Mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio speaks with potential voters Tuesday, July 30, 2013. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
When New York City Democrats head to the polls on September 10 to choose their party’s nominee for mayor, they will have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rewrite the narrative of their city. After twelve years, billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose mix of technocratic efficiency and top-down urbanism has come to define the city, is leaving office. For voters, this means a new opening to debate some of the most critical issues of the day, from stop-and-frisk to economic development to hurricane recovery. More fundamentally, it also means a chance to revisit the meaning of the city itself, to ask: What kind of city do we want New York to be? A city for the few, or a city for the many?
Among this year’s Democratic contenders, several have made thoughtful attempts to address this question. But only one candidate has offered a consistently compelling answer. That candidate is Bill de Blasio, the city’s current public advocate, and his commitment to reimagining the city in boldly progressive, egalitarian terms is the reason we are endorsing him for mayor.
“Without a dramatic change of direction—an economic policy that combats inequality and rebuilds our middle class—generations to come will see New York as little more than a playground for the rich…a gilded city where the privileged few prosper, and millions upon millions of New Yorkers struggle each and every day to keep their heads above water,” de Blasio said in a May 30 address crystallizing his portrait of New York as a modern-day Tale of Two Cities. Unfortunately, his speech was drowned out by the frenzy surrounding Anthony Weiner’s sudden return to politics (which quickly became a distraction from the real issues thanks to the media circus surrounding the revelations of his continued sexting activities). But in placing the city’s roiling inequality at the center of his campaign, de Blasio has offered not only the sharpest description of the problem—what he called “the most urgent priority of our time”—but also the most forceful solution.
As The Nation documented in our recent special issue “The Gilded City,” New York today is one of the most unequal places in the country, a city where the gulf between rich and poor rivals that of Swaziland. While the Bloomberg era has transformed parts of New York into glittering oases of livability—islands of green in which bike lanes and condos flourish—vast swaths are still waiting for the good times to trickle down. Almost half the city’s population lives at or near the poverty level; in any given year, more than 105,000 New Yorkers spend at least one night in a homeless shelter, while some 1.5 million face hunger and food insecurity. Meanwhile, the public schools crumble and public housing grows mold. And though none of this is exclusive to New York—rising inequality is a nationwide affliction—it is nonetheless one of the great outrages of the last twelve years that a city government with the power to do so much more has chosen to do so little.