With Democratic primaries scheduled for tomorrow, most experts are predicting a cakewalk for our incumbent mayor, Bill de Blasio, the candidate who has raised the most campaign cash and enjoyed the early support of Democratic shot-callers.
As boring and predictable as this election (and the horserace analysis surrounding it) might be, some might have been caught off guard by the fawning appraisal of the Mayor by former Young Lord and Democracy Now! host Juan Gonzalez. Last week, Gonzalez touted his new book, Reclaiming Gotham: Bill de Blasio and the Movement to End America's Tale of Two Cities, to pound the table about how de Blasio's "revolution" was spearheading an urban movement – a sort of antithesis to Trumpism – that "has only just begun."
It's all pretty riveting stuff until you, ya know, realize that's all bullshit.
The centerpiece of Gonzalez' strategically timed effigy to Mayor de Blasio's "revolution" seems to be $21 billion dollars in spending that the longtime NY Daily News columnist attributes to the de Blasio administration. Tabbing up money received or saved by New Yorkers who benefitted from de Blasio programs like paid sick leave and universal pre-k, Gonzalez pushes forward the idea that government spending makes for a progressive revolution we should all be appreciating.
The single largest expense, $15 billion of the $21 billion dollar "revolution," comes by the way of the Mayor settling contracts, including wage increases and backpay, with municipal unions. But for as much as one might appreciate a city worker (which would have to include cops, who are slated to receive the largest package from de Blasio – over half a billion), settling with 300,000 employees is nice but doesn't necessarily signal an urban movement that is "ending America's Tale of Two Cities."
Let me make the case for you that politics of Bill de Blasio, career politician, former Hillary Clinton stooge and transactional mayor whose administration has been mired in controversies that seem to always lead back to real estate money, is exactly the type needs to be fought – not upheld as a model for other urban cities. I don't even need a book to do it (but if you’ve already written a book, send it to Juan Gonzalez c/o Democracy Now! 207 W. 25th St., Floor 11 New York, NY 10001).
For now, let's unpack at least two of the major problems with the Mayor (and Gonzalez):
Gonzalez acknowledges that the Mayor's housing agenda is pretty terrible. In fact, it's the only policy disagreement he seems to have with de Blasio. However, Gonzalez' criticism tap dances at the edge of the moderate "deeper affordability" arguments that mainstream housing organizations have made. There is no apparent mention of the battles being fought by immigrant and tenant groups who are fighting the Mayor's rezoning efforts that will displace thousands even with "deeper affordability" levels.
These are important distinctions when looking at the opposition to de Blasio from the professional left and from working people of color – those who Gonzalez seems to imply should be lining up to thank the Mayor. Is de Blasio's plan, which has been hailed by the right-wing Manhattan Institute and the Real Estate Board of NY (REBNY), the most powerful real estate lobby in NYC, a developer-friendly "luxury housing plan," as local groups contend, or one that simply "isn't sufficient" or not good enough, as Gonzalez argues?
In East Harlem, for example, where the City is attempting a rezoning, there are also calls for "deeper affordability" and other concessions. But a so-called "community-led" East Harlem Neighborhood Plan (which is controlled by the City's second most powerful politician – and Gonzalez pal – Melissa Mark Viverito), often touted as an alternative to the City's plans, would still involve rezoning El Barrio and still allow luxury developers to build taller (and usher in thousands of richer, white new tenants).
It's not that the plan isn't good enough. The plan is a part of the problem.
Movimiento Por Justicia en El Barrio, an immigrant-led tenant organization has organized numerous rallies and protests to say that the Mayor's efforts don't need to be improved, they need be opposed. Marina Ortiz, an organizer from East Harlem Preservation, spoke at a housing rally last week to denounce de Blasio and specifically called out Gonzalez' book. "[De Blasio] just had a wonderful, shining tribute yesterday with a book published in time just before the election saying he's doing a wonderful job ending the tale of the two cities and we know that that's a lie!"
Gonzalez, of course, thinks the plan just isn't good enough. In fact, he actually places the blame for the Mayor's housing agenda not on the de Blasio, but on the Mayor's housing commissioner, Alicia Glen, a verifiable Wall Street technocrat. The Mayor's plan, you see, isn't really the mayor's plan. It's all the Wall Street technocrat's fault – not the Mayor responsible for hiring and keeping the Wall Street technocrat in place.
Policing and Criminal Justice
Now, let's get into Bill de Blasio and the policing of New York City, issues which myself and others have dedicated years towards unraveling.
Gonzalez' fatal flaw is the intellectually dishonest proclamation that Broken Windows policing "is dead." As someone who has fought alongside countless other activists and organizers to debunk and destroy perhaps the most influential policing philosophy in America, I can tell you that Juan Gonzalez either doesn't know what he's talking about or is willfully deceiving his audience. There were over 25,000 arrests for fare-beating, the classic Broken Windows arrest, just last year and 2,000 this past January alone. Mayor de Blasio has defended Broken Windows (over and over and over) and enforcement against fare-beating, which he doesn't seem to believe is an economic issue.
Gonzalez, of course, finds ways to excuse de Blasio on all these fronts. He argues the de Blasio's turn to Bill Bratton, the godfather of Broken Windows and likely the most racist police leader in the modern era, was just politics and something he had to do to appease cops. He also says that de Blasio, who has resisted even moderate reforms, like reduced fares, is a guy that can be pushed to the progressive position – unlike Gonzalez foes Michael Bloomberg or Rudy Giuliani.
