The progressive media is abuzz about New York City’s new mayor, Bill de Blasio, who is seen by some as the new front of the American left. This idea is misguided, however, and should be discarded to the dust bin. I write here as a concerned citizen who wants to peel back the truth for everyone to examine themselves.
Deconstructing de Blasio’s progressive perception
Before providing constructive criticism and a critique of Bill de Blasio, it is important to discuss his “progressive” perception. Democratic blogger and writer Brent Budowsky opined in The Hill that de Blasio was “the FDR mayor of New York”, adding that “progressive populists today have three heroes. They are Warren, de Blasio, and Pope Francis.” This is frankly absurd, since Elizabeth Warren is a bit duplicitous herself as I have noted on White Rose Reader, along with other ‘progressives.’ 1
Back to de Blasio, he recently worked with the new City Council speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, to guarantee that “as many as 500,000 more New Yorkers” will have paid sick days, but some Council members said they weren’t consulted. The New York Times said that the bill would “require businesses with five or more employees” to provide five days of sick leave to “full-time workers if they, or their family members, fell ill” and would only apply to 360,000 New Yorkers. Many progressives would likely applaud this, along with de Blasio’s move to “issue city ID cards” to undocumented immigrants which still carries with it problems with the “war on immigrants” going on in this country. However, these claims of progressivity are deeply questioned when the city’s unions, in de Blasio’s view, may “simply have to make concessions” and this is complimented by the fact that while there is hope in the eyes of the unions that he will favor them, “there’s little indication that unions will receive full retroactive pay in upcoming contracts,” as Ari Paul noted in Equal Times.
Just like the war-criminal-in-chief Barack Obama,2 De Blasio invoked Martin Luther King Jr., saying that King would embrace his “attack on economic inequality,” not mentioning that King, throughout his life, deeply criticized the economic system of capitalism, even saying in May 1965: “Call it democracy, or call it democratic socialism, but there must be a better distribution of wealth within this country for all God’s children.”
However, some of those fighting for social justice, for instance, The OccupyWallStNYC twitter account, which does not speak for the Occupy movement, basically endorsed de Blasio, saying that his “election …creates a powerful opportunity 2turn the vision of #OWS [Occupy Wall Street]…into daily workings of city gov[ernment]” which I quickly and roundly criticized. Still, they later criticized Bratton for celebrating MLK day, saying it was “hypocritical for the architect of #StopAndFrisk to “celebrate” #MLKDay…Not NY’s Finest Moment.” The original endorsement of de Blasio as mayor could be, in part, because some on the right-wing have falsely called him a socialist, with an interesting response on Indypendent wondering what would happen if an actual socialist took power in the city.
Not everything was hunky dory, though. For instance, de Blasio’s allegiance to the right-wing pro-Israel lobby, AIPAC, was criticized by the editors of The Nation who have continually supported him. They argued that he has “a unique opportunity to help end the stranglehold of AIPAC by meeting with J Street” — which seems to be putting too much faith in the mayor. There were a number of other pointed criticisms which broke the vise of progressivism; for instance, Nathan Schneider, an editor of Waging Nonviolence, warned those who believed in “politics from the ground up in New York City” of trusting de Blasio because he had tempered enthusiasm in Occupy during its height, had contributions given to his campaign coffers by “John Zuccotti himself, co-chair of Brookfield Office Properties” which owns Zuccotti Park on paper, and “he [de Blasio] has had some other unsettling trysts with city real estate developers as well.”
Independent journalist Ari Paul on Jacobin went even farther in his criticism, stating that skepticism of de Blasio “is warranted” since he has “the backing of many real estate developers, and has recently attempted to court Goldman Sachs and other top Wall Street firms” clearly showing that this mayor doesn’t represent “any kind of social movement” but that under his leadership, “workers in New York [City] have more leverage now than in recent memory.”
Don Lash on Socialist Worker wrote a detailed and constructive criticism of de Blasio, stating that there are a number of reasons New Yorkers are glad that Bloomberg’s rule is ending, and this is why for many, “the de Blasio campaign was a breath of fresh air.” Lash notes that de Blasio served under David Dinkins, the city’s last Democratic Mayor, who, in his view, “never challenged the finance and real estate interests that wield power in the city.” He also worked at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) under the Clinton Administration, and he was okay with that administration’s “reforms” to the department, which resulted in privatization, downsizing, and so on. Also while in this role, “rehab-loan scams happened under his not-so-observant watch, and U.S. taxpayers were screwed” as noted by Darcy G. Richardson.
Lash further wrote that de Blasio has taken a stance deeply opposing the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement directed against Israel’s occupation of Palestine 3, that he only opposed stop-and-frisk because of “grassroots activism” but not a “personal commitment” which was shown when William Bratton was brought back as the NYPD chief. Bratton had “intensified the NYPD’s offensive to assert control over low-income communities of color” which is, in Lash’s view, “a strong indication that he doesn’t intend to challenge the Giuliani/Bloomberg police regime.” This brings one to the conclusion that de Blasio is clearly a “scumbag progressive,” as I noted in the closing of an article endorsing alternative party candidates in the New York City mayoral campaign.
