A Tale Of Many Cities: Potholes in the Road To Municipal Reform

by Steve Early


There is no better role model for aspiring radical scribes than Juan Gonzalez. The country’s leading Latino journalist is co-host of Democracy Now!, a former columnist for the New York Daily News, and twice winner of the Polk Award for his investigative reporting. Not many veterans of campus and community struggles in the Sixties and workplace organizing in the 1970s later moved into mainstream journalism with such distinction, Gonzalez has managed to combine daily newspapering with continued dedication to the cause of labor and minority communities.

As a New York Daily News staffer for two decades, Gonzalez broke major stories on city hall corruption, police brutality, and the toxic exposure of cops, firefighters, and construction workers involved in 9/11 attack rescue or cleanup work. When he wasn’t cranking out twice-a-week columns, he helped lead a big Newspaper Guild strike and wrote four books including Harvest of Empire, a history of Latinos in America,

Gonzalez’s movement background and intimate knowledge of New York City politics makes him an ideal chronicler of the unexpected rise (and near fall) of Bill de Blasio as a city hall reformer. In Reclaiming Gotham: Bill de Blasio and The Movement to End America’s Tale of Two Cities (New Press, 2017), the author situates New York City’s current mayor within a “new generation of municipal leaders” whose election reflects a broader “grassroots urban political revolt” throughout the United States. In that political cohort, however, de Blasio’s personal history as a Central America solidarity activist and, in the 1980s, “an often disheveled admirer of socialist ideas” makes him fairly unique.

Gonzalez reports that, under de Blasio, poor and working class New Yorkers have received a $21 billion “infusion of income and economic benefits” in the form of “universal free pre-kindergarten and after school programs, long overdue wage increases for municipal workers, paid sick leave for all, and a virtual freezing of tenant rents.” He believes the mayor’s sweeping pre-K initiative—deemed impossible by Governor Andrew Cuomo and other critics—“should be judged one of the truly extraordinary educational accomplishments of any municipal government in modern US history.”

Although critics of the mayor, on the left, may disagree, Gonzalez argues that de Blasio has presided over the “most left-leaning government in the history of America’s greatest city.”  Yet, New York remains in thrall to private real estate capital to such a degree that affordable housing for the non-wealthy is still shrinking, rent stabilization offers insufficient protection against displacement, and the mayor’s “build-or-preserve” housing plan, incented by tax breaks for developers and neighborhood rezoning, won’t provide enough below market rate units to meet future need. Continue reading

Labor Must Reject Pat Lynch’s Bitter Bile

Labor Must Reject Pat Lynch’s Bitter Bile
Jonathan Tasini
New York Daily News

As the leader of the police union has raged, incited and poured rhetorical gasoline on a tense city, every other significant labor union has gone mute. Not one of them seems able, or willing, to speak up and blunt the din unleashed by the PBA at the mayor, protesters and just about anyone who doesn’t share Pat Lynch’s world-view.

That’s unconscionable and threatens to undermine labor in the months and years ahead.

The basic principles that inspired labor’s agenda for generations are antithetical to Lynch’s divisiveness. Farmworkers leader Cesar Chavez once said, “Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.”

United Auto Workers President Walter Reuther marched alongside the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and gave King office space at union headquarters, where King wrote parts of his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech. And that tragic moment in Memphis in 1968 was preceded by King’s speech the evening before to striking sanitation workers. Continue reading

The Revolt of the Cities

During the past 20 years, immigrants and young people have transformed the demographics of urban America. Now, they’re transforming its politics and mapping the future of liberalism.

by Harold Meyerson

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto

Pittsburgh is the perfect urban laboratory,” says Bill Peduto, the city’s new mayor. “We’re small enough to be able to do things and large enough for people to take notice.” More than its size, however, it’s Pittsburgh’s new government—Peduto and the five like-minded progressives who now constitute a majority on its city council—that is turning the city into a laboratory of democracy. In his first hundred days as mayor, Peduto has sought funding to establish universal pre-K education and partnered with a Swedish sustainable-technology fund to build four major developments with low carbon footprints and abundant affordable housing. Even before he became mayor, while still a council member, he steered to passage ordinances that mandated prevailing wages for employees on any project that received city funding and required local hiring for the jobs in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ new arena. He authored the city’s responsible-banking law, which directed government funds to those banks that lent in poor neighborhoods and away from those that didn’t.
Continue reading

The Other Mayoral Race

by Zach Cunningham

Marty Walsh

Marty Walsh

In his successful run for mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio was often described as the “anti-Bloomberg.”  A large majority of New Yorkers welcomed his populist, unabashedly progressive stances as an antidote to Michael Bloomberg’s twelve-year reign over the city.

After all, when people call Bloomberg a billionaire, they aren’t just describing his bank account.  They are also describing his persona.  He made billions of dollars by inventing a computer system that helps Wall Street bankers make money faster. He is cold and technocratic, caring more about data points than the people those numbers represent.  He is unashamed in his admiration for fellow members of the city’s moneyed class, telling New York Magazine last September, “If we can find a bunch of billionaires around the world to move here, that would be a godsend.”

But if outside observers want to find an anti-Bloomberg in America’s urban politics, they don’t need to limit their search to de Blasio.  They could just as easily look northeast to Boston, where voters chose Marty Walsh as their next mayor. Continue reading

Two-Faced: The Democratic Party’s Divergent Future

by Harold Meyerson

Harold Meyerson

Harold Meyerson

Michael Bloomberg has declined to endorse anyone in the race to succeed him as New York’s mayor. Neither Democrat Bill de Blasio, whose entire campaign is a critique of Bloomberg’s tenure in office, nor Republican Joseph Lhota, who is trailing de Blasio by a mind-boggling 50 points and who has been heard disparaging Bloomberg to boot, has endeared himself to the billionaire mayor.

But Bloomberg has not been without other local endorsement options—just not for mayor. Earlier this week, hizzoner’s spokesman said that Bloomberg would endorse Newark Mayor Cory Booker in his bid to win New Jersey’s U.S. senate seat later this month. (The date of the special election is October 16th.) The New York Times has reported that Bloomberg’s PAC will spend $1 million on ads to boost Democrat Booker in his surprisingly close race against Tea Party Republican Steve Lonegan. The most recent poll, from Quinnipiac, shows Booker leading Lonegan by 12 points—the same margin as last month, but down considerably from pre-September polls that showed Booker on top by more than 20 points.

More divides Booker from de Blasio than their diverging electoral fortunes (though Booker, like de Blasio, is still favored to win) or their backing, or lack thereof, from Bloomberg, or, for that matter, the Hudson River. Each personifies a distinct future for the Democratic Party—futures that ultimately are mutually exclusive. As Washington marvels at the degree of Democratic unity and Republican disarray at the national level, it’s easy to overlook the intra-party differences that still split the Democrats, particularly at the municipal level. A look at Booker and de Blasio can illuminate some of the Democrats’ emerging fault lines. Continue reading