New York's progressive movement has already changed Washington and Albany. In 2021, it might just change City Hall.
29 September 2020
From left to right: Jumaane Williams, Public Advocate; Scott Stringer, mayoral candidate; Shahana Hanif, City Council candidate (District 39); Sandy Nurse, City Council candidate (District 37); Tiffany Cabán, City Council candidate (District 22)
2020 has been a monumental year for the Left in New York. From defeating one of the top Democrats in Washington to scoring major victories in the battle for the state legislature, the 2020 primary cycle cemented the Left as a formidable force in city politics. The fall of Queens party boss Joe Crowley in 2018 broadened the horizon of what seemed possible for the Left; after the defeat of Eliot Engel, a total sweep by the For The Many legislative slate, and the unexpected loss of a 47-year incumbent to a socialist challenger, it feels like the sky's the limit for the city’s progressive movement.
It's only natural, then, that political observers are making sure to pay attention to how the Left plans to approach 2022. Most popular on the press circuit is the prospect of a primary challenge to Senator Chuck Schumer by firebrand Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. It’s very unlikely this showdown will come to fruition, and the sole public poll on this hypothetical matchup gives little incentive for Ocasio-Cortez to run. A challenge to either House Democratic Caucus chair Hakeem Jeffries or Queens kingmaker Gregory Meeks, however, has real potential to shake up national and city politics. While Andrew Cuomo’s position looks secure as he prepares to run for a fourth term, the position of Lieutenant Governor remains in reach for the Left. Given the success of leftists challenging longtime legislators this cycle, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Assembly veterans like Ridgewood’s Cathy Nolan and Kingsbridge’s Jeffrey Dinowitz fall in 2022.
New York’s socialist movement has already changed Washington and Albany. In 2021, it might just change City Hall as well. Municipal politics matters, and the city government of New York City wields more influence in the realm of policing, housing, and education policy than many other major cities in the United States. With a majority of city council seats open and the mayoralty of the nation’s largest city up for grabs, 2021 presents a historic opportunity for the New York Left.
Choosing “America’s Mayor”
The mayoralty of the nation’s largest city is perhaps the most thankless job in American politics. Despite presiding over a city of more than 8 million people and the national profile that comes with the job, the position is effectively a dead-end for a politician’s career. Serving as mayor usually results in one becoming unpalatable to the rest of the state, which closes the door to future gubernatorial or Senate campaigns. Indeed, the presidential campaigns of the last three mayors all ended in failure.
Though amusing in retrospect, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio’s victory in the 2013 mayoral primary was seen as a historic triumph for the “progressive wing” of the Democratic Party, as loosely defined as it was pre-2016. De Blasio was endorsed in the crowded primary field by left-wing journal The Nation, self-proclaimed democratic socialist city councilman Brad Lander, legendary education reformer Diane Ravitch, and state senator Gustavo Rivera, one of the leading progressives in Albany. De Blasio’s fierce opposition to stop-and-frisk as a mayoral candidate allowed him to surge in the primary despite starting well behind others in the field.
Following his general election victory, millions were sincerely optimistic that a de Blasio administration would crack down on police violence. De Blasio’s “tale of two cities” rhetoric and his pledge to tackle the stark socio-economic disparities of modern-day New York both endeared him to voters and alarmed the uber-wealthy, both in the United States and abroad.
It is crucial for progressives to understand that de Blasio’s failed tenure, particularly in the realm of police reform, has not simply been the result of institutional constrictions. Instead, it should be understood as the result of a lack of personal will on de Blasio’s part and the lack of a significant Left bloc on the New York City Council to hold him accountable to his campaign promises. Winning the position will be crucial for the city’s ascendant Left if it wants to make changes to the way the city approaches policing, housing, education, and other areas of policy in need of drastic reform.
Early speculation in 2019 and the first months of 2020 generally surrounded the potential mayoral candidacies of five names: Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz Jr., Comptroller Scott Stringer, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.