Attack of the NYPD: aggressiveness in blue
De Blasio’s real nature came to light when one of his first acts was to appoint William “broken-windows theory” Bratton to head the NYPD. Patricia J. Williams, in the liberal magazine, The Nation, wrote that Bratton was a “a proponent of so-called ‘broken windows’ policing…[which] asserts that aggressively going after very minor offenses…will bring the overall rate of violent crime down as well”; hence, the stop and frisk program. This type of “zero tolerance of minor offenses is enforced only in some communities”, and as Williams notes, was “begun under Giuliani, was powered up under Bloomberg” with “poor minority neighborhoods” being flooded with “officers, their productivity measured by quotas for stops, criminal summonses and arrests.”
A December 2013 article in Gothamist added to this, noting that Bratton would have crushed down Occupy as brutally as Kelly, quoting him as saying he would have “cleared them [the occupiers] out right away” and said bluntly that “you can’t allow people to occupy public space.” The article went on to say that people may be disappointed with Bratton in this regard, what they described as his “fascist disregard for the Constitutional right to freedom of assembly” and noted that Bratton endorsed “stop and frisk” as well. In January of this year, only two weeks into his job, he spoke at the Ford Foundation, saying the “problem” of stop and frisk “has been more or less solved.” This wasn’t all.
If you thought Bratton being appointed as the NYPD commissioner was bad enough, this is only the beginning. At a campaign stop in September of last year, de Blasio stated: “I am someone who does believe in the core notions of the ‘broken windows’ theory…I think you never ignore smaller offenses”, adding: “We do need to be discerning about meaningful offenses versus the kind that are not really a good use of police time…we got serious crime that we always have to be vigilant to address, and I want police time going to fighting real crime.”
This theory, which has been promoted by the conservative Manhattan Institute, basically “emphasizes strict enforcement of quality-of-life crimes as a way to deter more serious and violent crime.” It is a bit disconcerting when one learns that one of the founders of the theory, criminologist and fellow with the Manhattan Institute, George Kelling 4, is being chosen by Bratton to lead “a survey of parks, popular public spaces like Times Square, and the nation’s largest subway system — all with the intent of nipping small problems before they turn into major issues.” Clearly, what Lash called the “Giuliani/Bloomberg police regime” as noted earlier in this article is not going away.
Even without Kelling, the NYPD has continued their war on the poor, marginalized, and disadvantaged in the service of the city’s privileged elite, with support and backing from de Blasio. A recent article in the New York Times, using available police statistics, showed that the NYPD “has already begun ramping up arrests of panhandlers and peddlers in the transit system” including profiling of supposed panhandlers and peddlers by the police, despite “a general decline in arrests, summonses and stops” which was mainly because of a decline in “officers’ stopping and frisking people on the street.” The article noted that there was “a noticeable spike in arrests for low-level violations in public housing developments” and that “arrests for violations” on New York Housing Authority property, including “drinking beer in public and riding a bike on the sidewalk” increased by over 21%. All the while, the NYPD has increasingly been kicking off more homeless people from subways. The article noted that while stop and frisk numbers have declined, it has not gone away. In fact, 353 have been stopped and frisked already this year, while “hundreds of thousands” are frisked at traffic stops every year, with no data on most of these stops. The article also quotes Bratton saying he wants the “the police to aggressively pursue low-level infractions and misdemeanors”, adding “if you take care of the little things, then you can prevent a lot of the big things.”
This view is supported by de Blasio, with his approach Vision Zero, the official purpose to stop traffic deaths, which the New York Times called a “sweeping set of proposals aimed at improving street safety in New York City”. While the Times also noted the increased police involvement in enforcing such proposals, there was one part not mentioned: the NYPD’s ‘war’ on jaywalking, which some say goes against progressive principles. This ‘war’ has resulted in $40-$250 fines “depending on the violation” mirroring Giuliani’s plan in 1998, officially aimed to stop traffic deaths.
Mayor de Blasio’s support for the oppressive model of ‘broken-windows policing’ and increased policing is not all. Bratton has said that while he supports medical marijuana, he believes that “it would be a terrible mistake to legalize it for everybody” which is a view shared by de Blasio. This is troubling, because it shows that the ‘war on drugs,’ which is really a ‘war’ on the blacks and other minorities, will continue under the guise of progressivism in New York City. As a result, it is no surprise that Bratton and de Blasio have both insisted that Stop and Frisk be ‘reformed’ and not ended because they both believe “that there is a correlation between aggressive policing and crime reduction” which is not supported by the evidence.
