive "broken windows" policing and for dismissing the officers involved in the Eric Garner incident. She must promote free or reduced public transit fares for low-income New Yorkers and an aggressive plan to desegregate our public schools. She must call out and take on big real estate and propose an affordable housing plan that provides units that people living in poor communities can actually afford.

Finally, Nixon cannot lay a blanket charge of corruption just on Cuomo when evidence of  "pay-to-play" governance has clearly tarnished the de Blasio administration. Taking such steps will increase her standing as an outspoken progressive with broad appeal for the voters likely to cast ballots in the Democratic primary in September. in addition to being strategic politically, it has the advantage of being the right thing to do.

Bob Gangi is the director of the Police Reform Organizing Project (PROP). On Twitter @GangiFromPROP.

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