New York City's Opportunity to Lead

Typical of New Yorkers, I'm pretty competitive about my city. I think it's the best.

So I'm a little tired of San Francisco being the city that innovates on public health care programs to provide universal coverage. I'm tired of Seattle being known for groundbreaking new programs that treat substance abuse as a health problem and reduce over incarceration. And I'm tired of hearing about Cincinnati's cutting-edge community schools that are redefining education and improving outcomes.

What are we known for right now? Unconstitutional racial profiling.

New York Democrats have had to live under Republican Mayors and these policies for twenty years. Yet Democrats outnumber Republicans 6-1 in this town. There's simply no reason for it.

This is New York City. We should be at the forefront of progressive change. But for too long, New York has shirked this responsibility. Under Rudy Giuliani, we blazed a path of censorship, arresting street vendors and artists and teaching the Brooklyn Museum Russia's version of freedom of expression. Under Michael Bloomberg (who has done some good things), we've served as a poster child for the kind of economic inequality that President Obama recently faulted for tearing apart the fabric of our society. And under both mayors, our police force has waged a war on people of color that has done incalculable damage to a generation of young black and brown men and their families.

Well, we Democrats don't have to take this anymore. Starting on Sept. 10, we can finally elect a Democratic Mayor to New York City. But not just any Democrat, we can elect a bold progressive.

We don't have to settle for a politician pretending to be a progressive who wouldn't even let the City Council vote for more than two years on giving vulnerable workers five paid days of sick leave (just five!); who ignored the will of 89 percent of New Yorkers and overturned term limits to give a billionaire Republican an unprecedented third term. I'm talking about Christine Quinn, the City Council speaker who's notorious for her temper and for screaming at anyone who dares disagree with or cross her.

And we don't have to settle for a candidate who has tried to have it both ways on stop and frisk and hasn't managed to put out a single bold proposal unless you count his call for 2,000 more cops. This would be Bill Thompson, the former Comptroller who has said mostly the right things and seems like a decent man and a good Democrat but who can't seem to rouse a fly to movement, let alone a city.

We don't have to settle for them because we can vote for Bill de Blasio, a thoughtful reformer who possesses the three criteria that make for an excellent public servant:

First, he lives the life of his constituents. After twelve years of billionaire Bloomberg, it will be a welcome change to have a mayor who can actually relate to the public he governs. If elected, de Blasio would be the first sitting mayor in New York City history -- in history! -- to have kids in public school while in office. When your elected officials are going to have to live under their governance the same way you do, you tend to get better governance for your concerns.

Second, he gets the big, systemic problems. De Blasio's entire campaign has focused on what he calls our "tale of two cities," by which he means the story of how Manhattan has boomed over the last decade with soaring luxury, plentiful high end restaurants and playgrounds, and a bullish stock market, while 46 percent of city residents, mostly in the outer boroughs, live at or near the poverty line. De Blasio not only understands the problem of economic inequality, he also understands how the inequality produced has infected our political system. As Public Advocate, he was a national leader in pushing back on the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision by battling major corporations like Goldman Sachs to keep their money out of politics.

Third, he's got bold, smart and workable ideas to tackle these issues. His proposal to modestly raise taxes on those making more than $500,000 per year in order to pay for universal pre-K for every city child is not only morally right, it's economically essential. University of Chicago Professor and Nobel Prize winning economist James Heckman has shown that every $1 society invests in education for children aged 0-5 saves public coffers more than $7 down the line in what they would have paid out in social services. That's because study after study has shown that those kids who enter kindergarten behind, stay behind. There's no greater opportunity boost we can give our kids than getting them off to the right start -- all of them. And no taxpayer making more than $500,000 is going to start fleeing for the suburbs over a $2,000 tax hike, which is what it comes out to. In fact, were de Blasio to enact this plan, city taxes on high income earners would still be lower than they were under Giuliani.

America is facing a crisis of historic proportions as our middle class falls further and further behind. We simply can't survive long as a nation with a 1 percent -- or even a .1 percent -- that is capturing more and more of the wealth out there while others struggle to get by. But to fix it is going to take innovation. And as Louis Brandeis famously wrote, the states are our laboratories of democracy, and I'd add, the cities are our breeding grounds of innovation within those. New York City should be exercising leadership to chart a more sustainable course for our future, and this election provides us that opportunity. Bill de Blasio gets the problems we face, he's got ideas for solutions, and he's also got a very good chance to win. As a New Yorker, that's an exciting thought. I hope my fellow New Yorkers recognize this as well.

Sept. 10: vote.