Scarily, this notion is connected to something called ‘predictive policing’ which is rooted in the idea that “sophisticated computer analysis of information about previous crimes [can] predict where and when crimes will occur.” The reason for this connection is that the policing practice “has its conceptual origins” in the ‘broken windows’ theory and meshes easily with the ideas of the theory in the words of doctoral candidate and CUNY graduate student Whitney Richards-Calathes. This technology of the ‘predictive policing,’ in her words, predicts “minor offenses, like burglary or auto theft” but not “technology marketed to hit much more serious issues such as white-collar crime.” As a result it deeply affects communities of color since “the most over-policed crimes are offenses that are believed to be committed by people of color” according to Richards-Calathes.
Predictive policing has already been implemented in police departments ranging from Los Angeles, “California, Washington, South Carolina, Arizona, Tennessee, and Illinois” as noted by the FBI. This idea is, according to the New York Times, “attracting increasing attention from law enforcement agencies around the country.” The idea of ‘predictive policing’ is deeply concerting because it eerily has parallels to the idea of ‘pre-crime’ in Minority Report and seemingly threatens the Fourth Amendment protection from “unreasonable searches and seizures.” Additionally, as Privacy SOS noted, “there is no public evidence to suggest that the algorithms do anything to promote public safety” or that the “data inputs and algorithms are neutral.”
The terror ‘threat’
Also. the fight against terror has continued under the new mayor’s watch. He describes Bratton as a “progressive-crime fighter,” claiming that “safe streets and respect for individual liberty go hand-in-hand.” Bratton stated that there would not only be transparency in the NYPD; he “signaled he would keep and expand some crime-fighting and counterterror programs but wasn’t afraid to make changes” as noted in the same article on Crain’s New York Business.
Let’s also not forget that Bratton is keeping and ‘reforming’ a program put in place by likely fascist Ray Kelly, called Operation Impact where “rookie officers are assigned to patrol crime hotspots across the city,” meaning that “rookie cops will first be assigned to precincts to gain experience and learn from veterans before they are given more challenging postings.” This follows what was expressed in an AP article that the de Blasio administration would “take a hard look at [the city's] counterterrorism operation” but that “under any administration, the city must keep devoting resources to counter a threat that isn’t going away.” This view is no surprise, as the NYPD officially believes that “terrorists may portray themselves as legitimate customers in order to purchase or lease certain materials or equipment, or to undergo certain formalized training to acquire important skills or licenses” and encourages “business owners, operators and their employees to…discern anything unusual or suspicious and to report such instances to authorities.”
A neo-surveillance state
This talk of ostensibly ‘counter terror’ measures leads to one word: surveillance. The main program of surveillance is called the Domain Awareness System, carried out in conjunction with the huge multinational, Microsoft. It is officially meant to “detect, deter, and prevent potential terrorist activities” but in reality it is a huge database for the NYPD, pulling in all data collected from NYPD-owned CCTVs and possibly ‘stakeholder CCTVs’ by monitoring “public areas and public activities” where people, in their view, don’t have a ‘reasonable expectation of privacy.’ While it doesn’t use facial recognition (yet) and only stores videos for 30 days, metadata and data from license plates are stored for five years and can be stored for longer if deemed necessary. Environmental data, which is murkily defined as “data collected by devices designed to detect hazards related to potential terrorist threats, or to respond to terrorist attacks” is stored indefinitely. Just like the mass surveillance system conducted by the NSA, CIA, FBI, and others, there is a high probability of abuse.
The NYPD does have a set of purposes for gathering data, but they can also take in “something useful for a legitimate law enforcement or public safety” without “additional approval.” Data can be taken in if it “is intentionally used for a legitimate law enforcement or public safety purpose” and data supposedly in a lockbox can be shared with third parties, a term not described, after a “memorandum of understanding” is established.
The reason this NYPD surveillance is mentioned at all is that de Blasio’s rise to the office of Mayor has made mass surveillance in the state bipartisan. The Domain Awareness Program has not ended; in fact, it has been expanded. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal, the mouthpiece of Wall Street, noted that NYPD officers will soon have “a digital tablet and a mobile app” where they can access the database just described. This is deeply disturbing, since some officers will “be able to look at footage from surveillance cameras on the street or at the readings on radiation and other chemical sensors around the city” which increases the likelihood of privacy violations.
This sort of surveillance ties into the ‘war’ on the disempowered mentioned earlier. The continuation of the total surveillance which billionaire and neoliberal Bloomberg advocated seems to be assured. One of the groups being spied on are Muslims in the state of New York. In October, the CBS local for New York falsely claimed that de Blasio promised a group of Muslim supporters in October of last year that he would end surveillance on them, when what he said was that he just wanted “a full review of all surveillance efforts.” This view is reinforced by what he said the month before when he told a caller that “we need to do a full review of all surveillance efforts” but did not call for an end to the program. This was different from what he had said five months later, when at a forum, along with Christine Quinn, he declared in the words of Policy Mic that “spying on Muslims is still considered a justifiable and acceptable practice.” Recently, this issue resurfaced when independent journalist Uzma Kolsy wrote in The Guardian that “although Bill de Blasio announced…that he would be moving forward with plans to observe Muslim holidays in the public school calendar…the NYPD continues to unjustly target Muslims” and de Blasio has not instituted any “real reform in these matters.” This continues to be an issue since in February a federal judge threw out the case against the surveillance, saying the “alleged injuries [from the surveillance] flow from the Associated Press’s unauthorized disclosure of the documents.”