These are some of the predictable "not-as-bad-as" arguments common to partisan punditry we all loathe. But how could a serious, progressive writer like Gonzalez come to the conclusion that the era of Broken Windows was over despite the NYPD's continued harassment of the homeless (a hallmark of the Giuliani days), subway performers, immigrant street vendors and even activists and copwatchers that try to hold the police accountable under the de Blasio administration?
It seems, according to Gonzalez, that the City Council's Bratton-approved reforms to "decriminalize" a handful low-level offenses "basically takes the legal support from broken windows." This is simply not true, as the NYPD still enjoys the legal discretion to arrest and can (and will) stop people for quality-of-life offenses and summons them. In other words, you will still be punished for any of the offenses deemed 'disorder' by neo-conservative Broken Windows creators and you can still be arrested.
Broken Windows is alive and well.
In fact, if you want to talk about government spending, dedicating a few more billion taxpayer dollars to the 1,300-cop NYPD headcount expansion (during record low crime) isn't so much an effort to end inequality as it is a slap in the face to a Black Lives Matter movement that has explicitly denounced over-policing.
But hey, those pesky details couldn't stop Gonzalez from his praise of not only the Mayor, but the City Council, who aggressively lobbied for the expansion of the police force, or its leader, Melissa Mark Viverito, Gonzalez' buddy who has been firing whistleblowers and stifling police reforms for the past two years. Yes, a mayor who Bratton gushed had given him everything he wanted and a limp Council that had actually provided more resources to the NYPD than even Mike Bloomberg ever did, has been "generally positive" on these issues, according to Gonzalez.
There are bunch of other inconvenient truths to talk about regarding the "Tale of Two Cities" mayor and the policing of New Yorkers (there's also this breakdown of the first 20 months). Here are a few:
- The biggest police corruption scandal in over 20 years.
- De Blasio's foot-dragging on any semblance of justice for Eric Garner.
- The Mayor's public feud with the mother of Ramarley Graham.
- The expansion of militarized police "gang" raids targeting Black youths through association and social media.
- The rise of the orwellian predictive policing model (another Bratton gift).
- The Mayor's cynical ploy to use immigrants to secure NYPD counterterrorism funding.
The fundamental problem with Gonzalez and middle of the road progressives in the city that support de Blasio is that they’re so enthralled by the idea of a progressive ally in City Hall that they’ve failed to hold him accountable in any meaningful way. He’s their guy! However, Gonzalez’ ahistorical, rose-tinted revisioning of de Blasio’s impact on NYC inequality is emblematic of progressives who’ve chosen to turn a blind eye to the true suffering of poor and working class people.
Not only is de Blasio’s developer-based housing plan a trojan horse for gentrification, as activists across the city have correctly pointed out, the city is experiencing record homelessness, which de Blasio (not singularly responsible, but still responsible) has responded to with policing and a even callous smearing of panhandlers. Not only is the Mayor dedicated to empowering the NYPD and loyal to a racist policing philosophy, but income inequality has actually grown under this administration. What exactly is there to celebrate again?
While one review of Gonzalez’ book notes that the ostensibly progressive writer criticizes the “hack behavior” that has taken an outsized role in the de Blasio inner trust – most notably the controversial PR firm Berlin Rosen – if Gonzalez regurgitates the notion that Bill de Blasio is the standard bearer of effective progressivism, he is almost to a tee supporting the narrative that Berlin Rosen was paid to put forward. Their job was to spin the Mayor’s accomplishments for the working people of New York City as bold, historic, and unprecedented. Reclaiming Gotham does all of that.
Of course, this extends beyond de Blasio in a way that the circling of the wagons around him begins to make sense. As Berlin Rosen has provided the real estate industry intimate access to City Hall, the firm has also racked up hundreds of millions of dollars for progressive organizations, labor unions (the contracts, the Fight-for-15 campaign, etc) that add up to an incestuous, money-driven, uncritical echo-chamber of progressive bullshit.
This is why despite all of the racist and destructive policies of Bill de Blasio, nearly all the unions, nonprofits and politicians in the city will line up to kiss the ring of a pretty shitty mayor that was nearly indicted for corruption.
Let’s at least give Gonzalez some credit. He is respected in some progressive and left circles and was a thorn in the side of Bloomberg. He exposed things that needed to be exposed. However, Gonzalez now has apparently become an appendage to de Blasio with his chief purpose seeming to be to try to reconcile all of the bullshit I’ve laid out (and I could go on) with an effective endorsement of de Blasio not only as mayor, but as a leader of a movement that’s an antidote for Donald Trump.
His arguments are weak upon closer inspection but they could sell books in a political climate where liberals are frantically searching for good news. Of course the news isn’t good on the streets of New York unless you’re a developer who can pay to play. Bill de Blasio is here for these developers, who in turn need the police to keep the city’s boot on the necks of people of color. These are the longtime owners of New York City. They don’t need to reclaim it. What they need is a progressive salesman to make us all think he’s the fighting the good fight for the little guy. And even that salesman needs salesmen like Gonzalez.
So I say all of that to say this: Juan Gonzalez, have a damn seat. If there’s anyone in this city who should actually reclaim Gotham, it’s the poor people who’re still faced with displacement and handcuffs while a fake ass progressive movement pats itself on the back.