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After The Storm

Published: August 1, 2013

Publication: WestView News

By Arthur Z. Schwartz

A Monthly Column About Politics

The Giuliani-Bloomberg Legacy And Why de Blasio Matters

It is coming down to crunch time. We, as New Yorkers, are facing the biggest wave of political change ever. Come November we will have a new Mayor, a new Comptroller, a new Public Advocate, a new Borough President in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens, a new City Council Member in the West Village, Chelsea, and Hell’s Kitchen, and shortly thereafter a new Speaker of the City Council. It’s time to focus, not just on the titillations of the Anthony Weiner and Elliot Spitzer candidacies, but on exactly what we want from a candidate.

The New York Times recently ran a story about the Bloomberg Mayoralty and its legacy. The theme was that New Yorkers, while generally appreciative of many of Mayor Mike’s ideas, are tired of what has become an Imperial Mayoralty. They, like me, are tired of what is perceived as a lack of say by the public in the nuts and bolts of how the City is run. We had eight years of Rudy Giuliani, who told us what to do and think. At least he had the trappings of listening. He held Town Hall meetings in every community board district during his term and would shout at people who were critical of his actions. He was so disliked that even after doing an admirable job after 9-11, his proposal that he stay on six extra months was subject to massive disapproval. To his credit, he dropped the idea, unlike Mayor Mike, who changed the charter to give himself four more years “because of the financial crisis.”

Mike Bloomberg’s period in office has been marked by few major accomplishments (bike paths, smoking bans, and the banning of trans fats), and many failed projects. He has forced his way down the throats of parents and teachers in the public schools, and has failed to significantly increase graduation rates or test scores or the overall quality of our schools. We may have more bike paths, but we have less mass transit. We may have less crime, but we have a Black and Hispanic community which feels put upon. Income gaps in the City between the wealthy and the average working family have increased. He has developed thousands of “affordable” apartments, but many more have become unaffordable. In our community, if a young college graduate wants to rent, she has to pay $2,000 or more per month for a studio. City employees have been pushed to do more with fewer bodies, but Mayor Mike has not given them a raise in four years while he spends billions on contractors and continues to give tax breaks to developers.

I don’t think The Times listed as many failures as I did, but they talked about how much New Yorkers want a different kind of Mayor. One who listens. One who responds to their concerns

Anthony Weiner’s reception has reflected his shtick: he is Joe New Yorker, he isn’t perfect, makes mistakes like all of us, and will stand and listen to regular folks all over New York, and appear to be listening.

However, over the last few weeks one cannot help but be impressed with Bill de Blasio. He decided to take up the fight to stop the closing of Long Island College Hospital (LICH) in downtown Brooklyn. This hospital was failing, so last year the State took over and put it under the State University of New York, with the notion of merging it with Downstate, the home of the SUNY medical school. Then, with losses mounting, SUNY decided to pull the plug, but the workers and the surrounding community, including their City Councilman, Steve Levin, decided to fight. They joined with scores of others last week and were arrested at a SUNY Trustees meeting. Two other mayoral candidates showed up, John Liu and Weiner, but only de Blasio , along with Levin.

De Blasio wasn’t finished. As Public Advocate, along with City Council Member and Public Advocate candidate Tish James, who represents one of the communities served by LICH, they went to court and successfully secured a Temporary Restraining Order stopping the shut down. As this paper goes to press, that lawsuit was proceeding to a hearing about whether there should be a longer lasting injunction. This is an amazing turn of events (sadly). Public officials fighting hard against efforts to shut down more health care. Not leaving it to brave souls like Yetta Kurland, Tom Shanahan and myself to file suits and lead rallies with NO support from elected officials.

De Blasio actually listens to people. Although he is probably the most liberal of the candidates, he will stand and talk to folks, and listen, and be genuinely appreciative of other’s opinions. This of course has meant fewer one liners at debates and in the press. He told George Capsis and me in an interview (April 2013 WestView News) that St. Vincent’s could have been saved, but our City Council Member (Quinn) and State Senator (Duane) and Assembly Member (Glick) and Borough President (Stringer) didn’t raise the level of the fight in a way where the Governor (Paterson) took them seriously. De Blasio is taking on a more arrogant Governor, and drawing a line.

Can you imagine a Mayor taking on the Governor over a hospital closing?

This year, political independence and a history of taking on the powers that be should be the litmus test we apply to any candidate. It matters not that they can produce a long list of endorsements from other elected officials who have failed us. What matters are deeds, actions, and clear demonstrations about on which side they stand. (You know the famous song written by Florence Reese back in 1931:

“Oh workers can you stand it?

Oh tell me how you can

Will you be a lousy scab

Or will you be a man?

Which side are you on boys?

Which side are you on? “

Oh workers can you stand it?

Oh tell me how you can

Will you be a lousy scab

Or will you be a man?

*Arthur Z. Schwartz is the Democratic State Committee member for the Lower West Side of Manhattan and is currently running for Village Democratic District Leader. The column grew out of Hurricane Sandy and his dissatisfaction with the post-Sandy leadership of our local elected officials.

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