Developers, donors, and others
This continuation of surveillance of the marginalized and the ensuing war brings one to a related topic: the connection of developers, donors, and the business community to the de Blasio administration. Specific relationships to Wall Street and the real estate sector will be discussed later. As for donors, deep-pocket donors gave checks that went “far in excess of the usual campaign finance limitations” as noted by the New York Daily News. Donors who were offering “last minute-backing” to de Blasio had a “financial stake in his administration” as they dumped $2 million into his coffers. The taxi industry seemingly gave a huge amount of money to his campaign, and developer Rafael Cestero “who creates affordable housing” with the help of the City government, advised “de Blasio in the selection of people who will lead [relevant]…agencies [for him] in the incoming administration” which creates a conflict of interest since he “might be lobbying or doing business with the appointees he’s helped to select.”
On the other hand, it is important to remember that “the income gap between New York’s wealthiest and poorest citizens” has recently increased drastically. “The poor, adjusting for inflation, got poorer and the rich got much, much richer” while “the wealthiest households continue to hold a greater and greater share of the city’s total income,” which is skewed in a racial way as noted by the Village Voice. This disparity is why Steve Hindy, co-founder and president of Brooklyn Brewery, wrote on business-friendly Crain’s New York Business that “America has become a kind of oligarchy. The current state of affairs is not good for capitalism.” He also expressed hope that “the people of New York give Mr. de Blasio a chance” while he absurdly attacked Occupy for the typical reasons that were used by the mainstream media: “not-very-clearly-defined goals and a lack of leadership” both which are blatantly false.
What is de Blasio’s solution? According to the New York Business Journal he is aggressively pushing for “economic development and worker training initiatives for the city’s tech sector” in order to take further advantage of the city’s rich combination of academic, corporate and creative organizations that can spur tech growth. In October 2013, de Blasio elaborated on this when he spoke to the business-friendly Association for a Better New York (ABNY),5 saying that “a city that understands our economic might isn’t measured solely by the number of millionaires who call New York home” and claimed that there was “a crisis of affordability” in the city. He also bombastically declared that “Wall Street has not only recovered to its pre-recession levels” while “nearly half of our city lives below or near the poverty level,” calling for an end to giveaways for luxury housing, supporting construction of alternative housing, and that Bloomberg’s emphasis on “expanding New York’s research universities as a magnet for talent, growing the tech sector and launching the applied sciences initiative, [and] helping to bring back and grow New York City’s film and television industry” should be continued along with a “dedicated 2-year STEM program at CUNY.” He indicated that he wanted to establish a “job creation coordinator to oversee all workforce development6 programs in the city” and have “economic development hubs in at least twelve immigrant and low-income neighborhoods.”
A Dow Jones writer quoted de Blasio as saying that the city should “move away from large corporation tax breaks”, calling them not productive, but he also said: “I’m not going after them [Wall Street] and I don’t intend to go after them, but what I intend to do is to ask the wealthy in this city to pay a little more in taxes so we can fix our school system.” This is deeply troubling for a person who said they would challenge the financial powers in the city of New York.
In a pro de Blasio article in The Atlantic, a writer noted that not only will “de Blasio’s modest tax hike [on the rich]…do nothing to alter the fundamental factors that draw and keep rich people in New York City” but that the tax itself is a “symbolic gesture” in paying for the programs that he wants. This ‘gesture,’ which is a tax of less than 1%, will only last for five years and is almost a joke. Let’s flash back to 2010 when de Blasio, then a Public Advocate, spoke at the breakfast of the business-friendly Association for a Better New York, saying that “punishing Wall Street, taxing Wall Street into oblivion couldn’t be worse for New York City and I oppose that…I do not want to see Wall Street punished, but I do want to see Wall Street reformed…I’ve gotten to the point where I’m not sure any new revenue we can propose would be productive.” This stance has since changed but only slightly since his small tax on the rich of “half of a percent hardly seems like relegating anyone to “oblivion” as noted by Gothamist.
Wall Street, the financial sector, and de Blasio
This minuscule tax on the rich has some people believing he is a crusader against Wall Street. This can’t be farther from the truth. An article on CNBC, which one could call the Capitalist News and Bankster Channel, noted that Goldman Sachs and other big companies backed de Blasio in his campaign. The article stated that “donors to the de Blasio campaign since he won the Democratic primary election on Sept. 10 include the founder of $6 billion hedge fund firm Kynikos Associates…co-founder of investment banking firm Centerview Partners…an executive director of Morgan Stanley Private Wealth Management…a principal at $28 billion hedge fund firm Baupost Group…[a] head of hedge fund firm Boston Provident and a longtime Democratic fundraiser [Orin Kramer who] has recently pitched de Blasio to his Wall Street peers, including Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein and WL Ross & Co. founder Wilbur Ross, Goldman Sachs general counsel Robert Katz” as well as billionaire investor, George Soros, who is continuously criticized by the right-wing in their propaganda as a master manipulator.