Despite angling himself for the position for years and even going so far as to file for the race in 2018, Ruben Díaz Jr. unexpectedly announced he would forgo a mayoral bid in January. First elected to the Public Advocate position in a 2019 special election, Williams has been adamant about his non-interest in the 2021 mayoral race. A self-described democratic socialist who has been a leader in the city’s progressive movement for a decade, Williams’s endorsement will prove to be a coveted one in the coming contest. Speaker Corey Johnson, whose mayoral aspirations have been obvious for several years, ended up bowing out of the contest, largely as a result of pushback he received during the June 2020 budget debacle.
Coming out of the gate with endorsements from socialist state senator Julia Salazar and a litany of other high-profile progressives in elected office, it’s clear there will be little room to Scott Stringer’s left in the 2021 mayoral primary. Given Stringer’s background and political trajectory, however, his soft positioning as something of a progressive insurgent was far from an inevitable development.
A cousin of legendary Congresswoman Bella Abzug, Stringer’s parents both served in City Hall, with his mother representing Washington Heights in the City Council and his father working as a legal counsel in the mayor’s office. Named as a member of the Community Planning Board at the age of sixteen, Stringer has been involved in politics for virtually his entire life.
Elected Manhattan Borough President in 2005 after more than a decade in the State Assembly, he was considered a probable candidate for Mayor in 2013. Likely as a result of the crowded field in that year’s mayoral primary, however, Stringer opted to run for Comptroller instead. Triumphing over disgraced former Governor Eliot Spitzer’s attempted comeback bid in the primary, Stringer coasted in that year’s general election.
After an unremarkable first term as the city’s chief auditor, Stringer has made a concerted effort to ally himself with the city’s ascendant left since his reelection victory in 2017. In 2019, Stringer notably endorsed Tiffany Cabán’s decarceral candidacy for Queens District Attorney, and in 2020 lended his support to Jamaal Bowman’s insurgent congressional campaign.
Stringer has made it clear that housing policy will be at the forefront of his mayoral agenda, with his proposal for a significant investment in affordable housing serving as his hallmark policy. There’s plenty of reason for those on the Left to be skeptical of the sincerity of Stringer’s political evolution. A true product of the Manhattan political establishment, Stringer’s progressive bonafides going into 2021 are less firm than ex-Sandinista Bill de Blasio’s were in 2013. Though he is likely to end up the most viable candidate running in the “progressive” lane, the Left cannot expect to be guaranteed a seat at the table if he wins unless they emerge as a sizable bloc on the City Council.
First elected president of New York’s largest borough in 2013, Eric Adams’s interest in a citywide run has been clear for almost a decade. A former NYPD officer who describes himself as “extremely conservative on crime”, Adams does not seem like a candidate fit for this moment. Over the course of his political career, Adams infamously accused a Puerto Rican-born Bronx politician of betraying his community by marrying a white Jewish woman, was one of the few state senators to vote against the expulsion of a domestic abuser from the body, and as recently as 2018 endorsed the use of solitary confinement in prisons. On paper, the prospect of Adams mounting a viable mayoral candidacy in this political environmental sounds absurd.
Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to underestimate Adams. Despite being a registered Republican for most of Rudy Giuliani’s mayoral tenure, Adams easily won a Democratic primary for a safely blue State Senate seat in 2006. After four terms in Albany, Adams managed to out-maneuver other prospective candidates for Brooklyn Borough President in 2013, winning the Democratic primary by acclamation. Adams’s career trajectory has certainly been an odd one: It’s hard to think of another politician who ran for Congress with the backing of the Nation of Islam, joined the Republican Party the next year, and later voted for Bernie Sanders once in elected office.
Adams is likely to be the only Black elected official in next year’s mayoral contest, and while the borough presidency is largely a symbolic position, presiding over a county of 2.6 million for eight years provides him with an established base of support to mount a credible citywide candidacy.
In addition to Stringer and Adams, there are numerous prospective or declared candidates for the mayoralty from outside elected office.
