Around the time those fireworks were going on with sorta candidate Anthony Weiner today in New York, I went out to get a coffee and about a block and a half from our office walked into a press event for Bill de Blasio, the guy who you’d have to say at this point is the most likely person to become the next Mayor of New York.
For those of you who haven’t followed this race – and if you’re not from this area, why would you – de Blasio has opened up what appears to be a double digit lead in the Democratic primary. Perhaps enough to win the primary outright and avoid a run-off. Meanwhile, despite the fact that New York has had 20 years or Republican mayors, the candidates fielded by the GOP this year are such relative non-entities that it seems pretty likely the Democratic nominee wins. The one important caveat is that polling in a city – and especially this city – is not like national elections where you can be quite confident that the average of the polls will pretty close to predict the result. In recent years public polls have significantly missed the final result. So nothing is for sure.
The interesting thing about de Blasio (and the fact that he might win) is that he is running as an unabashed progressive. And since that can mean so many things, I mean it in this specific sense: for three decades rising economic inequality has been a cornerstone of the Democratic critique of the direction of the country. It’s been a theme of many campaigns. Yet most elected Democrats, particularly those in executive positions, have shied away from implementing the set of policies that might actually change or ameliorate the trend. That applies to Clinton and Obama, the vast majority of Democratic governors and mayors, though many have done important things. (Whatever the merits of neoliberal economics, it has clearly not solved the problem of growing inequality and stagnating incomes for most Americans.) I don’t know if those ‘things’ will work in the big picture. (That’s not just a throwaway line. I’m cautious and somewhat skeptical about our ability to shift these trends through policy. So much of our national politics focuses on fights between reasonable changes like health care reform and completely crazy ideas like a flat tax or Social Security privatization that a lot of these questions about how you’d ideally set things up … well, I’m not sure how much thought I’ve even given those things.) But de Blasio’s campaign is framed around the problem of inequality and he’s been pretty specific about what he’d do. The centerpiece is a sizable hike in the taxes of upper income New Yorkers to pay for universal pre-k and after school programs throughout the city. The rest center around policies and laws to prop up the low-end wage structure.
How much you can really move the needle on these questions in a single city with two other states nearby is a very open question. But New York, given its size and the relative immobility of some of its major industries, is perhaps the only city where you could take a stab at it. So it will be interesting to see how this all plays out.
Photo Credits: Josh’s Iphone