The article quoted Orin Kramer as saying that de Blasio is “extremely smart. He’s also acutely aware that lifting incomes for middle-class families requires robust economic growth, and that we’re competing with major cities around the world for the capital which drives that growth.” This support from Wall Street was because de Blasio “has been wooing the investment community…assuring bankers, real estate developers and corporate executives that he understands their importance” as noted on Bloomberg News in October of last year. As a result, it’s no surprise that the co-founder of the huge investment management firm BlackRock, Ralph Schlosstein, William Mulrow, the senior managing director of Blackstone Group, the “world’s largest alternative-asset manager,” Kathryn Wylde, who is the president of the Partnership for New York City, and Donald Marron, the founder of the private equity firm named Lightyear Capital LLC all praised de Blasio. 7
For this reason, the statement by Nick Colas, the chief strategist at ConvergEx, seems to ring true:
The fear that he’s [de Blasio's] going to turn against Wall Street is overblown. You can understand where the fear comes from after having a mayor that’s understood Wall Street for years [Bloomberg]. But I put this down to fear of the unknown more than anything else…The New York economy is about finance and Wall Street. That’s not going to change if de Blasio wins.
Christiana Geer, a professor of American politics at Fordham University, is of the view that “de Blasio will do his best to keep his campaign promises, but that doesn’t mean it comes at the expense of Wall Street. There are so many ways he can work with Wall Street to keep them happy” as noted in a Yahoo! Finance article. After all, de Blasio’s wife “once worked in public relations at Citigroup” and de Blasio supposedly consults with big-time investors, as noted in this same article.
Mayor de Blasio reflected on this in his State of the City address in which he declared that:
More quickly than most predicted, our financial sector has come back. Wall Street has not only rebounded above its pre-recession levels, but at present hovers near historic highs. And in some of our neighborhoods, the streets are consistently safe and opportunity consistently flows. That is a good thing. We celebrate that success…We demand a city that lifts the floor for those struggling day to day…that offers every New Yorker a fair shot…because that is the city that we all signed up for…We will create an Entrepreneurship Fund for low-income New Yorkers and a Fashion Manufacturing Fund — which will leverage private capital to ensure small business growth and fashion manufacturing across all five boroughs….we will reinvent our maze of overlapping and often-ineffective job training program.
These words seem to echo those of the neoliberal Obama in his State of the Union address this January in which he said:
Today, after four years of economic growth, corporate profits and stock prices have rarely been higher, and those at the top have never done better…The cold, hard fact is that even in the midst of recovery, too many Americans are working more than ever just to get by…too many still aren’t working at all. Our job is to reverse these trends.
However, there is one major difference: the conflict between de Blasio and Andrew Cuomo who is pushing a “tax-cutting agenda” and has “established himself as a champion for austerity.” He reportedly “wants Republicans to maintain control of the state senate in order to make it easier for him to reduce taxes and spending on services” while he “represents the banality of the current Democratic Party” as noted by Ari Paul.
Despite the conflict between Cuomo and de Blasio which seems to paint the latter as a populist champion, some of his choices for those in his administration overturn this narrative. After all, as Nicole Gelinas noted on the site of Manhattan Institute not surprisingly: New York is still dangerously dependent on Wall Street and its money…So a Wall Street downturn is still a disaster for the city budget…A shrinking Wall Street hurts other city industries, too.
As pointed out by Crain’s New York Business, “Mr. de Blasio appears to have a positive view of Goldman alumni” keeping “Kyle Kimball, as head of the city’s Economic Development Corp., despite having called the agency overly generous to developers” and appointing Alicia Glen, who has, for the last twelve years, headed “the Urban Investment Group at Goldman Sachs, served under the Giulani administration, and helped fund Citi Bike, as the deputy mayor for housing and economic development. In an interview before she assumed the position, Glen said that “if we [Goldman Sachs] make solid returns and have made a significant contribution, we’re going to get more money. We’re [the big investment banks] are not all evil squids. We’re nice little calamari.” As noted in the New York Times, Glen in her current position will “focus on building more affordable housing and helping connect low-income residents to jobs that pay enough to support their families” and despite Glen’s former association with Goldman Sachs, de Blasio said that he doesn’t care about that, but rather about someone who “shares my values and can get the job done.” Still, it is important to note that this appointment of Glen sent a clear message as noted by the business press, that “city housing policy would now be overseen by one person” while for his supporters this raised eyebrows due to his “slated plan to increase taxes on the wealthy and promises to curb the excesses and influence of Wall Street financial firms.”
Additionally, this makes it no surprise that BankUnited’s CEO John Kanas would say on Bloomberg Television: “If wealthy New Yorkers have to kick in a little bit of money so that young people can go to school early, so that their parents can go to work — not so bad, right?”