On paper, at least, Shaun Donovan could prove to be a serious candidate. Raised on the Upper East Side, the bulk of Donovan’s career has been spent in housing policy. After receiving a Master of Architecture degree from Harvard, Donovan began his career at an affordable housing finance firm. In 2004, Donovan was chosen to serve as Commissioner of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a position he held for five years.
Tapped in 2009 to serve as federal Secretary of Housing and Urban Development by President Barack Obama, he was chosen by the White House to lead the powerful Office of Management in 2014. In his final year in the Obama Administration, Donovan was pushed as a potential challenger to de Blasio by some in former Mayor Bloomberg’s camp, but declined to run. Since entering the 2021 race, Donovan has received minimal media attention compared to other would-be contenders, but has access to an enviable pool of donors and is thus far leading the field in fundraising.
Behind the scenes, Donovan has been quietly building a campaign infrastructure that includes a number of senior de Blasio campaign alumni. Donovan’s campaign strategy will likely rest upon appealing to affluent white voters in Manhattan who crossed over for his former boss in the 2000s. Until he starts receiving public endorsements from moderate elected officials, however, one should approach the prospect of him emerging as the major centrist candidate in next year’s mayoral contest with skepticism.
Maya Wiley occupies a unique space in the mayoral field. A high-profile civil rights attorney, Wiley was chosen by de Blasio to serve as counsel to the mayor and, later, to lead the Civilian Complaint Review Board. Given her experience at the helm of a body tasked with overseeing the NYPD, it’s likely that a Wiley candidacy will focus on policing policy. Since leaving the mayor’s office, Wiley has served as a legal analyst for MSNBC, which has significantly raised her national media profile.
Wiley, like Donovan, has been quietly assembling a formidable campaign apparatus of her own, emerging as a favorite among many affiliates of de Blasio. These include Alison Hirsh, who recently resigned as an advisor in the mayor’s office, and Jon Paul Lupo, a close associate of de Blasio who assisted his 2020 presidential campaign and has deep ties to the Brooklyn political establishment.
Most consequential, however, will be the support of former Ambassador to South Africa Patrick Gaspard, a powerful political broker who played a crucial role in de Blasio’s successful 2013 bid for mayor. Formerly the national political director of Obama’s 2008 campaign, Gaspard is an alum of the political division of 1199SEIU, a union whose support for de Blasio proved pivotal in 2013; sources have indicated that Gaspard is willing to go to bat for Wiley in the union’s endorsement process.
Given her deep institutional support from allies of de Blasio, Wiley is unlikely to be the Left alternative to Stringer that progressives distrustful of his political evolution are looking for. While Wiley’s use of her media platform to explain the movement to defund the police in fair terms is welcome, it’s unclear what her actual criminal justice platform will entail; her positions on housing and education policy are even less clear.
In addition to Donovan and Wiley, two other mayoral candidates from outside elected office have managed to raise non-negligible funds for their mayoral campaigns.
Dianne Morales, a non-profit CEO, has thus far raised over $150,000. Though an impressive sum that would be enough to mount a candidacy for Borough President, it lags significantly behind the totals posted by Adams and Stringer, both of whom have raised over $2.5 million. Morales is running a progressive campaign that includes support for cutting the police budget, an elected police oversight body, a guaranteed minimum income, and rent cancellation. With ranked-choice voting, it's within the realm of possibility that Morales will receive first preference on the ballots of many progressive voters. While her insurgent candidacy may not be able to break through this cycle, an impressive showing may set her up for a future run for office down the line.
Loree Sutton, who served at the helm of the New York City Department of Veterans Services under de Blasio, has also raised just over $150,000 for her mayoral bid. A self-proclaimed "centrist Democrat", Sutton has received minimal media attention since she entered the race in 2019. It's more likely she ends up serving in the federal Department of Veterans Affairs in some capacity than in citywide elected office.
