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 luxuriant 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.
In running for mayor, de Blasio has promised to tackle the city’s inequality crisis head-on, harnessing what he has called “the most powerful local government on earth” to bring affordable housing, living-wage jobs, universal pre-kindergarten and genuine opportunity to the city’s millions of forgotten residents. “My job is to help New Yorkers live in New York,” he told New York magazine in a recent interview. The words sound nice, but what makes them compelling is the fact that de Blasio has backed them up with a platform that The New York Times has described as “the meatiest material presented by any candidate to date.”
There is a lot to like, in proposals that range from education and homelessness to public safety—but among the ideas that we found most persuasive is his unusually diverse economic development strategy, which embraces not only job creation but also enhanced labor protections and long-overdue investments in New York’s once-great public universities. De Blasio was a major force behind living-wage and paid-sick-leave legislation—indeed, he fought for much stronger bills than those ultimately passed by the City Council—and his platform contains additional policies to increase wages for the city’s working poor. He is also steadfastly pro-union, which is both a welcome change and a crucial one after twelve years of an administration so hostile to labor that all 152 of the city’s public unions are without contracts. And in an effort to stanch New York’s affordable-housing crisis, he has put forward an ambitious plan to build or preserve nearly 200,000 affordable-housing units over the coming decade, while pledging to remove wasteful tax breaks for real estate developers.
Perhaps most unexpected is the centerpiece of de Blasio’s platform: a city income-tax surcharge on New Yorkers earning over $500,000 a year to provide truly universal, full-day pre-kindergarten to every child in New York City—a game-changing investment in the next generation of New Yorkers. The revenue from this surcharge would also fund after-school academics, athletics and cultural programming for every middle-schooler. It is notable that de Blasio made this tax proposal in the belly of the beast, at a meeting of the city’s corporate leaders.
Finally, de Blasio has been one of the fiercest critics of the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy, the racially discriminatory police practice that has subjected hundreds of thousands of black and Latino men to illegal searches and violated their constitutional rights, according to a blistering federal court ruling handed down on August 12. And of the candidates, he has been the most vocal and persistent supporter of a bill to prohibit racial profiling and impose greater police oversight. He has also pledged to replace Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, who continues to stubbornly defend stop-and-frisk.