Such catering to Wall Street proves that Darcy G. Richardson, who supported the candidate for the Tax Wall Street Party, Randy Credico, for mayor, was right when he said that de Blasio was a “Wall Street Democrat whose…candidacy is being championed and financed by the privileged elite…[a] candidacy is being funded by an array of seedy slumlords, real estate developers and Wall Street parasites.” Let’s not forget that de Blasio never said he was a leftist, but rather saying that he was a “fiscal conservative” which he later ‘amended’ to say he was a “fiscally responsible progressive.” This description of himself echoes the time that Obama said that if he “set the same policies that I had back in the 1980s, I would be considered a moderate Republican” or when Bill Clinton said he was a “Eisenhower Republican.”
Coddling the real estate industry
After looking at de Blasio’s relationship with Wall Street it is important to look at what his relationship is with the powerful real estate industry in the city. As Ari Paul indicated on The Real News Network, de Blasio has “received a lot of backing from Bruce Ratner, who is best known in Brooklyn…for abusing eminent domain to take away private property from regular middle-income homeowners to build a new basketball stadium in Central Brooklyn that came with a bunch of promises for affordable housing that, you know, never came to fruition” and he has “backed other real estate deals in Brooklyn Heights that were opposed by his own constituents.”
This was also reflected in a set of articles on The Real Deal which describes itself as the “go-to source for New York City real estate news” and is simply just a business paper. The first of these articles, noted that “some industry insiders were agreeing that de Blasio may be more pro-development than he appears on first blush” especially since he has “met with several top developers and business leaders in recent months” and that “whoever becomes mayor will have no choice but to play ball with the real estate industry” since the mayor of New York City ‘needs,’ in the view of one commercial broker, the real estate industry.
Another article, the following month, polled “commercial real estate executives” in the city, with 35% saying they were either “very confident” (a smaller number) or “somewhat confident” in de Blasio helping the real estate industry while 21% were “not at all confident” and 35% were “not too confident.” Still, despite this, Steven Spinola, the President of the trade association for the real estate industry, the Real Estate Board of New York, commended the appointment of “Alicia Glen, head of urban investment for Goldman Sachs, as de Blasio’s deputy mayor for housing and economic development” and the continuation of “Kyle Kimball [as] head of the Economic Development Corporation,” saying that “so far it’s been a combination of smart people we know and respect” while others in the industry were concerned about appointments to two specific commissions. 8
Finally, there were quotes from numerous CEOs and high-ranking people in the real estate industry, who spoke about being willing to work with de Blasio on affordable housing which could “benefit the city enormously,” the “152 union contracts that must be negotiated,” the continuation of low crime with “tourism as a key economic driver,” the safety of the city, the continuation of “a smart, pro-business administration with a long-term outlook with little change from Bloomberg” and the continued attraction of the “technology, communications and entertainment sectors…to the city.”
A new ruling structure: the status quo remains
This acquiescence to the real estate industry brings one to the advisers and those serving in de Blasio’s cabinet, who are influenced by the industries already mentioned. Before he even got in office, he had a “diverse, 60-person assortment of nonprofit leaders, political types, educators, [and] rabbis,” with more than 30 who were “de Blasio donors” and there was another unspecified “nonprofit group [which]…has been playing a substantial role in organizing the transition”, with some calling it the ‘shadow transition.’ There was more: de Blasio has the same media consultant firm, AKPD, as Mayor 1%er Rahm Emanuel. That isn’t all. He was receiving advice from “Emanuel’s corporate consultants” called the Civic Consulting Alliance “who are rather gung-ho to close public schools in order to turn them over to charter school operators” as noted in The Nation.
Jarrett Murphy wrote about the formal cabinet and appointments, arguing against the perception that de Blasio’s cabinet was dominated by lefties, noting that not only was Bratton the NYPD commissioner, but “his deputy mayor for human services, Economic Development Corporation head, NYCHA general manager, homeless services commissioner and youth services commissioner all come directly from the Bloomberg administration; his deputy mayor for economic development comes from Goldman Sachs, and his deputy mayor for strategic initiatives comes from an organization that gave Mayor Bloomberg an award for his anti-poverty crusade. The planning chief has deep roots in the midtown business community, the budget boss is a career adviser to the state legislature and the child welfare chief is moving from the Cuomo administration. A developer heads the Housing Development Corporation.” At the same time, he noted that “some of de Blasio’s more recent appointments…are very vocal advocates for a very different way of governing than Bloomberg practiced” and warned that if people see “managerial…appointees [as] somehow ideologically neutral…[it] threatens to get de Blasio compared to Bloomberg not as a progressive taking over from a centrist but as an ideologue seizing power from a technocrat.”
A similar outlining of de Blasio’s team in the Wall Street Journal, notes that de Blasio’s top economic adviser worked at Goldman Sachs, his first Deputy Mayor was a “hospital executive” who served under the Koch and Bloomberg administrations, a school chancellor has a “deep knowledge of a school system” and is considered by some as ending the “era of beating up on teachers and public school parents,” a budget director who worked on negotiations between the Democrats and Republicans in Albany, a head of Children’s Services who served under Andrew Cuomo, and a Chief of Staff who was the executive director of the DNC, a “special assistant in the Obama administration,” a worker for 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, and the executive director of the mayor’s transition team.