While the window for further entries into the mayoral race may feel like it's closing, it should be remembered that de Blasio only formally kicked off his first mayoral bid in January of 2013. There is still time for Raymond McGuire, a powerhouse in the financial industry who has been considering a mayoral run, to mount a serious campaign; reports say he may announce his candidacy in a matter of days.
The plans of Andrew Yang, the entrepreneur whose 2020 presidential candidacy was one of the biggest surprises of the cycle, remain unclear. Though the prospect of him running for mayor emerged as a hot topic following his exit from the presidential race, it is unknown if he is still considering a bid for City Hall.
Will the Council Decide Your Fate?
The last time the City Council was on the ballot was in 2017, a year before the political earthquake that was Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s primary victory and the subsequent success of leftist candidates for the state legislature. At that time, the New York Left was far less formidable as an electoral force and yielded few gains in that year’s City Council election.
That year, the NYC-DSA (New York City’s chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America) made a major investment in Palestinian-American pastor Khader El-Yateem’s City Council bid in Bay Ridge. His campaign raised impressive funds but was unsuccessful at the ballot box, losing by a respectable but still disappointing 8% in the primary. Many had high hopes for leftist Randy Abreu’s City Council campaign against conservative incumbent Fernando Cabrera in the Bronx, but he ended up receiving around a third of the vote to the incumbent’s 55%. The Green Party candidacy of Jabari Brisport in the 35th council district garnered a solid amount of local press coverage, but ended up receiving 29% of the vote. The only DSA member to win a City Council seat that year was Carlina Rivera, who joined the organization during the campaign.
In the four years since, New York City has become home to the single most formidable force for socialism in the country. It is entirely possible that NYC-DSA members will compose over 10% of the body in 2022, a prospect that might sound unrealistic if it weren’t for the Chicago DSA having already managed a similar feat. The fact that 35 out of 51 seats on the City Council are open due to term limits gives further reason to be excited about the Left’s prospects on the body.
The city’s largest borough, it’s of little surprise that some of the most important City Council races in 2021 are taking place in Brooklyn. Though the stereotype that socialism’s appeal in New York is limited to kombucha-drinking hipsters in Williamsburg is unfair—after all, Astoria, Queens has the best claim to being the capital of American socialism of any neighborhood—it is true that many of the best opportunities to build a Left bloc on the City Council next year are in Brooklyn.
The crowded contest to replace term-limited incumbent Brad Lander, one of the leading progressives on the City Council, is sure to receive major attention. Shahana Hanif, a socialist organizer with experience in Lander’s office, is mounting one of the most high-profile Left campaigns for the City Council and stands as one of the preliminary favorites in the race. Also in the race to succeed Lander is Brandon West, an alum of the city’s Office of Management and Budget, a democratic socialist whose platform emphasizes his support for defunding the NYPD.
In the race to succeed outgoing councilman Carlos Menchaca, another progressive member of the body, Sunset Park’s Whitney Hu’s abolitionist campaign is proving formidable, as is the candidacy of leftist Brooklyn Community Board 7 member Alexa Avilés. The presence of ranked-choice voting negates the possibility of Left candidates splitting the vote in either these races.
When councilman Rafael Espinal resigned from the body, Bushwick activist Sandy Nurse announced her candidacy to replace him in the subsequent special election. During her initial campaign, Nurse received endorsements from a litany of progressive elected officials in Brooklyn, including state senator Julia Salazar and U.S. Representative Nydia Velázquez. Though Nurse ended up not making the ballot for the special election due to a technicality, her renewed campaign, this time for the regularly scheduled election in 2021, is already proving formidable; both Salazar and Velázquez have signed onto her 2021 campaign. A veteran of the Occupy Wall Street movement, platform emphasizes protecting immigrants, tuition-free public higher education, and defunding the NYPD.
