OAKLAND – New York City has finally elected a Democrat as Mayor. In a city where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by more than 5 to 1, Bill de Blasio will be the first Democrat elected mayor in 20 years (since David Dinkins left office at the end of 1993).
Why you might ask? In a word, racism. It's a long complicated story, too long for here, but to sum it up, NYC Democrats have been bitterly divided by race for decades.
In this context, the election of de Blasio, who is married to a Black woman, and the father of bi-racial children, may be only symbolic, but it should hardly be considered irrelevant.
There are high hopes for de Blasio in many progressive, and even some radical, circles. I wish them luck and hope for the best. It should not be hard to be an improvement over Michael Bloomberg, the mega ego maniac corporate billionaire (not that one, the other one) with his own sophisticated media empire.
Mayor-elect de Blasio made addressing economic and service inequities a campaign theme. In his victory speech he echoed those themes, “We are united in the belief that our city should leave no New Yorker behind," he said. "The people of this city have chosen a progressive path, and tonight we set forth on it together as one city."
Will he come through for NYC's working class? What will his interactions with unions, community groups, and social movements be? Will de Blasio unite the NYC Democrats and overcome the institutional and individual racism that divides both the city's working class as well as the Democrats?
Those on the left that supported de Blasio would be wise not to put too much stock in de Blasio's youthful solidarity with revolution in Central America in the 1980s, nor his previous, nor any current, associations with radicals and social movements.
I was born and raised in NYC, but have lived in Oakland CA for the past 25 years. We're used to having so-called "progressive" Democrats as Mayor in Oakland. Our current Mayor, Jean Quan, was a Maoist in the sixties and seventies who was deeply involved with the civil rights and anti-war movements. Quan later became a progressive Democratic politician, climbed the electoral ladder, and is now Mayor.
Quan made history as the first Asian American woman elected Mayor of a major U.S. city.
Mayor Quan can certainly talk the talk and sound quite progressive, especially if viewed against the rightward skewed national political spectrum of the U.S. She has many personal connections to social movements and trade unions.
So, has Mayor Quan championed groundbreaking progressive reforms in Oakland? Certainly not. You'd have heard about it by now if she had. She's a Democrat after all. Just like de Blasio is a Democrat. Democratic Party politicians do not, as a rule, confront our corporate capitalist masters. Almost never unless they are pushed to.
Mayor Quan's personal history and progressive ties didn't stop her from unleashing the police on Occupy Oakland, nor from defending extreme police brutality.
Mayor Quan later demanded and won concessions from Oakland's city employees. Far from leading a working class fight back, Mayor Quan has defended the political establishment.
The occasion of the election of a “progressive” Democrat is not the time for social movements to back off and give the newly elected politician space. This may seem counter-intuitive. It is contrary to the usual historic tendencies.
If social movements, unions, community groups, and progressives want to win meaningful reforms under the de Blasio administration, they will have to fight for them. They will have to build grassroots unity amidst the Big Apple's multiracial and multicultural working class. They will have to make a lot of noise.
The people and their progressive movements and organizations can begin a new political chapter in New York's history. They'll need to protest in the streets and at their work places, develop their own sophisticated agenda that creates unity and counters racism, as well as vote in order to make that happen.
Hopefully, Mayor de Blasio will be better than Mayor Quan has been in Oakland. Much will depend on how forcefully and militantly the social movements can unite to press for progressive reforms.