There are a number of others. As noted on the mayor’s website, his press secretary, Deputy Press Secretary, and Director of Research and Media Analysis all worked for Obama in some capacity, while his special adviser was the communications director for Harry Reid, the director of operation for the press office has served in her current position for four consecutive administrations, his Deputy Press Secretary served as de Blasio’s press secretary “during his first year as Public Advocate” and has served on his staff since 2010.
At the same time, de Blasio has kept in place “three commissioners tasked with overseeing critical, emergency city services” who were appointed by Bloomberg. He appointed the current Under Secretary for Policy at the US Department of Transportation to “lead the New York City Department of Transportation” and appointed a “Bloomberg administration veteran to head the city’s Health Department” when he vowed to “continue Michael Bloomberg’s sweeping public health agenda… which included mandating that restaurants post calorie counts on menus and banning eateries from serving food with trans fats” as noted by the New York Daily News.
This brings one to the last sentence of an article by Jarrett Murphy which pointedly asks a question that even some fans of de Blasio are bringing up: “At what point do you surround yourself with so many insiders that truly substantial change becomes impossible”?
De Blasio’s “super friends”
We now come to what some are calling a deeper dilemma. Now that the “antagonism in the top ranks of city politics is gone” it has been “replaced by a Democratic kumbaya moment” that has led to what has been characterized as de Blasio’s “super friends”; the “comptroller, the public advocate and the speaker of the City Council” which some claim creates “a landscape devoid of checks and balances, where ideological dissent is quashed or never even allowed to germinate.” Still, this article in Politicker states that de Blasio has a working relationship “with men like Bruce Ratner, the developer of Atlantic Yards, and Steven Spinola, the president of the Real Estate Board of New York.” The reason for such concern is that de Blasio made the “unusual decision to forcefully interject himself into the race for the powerful post leading the City Council” which “may have helped engineer a victory for his preferred candidate”, Melissa Mark-Viverito.
This is troublesome because as a Politicker article points out, “for at least the past 50 years, mayors…haven’t been publicly involved in the selection process for the post that is often seen as a check to the power of the city’s chief executive and with Mark-Viverito in power, de Blasio would have hand-picked the speaker, who would to some degree owe her position to him.” This would “give him a close ally in the position in city government that has the most power to speed up or obstruct his legislative agenda.”
As a result, some “members who did not initially support her candidacy have expressed concern she will punish them and reward her loyalists, in light of the tense fight leading up to the vote” as noted by Capital New York. Finally, Mark-Viverito taking the role of speaker has the business leaders very wary since her belief that the “government should compel the private sector to help struggling New Yorkers mirrors that of Mayor Bill de Blasio” and she is “backed heavily by the council’s Progressive Caucus and by organized labor.”
We now come to one of the most important figures in the New York City government: the city’s top lawyer or corporation counsel. Mayor de Blasio chose Zachary Carter for this position, which the CBS local described as “first black U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York from 1993 to 1999, and oversaw high profile prosecutions including the Abner Louima police brutality case…[who also] started in the office as an assistant U.S. attorney in 1975.”
This isn’t all. He serves as a “partner at the corporate law firm Dorsey & Whitney…[and] chairman of Bloomberg’s committee on the judiciary” as noted by Newsday. From here, I looked into the law firm to see what they had to say about Carter. Their website had a trove of information: Carter served on the “transition team of New York Attorney General-elect Andrew Cuomo” which included Ray Kelly, pro-Wall Street lawyer Mary Jo White who is the current SEC chairwoman, and more; a quote from 2005 where Carter says that he finds “it very comfortable representing individuals and companies under investigation for alleged business crimes;” that he was a friend of Eliot Spitzer who has strongly gone after Wall Street’s crimes; and he served on the boards of Cablevision Systems Corp and Marsh and McLennan Companies.
On Business Week, it noted that Carter, while at Dorsey, represented “companies in government regulated industries and government contractors” and “advised corporate clients on matters concerning regulatory and ethical compliance as well as corporate governance.” An article in the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal stated that “he was previously a federal prosecutor, judge and the U.S. Attorney for New York’s Eastern District, where he indicted Jordan Belfort, the real-life “Wolf of Wall Street.”
Most importantly, he represented Enron’s “former president and head of trading” Greg Walley in the investigation of Enron’s traders making “false trades to overload California’s power-transmission system” then seeking “state payments for relieving the congestion they had caused, even as they drove up the price of power.” Finally, Carter has given sizable contributions to the Obama and Clinton campaigns in the past.