Jennifer Gutiérrez, the chief of staff for outgoing councilman Antonio Reynoso, is running to replace her boss in the 34th district. Currently without a serious opponent, she has signed onto an NYPD defunding proposal, as has Elizabeth Adams, the legislative director for outgoing councilman Stephen Levin who is looking to replace her boss in City Hall. Brian Cunningham, whose challenge to moderate incumbent Mathieu Eugene from the left in 2017 received a respectable 30% to Eugene’s 40%, is running again and could prove formidable now that the seat is open.
The contest to replace council majority leader Laurie Cumbo in the 35th district will be a major test of the Brooklyn Democratic establishment’s resilience. A close ally of Representative Hakeem Jeffries, Cumbo is known for being publicly critical of New York’s emerging socialist movement. Following the state senate primary victory of socialist Jabari Brisport, who challenged her in 2017, Cumbo took to Facebook to decry what she deems an emerging “gentrification movement”. Brisport responded by pointing out that Cumbo won her first campaign for City Council with financial assistance from the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY), long accused of playing a major role in the gentrification of Bed-Stuy.
In the race to succeed Cumbo, the candidacy of former Deputy Public Advocate and Cumbo aide Crystal Hudson may be the one to beat. Unlike Cumbo, a staunch opponent of efforts to defund the NYPD, Hudson has signed on in favor of cutting at least $1 billion from the police budget. Thus far, Hudson is leading the field in fundraising by a wide margin and has already secured crucial endorsements, such as that of the new Road to Justice NYC coalition backed by the powerful 1199SEIU. In addition to Hudson, there are multiple serious socialist candidates in the race. These include Community Board 9 secretary Alejandra Caraballo, who would be the first trans member of the City Council if elected, and tenants' organizer Michael Hollingsworth, who assisted both Brisport’s campaign and Phara Souffrant Forrest's candidacy for State Assembly.
Public defender Tiffany Cabán’s candidacy for Queens District Attorney in 2020 ended up unsuccessful by the slimmest of margins. Though her loss was a disappointment for progressives across the country, her transformative campaign helped build an infrastructure for future Left candidates in the borough and inspired similar decarceral campaigns across the country.
In 2021, perhaps the most notable of these Left candidates will be Cabán herself. Coming out the gate with a litany of endorsements from elected officials and powerful political coalitions, Cabán’s entrance into the open race for the Astoria-based 22nd council district took the political world by storm. Running in a district she won handily in her 2019 run, Cabán’s name recognition and built-in volunteer network is unmatched in the field. Barring an extraordinary turn of events, Cabán will represent the district in City Hall come 2022.
To make Cabán’s decarceral vision a reality, she’s going to need a league of allies on the City Council with her. Thankfully, there are numerous opportunities next year for former Cabán organizers to win office.
Felicia Singh, a teacher and former organizer for Cabán’s bid for District Attorney, is running to replace Eric Ulrich, one of just three Republicans on the City Council. Running on a platform she describes as anti-racist, Singh supports re-investing $1 billion in NYPD funds to in services. In the race to succeed Daniel Dromm, a three-term incumbent known for his open antagonism towards New York’s socialists, Jackson Heights-based tenant attorney Shekar Krishnan stands out. One of the two top fundraisers in the field, Krishnan was a staunch supporter of Cabán’s 2019 campaign.
In the 30th district, conservative incumbent Bob Holden is set to face a challenge from progressive Juan Ardila. Nominally a Democrat, Holden was elected on the Republican line in 2017 after losing the Democratic primary for the seat. During his tenure, Holden has accumulated a reactionary voting tenure, especially on homeless issues. Running on a progressive platform that includes support for a pied-a-terre tax and transit expansion, it is education policy that Ardila, a former Department of Education consultant, has made his top priority. Proposing multilingual instruction to accommodate Queens’s diverse population and increased funding for public schools, Ardila has thus far been endorsed by progressive councilman Brad Lander, his former boss. Though defeating Holden will be a difficult task, Ardila’s fundraising totals suggest he’ll be able to mount a credible campaign in a district that voted for de Blasio’s Republican challenger in 2017.
