In an editorial today, The New York Times calls on Mayor Bill de Blasio “to be bold to the point of confrontational, to endure name-calling, resentment and lower poll numbers. The rap on him is that he hasn’t run anything,” the editorial continues. “The rap on liberal Democrats is that they can’t run this unruly city.”
The Times was specifically referring to de Blasio’s first budget—due February 12—and the tone it will set for negotiating new deals with all the unions representing city workers. More on that in a minute. But the “rap on liberal Democrats” is something Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart brought up Monday night when de Blasio appeared on The Daily Show. The host asked the mayor about fears that the city could return to a time “when it was less orderly and things were more chaotic and how do you tell people that is not the case?” Here was de Blasio’s answer:
“Whenever you see a progressive moment, whenever you see progressive leaders come in to office, that charge is thrown in one way or another.… It’s specious. It’s not true. The bottom line is, we know the great threat to this country is inequality, the great threat to this city is inequality.… People need a core hope in our society. They need a core amount of visible opportunity. And that’s been slipping away. So if you want to talk about destabilizing realities in our society, talk about inequality.”
As Dan Morris—the former Red Horse Strategies consultant who recently launched a new advisory firm called Progressive Cities—notes, de Blasio’s ability to deliver real change in the city actually depends upon a sense of emergency. “You need to create and sustain an urgency of crisis around an issue,” like universal pre-k (UPK), Morris says. That’s why de Blasio has clearly pursued an inside strategy in the corridors of power in Albany, and a very aggressive public campaign, rallying union leaders, business bigshots and nonprofit and academic luminaries to the cause; he even had his wife voice a commercial hyping it.
The lack of a sense of crisis around economic justice, at least in the mayor’s suite at City Hall, is one reason, Morris adds, “so much of the progressive urban policy over the past decade happened in other cities and then served as a model for people in New York and elsewhere in other cities to replicate.” San Francisco led the way on paid sick leave, Los Angeles broke ground on the living wage and community schools took root in Cincinnati.
Here in New York, when finally acknowledged as real, inequality was often dismissed as something that municipal policy couldn’t really address. “I know the argument, but I’ve never been persuaded by it. It’s total nonsense and rubbish,” Morris argues. “If that were true then why would there be this growing movement to get paid sick leave? Why this growing movement to get the living wage?”
But that notion fueled the naysaying around the UPK plan, which was treated as a pie-in-the-sky idea by many during the mayoral campaign. Now, a month into de Blasio’s mayoralty, “they’ve already re-framed the debate and gotten Cuomo to move very far on this issue,” Morris notes. “They haven’t won yet, but they’re in a winning position.”