[Marxism] De Blasio Encounters Rising Friction Over Liberal Expectations

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Aug 20 07:40:52 MDT 2014

NY Times, August 20 2014
De Blasio Encounters Rising Friction Over Liberal Expectations

In a jovial ceremony last week at Gracie Mansion, Mayor Bill de Blasio 
announced that his vision for a muscular liberal government was going 
national: More than 30 mayors had pledged to adopt the signature de 
Blasio agenda of creating what he calls more affordable, inclusive and 
equitable cities.

Yet at home, Mr. de Blasio, who swept into office on the promise that 
New York City could be governed from the left, is discovering that 
liberalism has its limits.

The mayor who shot to fame denouncing stop-and-frisk tactics and luxury 
condominiums is now defending hard-nosed policing and cutting deals with 
developers, bowing to the realities of leading an unruly city but also 
angering an activist left that propelled his rise to the Democratic elite.

Impatience with the mayor is now spilling into outcry. On Wednesday, 
housing advocates will march in Harlem to highlight what they say is a 
too-weak effort by City Hall to build affordable homes. And the Rev. Al 
Sharpton is planning a march on Saturday to call for an end to 
aggressive policing in the wake of a black Staten Island man’s death 
after being placed in a chokehold during a routine arrest.

Mr. de Blasio, who advisers say is deeply concerned about disappointing 
his supporters, has struggled to explain that the lofty liberal rhetoric 
of his mayoral campaign cannot be imported wholesale into City Hall — 
that there may be a limit on how many affordable units can be extracted 
from developers, that the so-called broken-windows policing strategy 
often credited with helping to lower crime cannot be abandoned overnight.

The friction between Mr. de Blasio and his political base — and the 
mayor’s hesitant handling of a flash point over race and the police — 
reveal the growing pains of a mayor who must answer to a much larger 
public than the core of impassioned liberals behind his election.

“The simple fact of executive leadership is you have to make the budget 
balance, you have to respond to a wide range of political 
constituencies,” said David Birdsell, dean of Baruch College School of 
Public Affairs. “He’s very much feeling his way through what’s possible 
in the tonal changes, while still keeping the structures of government 

Mr. de Blasio, allied with a City Council singing from the same liberal 
hymnal, has expanded benefits for low-wage workers, undocumented 
immigrants and public-school teachers, committing billions of dollars 
for pay raises and social services. He has renegotiated a deal to add 
affordable units at the conversion of the Domino Sugar factory in Brooklyn.

Still, his resources are finite, hemmed in by skyrocketing pension 
costs, looming budget deficits and a scarcity of federal support.

And on more incendiary topics like police reform — a central tenet of 
his primary campaign — Mr. de Blasio has opted to act more centrist than 
ideologue. He has finessed middle-ground positions on the broken-windows 
practice of pursuing little crimes to deter bigger ones, and steadfastly 
backed his police commissioner, William J. Bratton, to placate New 
Yorkers concerned about keeping crime rates at historic lows.

That has not been easy for some liberal advocates to accept.

“More and more, every day, they find this was a lot more complicated 
than they thought,” Bertha Lewis, a longtime friend of the mayor and the 
former chief executive of Acorn, said of the de Blasio administration.

Ms. Lewis said she was urging friends to wait a year before discounting 
Mr. de Blasio as just another politician. But she said the death of Eric 
Garner on Staten Island had stoked frustrations.

“A man is dead,” Ms. Lewis said. “When you have these high expectations, 
folks’ patience is like: ‘That’s it. Do something.’ ” Come January, she 
added, “all bets are off.”

Even as the Garner case simmers, a new front is opening up for 
disenchanted liberals: affordable housing. Mr. de Blasio has pledged to 
build or preserve 200,000 new units, but advocates say the city is 
already falling short.

“The things the mayor ran on, what a lot of people on the left feel the 
mayor stands for, those things need to happen,” said Jaron Benjamin, 
executive director of the Met Council for Housing, which is 
co-sponsoring the march in Harlem on Wednesday.

Mr. Benjamin’s group wants new apartment buildings in the city to be 
split 50-50 between market-rate units and those reserved for low-income 
residents. The de Blasio administration has requested more modest 
changes from the current standard of 20 percent affordable units, with 
many of those allotted to middle-income New Yorkers.

City Hall aides say that private builders are critical to achieve their 
goals. But advocates want the administration to drive a much harder 
bargain. “We need an aggressive departure from the philosophies of the 
Bloomberg years,” said Jonathan Westin, head of New York Communities for 
Change, which advocates on behalf of poor and working-class New Yorkers 
and is also sponsoring the march.

Mr. de Blasio’s branding as a progressive is fiercely guarded by his 
public-relations team, who on Tuesday strongly rejected any suggestion 
that the mayor had drifted from the principles he ran on.

Mr. de Blasio pledged an “ambitious progressive agenda, and he has been 
delivering on it every single day,” said Phil Walzak, the mayor’s press 
secretary. Several allies later spoke up on the mayor’s behalf.

“He is the most progressive mayor that we’ve seen in this country since 
the 1930s,” said Kevin Finnegan, political director at 1199, the 
powerful health workers’ union. Alluding to previous mayors, he added: 
“It’s like I’ve been born into a new world.”

Mr. Finnegan also said he was pleased with the mayor’s stance on 
policing. “Our complaints with ‘broken windows’ are about the disparate 
impact it has had on minority communities,” he said. “I certainly 
haven’t heard the mayor defend that in the least.”

In some ways, liberal restiveness with Mr. de Blasio could have been 
predicted: The mayor, for all his liberal bona fides, has been pragmatic 
in choosing when to brandish his ideology and when to temper it.

He became the loudest spokesman for paid sick leave when it proved 
useful against his chief rival in the Democratic mayoral primary, 
Christine C. Quinn, then the Council speaker. In 2010, Mr. de Blasio, 
whose pledge to tax the rich would later galvanize Democratic voters, 
said a tax surcharge on Wall Street “couldn’t be worse for New York 
City.” The speech earned praise from the right-leaning editorial page of 
The New York Post.

Yet, as mayor, Mr. de Blasio has kept expectations high even as his 
deputies have run up against the challenges of governing.

For advocates, that has made his middle-ground response to episodes like 
the Garner case all the more jarring.

Nikita Stewart contributed reporting.

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