Though the contest to replace outgoing progressive Jimmy Van Bramer in his Western Queens seat presents an obvious opportunity for the Left, it’s not yet clear who will be able to claim the socialist mantle in the race. In the 24th district, the contest to replace the term-limited Rory Lancman has become especially heated following reports that he may resign early to take a post in Albany. Though most speculation surrounding a potential special election has centered on Assemblyman Daniel Rosenthal, the possibility of a serious progressive candidate emerging cannot be discounted.
In the Bronx, infamous conservative Rubén Díaz, Sr.’s failed congressional bid has drawn attention to the 2021 race to succeed him on the City Council. Amanda Farias, a progressive State Committeewoman for Assembly District 87, initially entered the race with the intent of challenging the incumbent; Farias had previously run an unsuccessful campaign against Díaz in 2017. Endorsed by the new Road to Justice NYC coalition backed by 1199SEIU and a litany of progressive elected officials, Farias currently leads the field in fundraising and is arguably the tentative frontrunner in the race. Farias’s platform includes support for a significant reduction of the NYPD’s operating budget and the expansion of accessible transit access.
The race to succeed Ritchie Torres as member of the City Council for the 15th district has garnered significant interest. Elisa Crespo, a DSA member and former aide to the Borough President, has emerged as one of the leading fundraisers in the race. On policy, Crespo has indicated that protecting sex workers and reducing the NYPD budget are two of her top priorities. If elected, Crespo would be the first trans member of the City Council. Samelys López, a socialist who mounted an impressive campaign for the 15th congressional district earlier this year, is reportedly considering a bid for the seat as well.
Since entering office in 2018, councilman Mark Gjonaj’s tenure has been nothing short of a disaster. Infamous for receiving campaign donations from alleged members of the Gambino crime family, the cartoonishly corrupt Gjonaj is facing a challenge from Marjorie Velázquez, who he narrowly defeated in the 2017 primary. Though she's not a socialist, Velázquez’s campaign platform is a genuinely progressive one that includes support for paid family leave, a millionaire’s tax, a Green New Deal for New York, and a moratorium on school closures.
In the 14th district, incumbent Fernando Cabrera, a conservative pastor known for his staunch opposition to gay marriage and abortion rights, is term-limited. Given that Cabrera has praised Uganda’s “Godly” government, it’s of little surprise that any of the current crop of candidates to replace him would be a major upgrade if elected. Pierina Sanchez, a career housing advisor who worked in the mayor’s office, currently leads the field in terms of fundraising.
Running on support of a public bank and rent cancellation, having Sanchez replace Cabrera would be a wonderful development. Adolfo Abreu, a former staffer for Biaggi and progressive state senator Gustavo Rivera, is also in the race. Abreu’s expansive platform includes support for community land trusts, redirecting NYPD funds to social services, and municipal voting rights for 16 year olds. Given that Cabrera’s leftist challenger received over a third of the vote in the 2017 primary, it’s clear that there is significant potential for a socialist candidate in this district.
With Margaret Chin term-limited, the race to replace her as councilmember for the 1st district has become a crowded one. As can be expected for a district containing the Financial District, the contest is less of a battle drawn on traditional ideological lines than it is a de facto referendum on controversial development proposals in the district, such as the trio of megatowers in Two Bridges.
On the Upper East Side, matters of urban planning, especially with regard to the Lexington Avenue Line and proposals for new cycling infrastructure, have taken center stage in the battle for the 5th district. Billy Freeland, an attorney and DSA member, is mounting an impressive campaign for the seat, running in support of zoning reform that incentivizes affordable housing development and increased funding for NYCHA. Other progressives in the race include Chris Sosa, a former legislative speechwriter, and Kim Moscaritolo of the Four Freedoms Democratic Club, both of whom have committed reducing the NYPD budget by $1 billion. In a close contest, an endorsement from Representative Carolyn Maloney may prove decisive. Whether or not Maloney lends her public support to Tricia Shimamura, her former deputy chief of staff, will be worth watching.
