“This is not a socialist country; let’s be clear on that,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, the Democratic nominee for mayor of New York City, on Real Time With Bill Maher in July, following a hotly contested Democratic primary. Throughout his campaign, Adams has made it abundantly clear that he is not aligned with the left. Indeed, just a few days before the Maher interview, he took a swipe at supporters of democratic socialism by announcing, “I’m no longer running against candidates. I’m running against a movement,” referring to democratic socialist activists in New York and nationally.
But that’s not quite true. Adams is running against a number of candidates in the November 2 election, and one of them proudly identifies as the candidate of a socialist party. Indeed, with several New York election contests featuring candidates who identify as democratic socialists, and with socialists bidding on Democratic lines outside the city, the country might be a bit more socialist than Adams realizes.
While his main opponent is Republican Curtis Sliwa, a talk-radio host and longtime leader of the Guardian Angels, Adams faces seven other contenders from across the political spectrum. There’s a Conservative. There’s a Libertarian. And there’s Cathy Rojas, a 30-year-old public school teacher from Queens who is running as the candidate of the Party of Socialism and Liberation.
“I’m running as a socialist,” said Rojas.
We’ve been sold a lie that socialism is something scary. Socialism is the future where workers have power, can live with dignity and where the basic necessities to survive are guaranteed rights, not under daily threat. Socialism is where we, the workers who create the wealth and profits, can dictate how resources are spent based on community solutions that work, not the politicians in the pockets of big business and real estate developers.
Rojas’s campaign promises “A City for All, Not the Rich.” She developed her platform in collaboration with a volunteer campaign team made up of “working-class women of color who sat down to create a socialist platform that works,” she said. It calls for using City funds to create sustainable jobs for the unemployed and underemployed, for free transportation, and for defunding the police. She’s got a detailed plan to address the housing crisis, with real rent controls that prevent landlords from charging more than 20 percent of tenants’ household income. And she wants the city to seize vacant properties to create permanent affordable housing.
As a community activist who has been involved in mutual aid projects to provide support for families that were hard hit by Covid-19, she wants to fully fund existing public hospitals and open new public hospitals in low-income neighborhoods and areas most affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
Rojas would fund this transformational agenda by imposing higher taxes on millionaires and billionaires, and by creating a Public Bank of New York City to provide affordable financial services for working-class families and to make equitable investments.
Her vision has struck a chord not just with independent activists but also with at least some Democrats. Rojas has earned endorsements from several prominent political figures in the nation’s largest city. Kristin Richardson Jordan, a Democratic City Council candidate from Central Harlem’s District 9, said Rojas is “the best mayoral candidate for Harlem and her policies are truly in service to Black liberation and in the vein of breaking systemic racism, white supremacy and patriarchy.” Another backer, state Senator Julia Salazar, a Democrat who is a member of the group Democratic Socialists of America, which has not made an endorsement in the contest, hails Rojas as a working-class public school teacher who “has demonstrated her commitment to empowering our most vulnerable neighbors.”
Salazar said, “It’s crucial that we challenge political hegemony by supporting Cathy: an inspiring, socialist candidate who is running to truly be the voice for the people.”
Despite the support she’s attracted from elected officials and activists, Rojas has had a tough time overcoming the political hegemony Salazar refers to. Rojas’s low-budget campaign has raised a little over $20,000. That’s just a fraction of the more than $19 million Adams has collected with aggressive fundraising efforts targeting wealthy donors who are attracted to the candidate’s Wall Street–friendly promise that “New York will no longer be anti-business.”
Particularly rankling for Rojas was her exclusion from the mayoral debates involving Adams and Sliwa. “I’m working full-time while campaigning with a team of dedicated volunteers. Because we didn’t raise hundreds of thousands of dollars, I’m barred from the debates,” Rojas declared at a protest over her exclusion on October 20.
In a society where money equals power and the media is necessary to get messages out to the most people, a person like me, a worker, isn’t taken seriously unless the ultra-rich support my message. This is outrageous. The working class also deserves to have their side represented in the debates! If the media truly cared about what the nurses, custodians, and line cooks cared about, they would like our side on that debate stage.
So Rojas won’t be able to directly challenge Adams on his assertions regarding socialism’s appeal, nationally or in New York. But it is worth noting that several democratic socialists are expected to be elected to the New York City Council on Tuesday. New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who is expected to be reelected with ease on Tuesday, said in an interview with Jacobin, “I have no problem saying I’m a democratic socialist.”
It’s also worth noting that former mayor David Dinkins was an active member of DSA, that former mayor Fiorello LaGuardia was once elected to Congress on the Socialist Party line, and that Socialist Party candidates such as Norman Thomas and Morris Hillquit won over 150,000 votes in their bids for the mayoralty in the late 1920s and early 1930s. And, of course, in New York state’s second-largest city, Buffalo, a democratic socialist, India Walton, is the Democratic nominee for mayor.