Robert Gangi has been butting heads with New York’s political establishment for decades as he’s fought battle after battle over criminal-justice reform, first as the executive director of the Correctional Association of New York, and then as the director of the nonprofit he started in 2011, the Police Reform Organizing Project.
In those decades, he’s earned a reputation as someone not afraid to speak his mind and call out politicians, even ones theoretically on the same side, for what he sees as injustices. That’s why, he insists, he’s running a shoot-the-moon mayoral campaign against incumbent Bill de Blasio.
De Blasio is a national progressive darling and fundraising powerhouse, but he’s also been criticized by activists to his left who say his promise to end New York’s “tale of two cities” narrative has turned into empty rhetoric, as the city’s police department has continued to disproportionately arrest black and Latino New Yorkers for low-level offenses (a policy called “broken-windows policing”), and as inequality and housing prices have remained high throughout his tenure.
Gangi knows he has a micro-chance of winning. He only has about $5,000 on hand. His campaign is being run out of his rent-stabilized Upper West Side apartment, where he’s lived for 42 years. He only has three paid staff members and a few dozen volunteers (but only one is a family member—and a second cousin at that—Gangi was quick to point out). But regardless of the outcome, Gangi said his main mission is to show New Yorkers there’s an alternative to the kind of bland progressivism championed by de Blasio.
I reached Gangi over the phone at his home in mid-July. The interview that follows has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Peter Moskowitz: Was there an “a-ha” moment when you realized you should run for mayor?
Robert Gangi: There was no one “a-ha” moment. I was director of the Police Reform Organizing Project, working with a number of other police-reform organizations. We thought we were doing very good work, putting out good documentation that exposed this starkly racially biased policing in New York City. We went from saying “in our opinion” to saying flatly, “NYPD arrest practices and other tactics are racist. It’s not a matter of opinion.” But we weren’t getting sufficient traction with the larger public and were certainly getting no meaningful response from the de Blasio administration.
The mainstream liberal response was to tweak at the edges of the problem but not take the steps that would represent meaningful change in terms of how cops interact with low-income communities of color and operate in those communities. Despite the drop in stop-and-frisk, and the increase in the kind of things that de Blasio brags about, like implicit bias training, policing in New York City on a daily basis under de Blasio continues to target low-income people of color.