District 7, based in Washington Heights, features a wide field of candidates to replace outgoing councilmember Mark Levine. Marti Gould Allen-Cummings, who would be the first drag queen elected to the City Council, is mounting one of the highest profile candidacies for City Council in the 2021 cycle. Currently a member of Community Board 9, their campaign has been endorsed by two sitting councilmembers and is currently leading the field in fundraising. Allen-Cummings’ platform includes support for defunding the NYPD by at least $1 billion, increased funding for NYCHA, investing in job placement services for the formerly incarcerated, and raising teacher salaries.
In Harlem, democratic socialist Kristin Richardson Jordan is running to be the first Queer Black woman on the City Council. Currently the top fundraiser in the field for District 9, Jordan’s campaign pledges support for transferring slumlord buildings into tenant ownership, divesting NYPD funds into restorative justice programs, and expanding New York’s Community Schools program.
Beginning the 2010s as a favorite of progressives for his support for Occupy Wall Street, 10th district councilman Ydanis Rodriguez has gradually fallen out of favor with activists, with his support for the controversial June 2020 budget being a disappointing conclusion to a once-promising career. In the race to succeed him, Johanna Garcia, who has served as chief of staff to progressive state senator Robert Jackson, currently leads the field in fundraising. Running with the endorsement of Jackson, Salazar, Biaggi, and progressive leader Zephyr Teachout, Garcia’s platform includes support for cutting the NYPD budget, universal childcare, and a broad rejection of austerity politics.
Running in the only Democratic stronghold among Staten Island's three City Council districts, community leader Ranti Ogunleye stands out as the most progressive candidate in the race for the 49th district. Describing his platform as decarceral, Ogunleye has indicated his support for redirecting police and prison funds to social services. One of the focal points of Ogunleye's platform is the lack of accessible transit options on the North Shore, a particularly crucial issue to address given that Staten Islander workers have some of the longest commutes in the country on average.
Implications for the City
As is the case in most big cities, the Democratic Party dominates virtually all levels of New York City's municipal government, holding every citywide office and 47/51 seats on the City Council. With city politics dominated by a single party, it's unsurprising that most would-be politicians run under the Democratic banner. From Wall Street titans and apologists for Uganda's anti-gay laws to democratic socialists and tenants' organizers, there's little incentive for most aspiring politicians to run outside of the Democratic Party.
As a result, the "vote blue no matter who" panacea prescribed in federal politics does not apply to city politics. After all, its a "blue" city government almost entirely free of Republican influence
that refuses to confront rampant police violence, systemic inequalities in the education system, and one of the nation's worst housing crises. Changing New York will require wrestling control of the city's Democratic Party from commercial real estate giants, the financial sector, and other well-moneyed interests. With the ability of leftist candidates to win hotly-contested primaries in New York firmly established, the prospect of a sizable Left bloc that wields significant influence in City Hall has emerged for the first time in recent memory.
This, then, raises the question: What might a truly progressive city government be able to accomplish? Though the road to tackling police brutality, housing insecurity, and educational disparities in New York City may not run entirely through City Hall, electing a progressive municipal government is a good place to start.
In the realm of policing, tangible policies the city government could pursue include a true defunding of the NYPD and the creation of an Elected Civilian Review Board (ECRB) with disciplinary powers. To tackle the housing crisis, the city government has a wide array of tools at its disposal, and could pursue a combination of upzoning to promote dense development, rent control measures and a true right to counsel guarantee to protect tenants, and increased funding for NYCHA housing. Pushing for an expansion of the Community Schools program and the reduction of class sizes are just two ways in which the city government can improve the education system. Local politics has more of an impact on the lives of average people than any other level of government, and nowhere is this truer than in New York.
Aidan Smith (@Aidan_Smx) is the founder and political director of Labyrinth. He has contributed to an array of publications, including The Nation, Current Affairs, and Salon.
Artwork and design by Tia Wagh. (@Tia_Wagh)
Note: the initial version of this article included a misspelling of "1199SEIU", which has since been corrected.