De Blasio’s Relationship with Obama and Clinton
This brings us to the final area of discussion: how de Blasio connects with Clinton and Obama. It cannot be denied that Obama and de Blasio have some sort of relationship which is shown by the fact that in November 2013, Obama phoned de Blasio to congratulate him. Furthermore, de Blasio was a guest at a fundraising reception in September of last year where Obama said he gave “voice to the values that make us Democrats,” a campaign event in March 2012, a campaign event in November 2011, and a visit to Obama in December of last year which was absurdly mocked by the New York Post. As a reminder, this relationship is not good as Obama is not only a war criminal, but also an imperialist, warmonger, and a neoliberal who pushes for privatization, privatization, privatization.
As for Clinton, the relationship is not any better. Dave Lindoff of This Can’t Be Happening writes that this is troubling because Clinton is a “man whose presidency brought us war in Bosnia, the unravelling of habeas corpus, the beginnings of the war on terror (see Effective Death Penalty Act), the end to welfare as we know it, and, of course, the elimination of the Glass-Steagall Act that converted banks into casinos.” Andrew Levine adds to this on CounterPunch, noting that “de Blasio and the Clintons are not strangers” since in the early 1990s he was the “regional director in Clinton’s Department of Housing and Urban Development and, in the 2000 election, he worked as a campaign manager for [Hillary Clinton]” and wonders if de Blasio is “just another Clintonized Democrat in disguise.”
This article is meant to provide a counter-narrative to the progressives who blindly accept de Blasio. As Wendy Brown argues in States of Injury: Power and Freedom in Late Modernity much of liberalism is concerned with distribution of goods such as rights (civil rights & liberties), monies (high wages & equal pay), etc… but not the distribution of power. This distribution of power would include these distribution of goods, but it would also push forward what she calls in the introduction to the book, the ‘dream of democracy,’ that “humans might govern themselves by governing together.”
Mayor de Blasio wants a limited version of the distribution of goods, but clearly does not want this distribution of power. While groups like New Yorkers Against Bratton are a good start, they are not enough, as more alternatives to such ‘progressive’ candidates should be supported and there should be social movement building. In the end, there should be a push for a more equitable distribution of power than under the capitalist system, which has, in Martin Luther King’s words, “failed to meet the needs of the masses. ”9
- In an article titled “A Progressive Surge of Deceptive Hope” this was expanded on more and on my old HermannView tumblr where I wrote about the Pope. [↩]
- Obama disgustingly invoked MLK to endorse his corporate-friendly healthcare plan, saying in August 2013 that MLK would have liked Obamacare. The reality of the matter would likely be very different and MLK would be a major critic if he were alive. [↩]
- This sort of position by politicians of any stripe is sometimes called ‘Progressive Except on Palestine’ (PEP), meaning that one does not hold Israel accountable on its war crimes, standing in solidarity against oppression in Palestine, etc… as noted on Mondoweiss, Socialist Worker, AlterNet, Times of Israel, Religion News Service, and elsewhere. [↩]
- The ‘broken-windows theory’ was originally proposed in 1982 in a ten-page article in the Atlantic Monthly (now The Atlantic) by the late James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling. This article was at the time widely cited and received much attention, and Kelling expanded on it in a book titled Fixing Broken Windows: Restoring Order and Reducing Crime in Our Communities. By this time, Giuliani and Bratton had endorsed the idea and put in place a ‘zero tolerance’ policy for petty crime. Numerous studies since have shown that this policy is a failure (see here, here, here, here, here, and here) and James Q. Wilson said in 2004 “I still to this day do not know if improving order will or will not reduce crime. People have not understood that this was a speculation.” [↩]
- ABNY defines itself as “a coalition of business, labor, non-profit and political leaders” that wants to improve the city with members coming from across New York’s business sector, which means it has a very pro-business approach that cares little about the poor, homeless and disempowered people in New York City. [↩]
- A page of the St. Louis Fed defined this term as describing “a relatively wide range of activities, policies and programs employed by geographies to create, sustain and retain a viable workforce that can support current and future business and industry.” To me, this has a smell of neoliberalism. [↩]
- Ralph Schlosstein called de Blasio “a smart man” who understands New York city is in “global competition,” Kathryn Wylde said that Bloomberg was “Wall Street’s knowledgeable champion” but that Wall Street wants “a mayor who will keep crime low, get the garbage picked up, pay attention to the schools and balance the budget,” and Donald Marron said that de Blasio “recognized that Wall Street and finance in general is a key industry for New York.” [↩]
- These two commissions are the Landmarks Preservation Commission which is currently chaired by a Bloomberg appointee who formerly worked at AT&T, and the Planning Commission, which is headed by a new De Blasio appointee who was the “founding president of the Alliance for Downtown New York, the largest business improvement district in the nation” as noted on the Mayor’s official website. [↩]
- This quote comes from a writing by Martin Luther King between 1948-50, which I posted on my twitter, titled ‘Will Capitalism Survive?’ where he did reject claims of Karl Marx as having an inherent fallacy, but wrote about how labor could take over the presidency, bring about the nationalization of industry, and end capitalism, while calling for a new movement to make this a reality, and so on. [↩]