Thursday, August 15, 2013

Making a Modern NYC: Bill De Blasio for Mayor

"Modern" is a word that gets thrown around a lot and yet, when asked to define it, most people would probably be stumped to say what it is exactly. defines modern as:

1. of or pertaining to present and recent time; not ancient or remote: modern city life.
2.  characteristic of present and recent time; contemporary; not antiquated or obsolete: modern viewpoints.
3. of or pertaining to the historical period following the Middle Ages: modern European history.
4. of, pertaining to, or characteristic of contemporary styles of art, literature, music, etc., that reject traditionally accepted or sanctioned forms and emphasize individual experimentation and sensibility. 

So, basically, something modern is anything that relates to today.

Which begs another question: what makes NYC a modern city? In the past, NYC was the modern city of its times. It was always the city of today -- and tomorrow. But will it always be so?

Before contemplating the future, let's look to the past. This recent segment from WNYC recounted the history of how two men in the 1930s helped to shape modern New York: Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. These two titans of their era used the power of government to re-build a decaying city and drastically improve the lives of its citizens. They had a progressive vision: clean and affordable housing, good jobs with safe working conditions, health care, and education. These services were provided and improved in order to empower people in their lives and to help them to contribute to the life of the city. FDR and LaGuardia saw progressive policies not only as compassionate and moral but as smart and necessary -- they helped people help society. Because of these two leaders, NYC emerged from the Great Depression and World War II to be the most powerful city in the most powerful nation on earth -- the very zenith, the very cusp of modernity.  

Now, almost a century later, the city is again looking to the future -- and trying to define its modern identity. 

Increasingly, we've become a city of rich and poor with a dying middle class. If you're rich in this town, times have never been better. But if you're not, they've never been this tough. If you can afford it, there's never been more luxury housing available. If you're can't, there's never been less affordable housing available. Schools are great -- if you can afford good private ones or live in the right neighborhoods. If you don't, you're condemned to failing schools. These have been great times for the rich, lucky and connected -- and terrible for everyone else. 

For Mayor Bloomberg, he has worked very hard to regulate how much soda you drink but not how much you pay in rent. He has tried to make NYC a "luxury product" and not a city for all. Basically, he wants NYC to be Bergdorf Goodmans and, if you can't afford it, you can go shop at Target for all he cares. 

To me, this is an unacceptable future for NYC. 

So what will the future of NYC in the 21st century be like? Is our city going to go the way of Ancien France or Tsarist Russia? Or can we make a change? Can we recapture the same progressive spirit that saved this city almost a century ago?

We can't be a modern, progressive city without investing in our people. We can't have a city of rich and poor, squeezing everyone else out. A brain drain from NYC would be a disaster. As Lena Dunham, creator of the HBO show Girls and a lifelong New Yorker put it: "We can't have our generation's Patti Smith moving to Tampa."

That's why we need to elect Bill De Blasio as our next mayor. He's the best progressive we can elect to fashion a modern New York that closes the gap between rich and poor. He has a simple, straightforward agenda that would go a long way to closing this gap: impose a tax surcharge of .04 to 1% on incomes over half a million dollars, universal pre-K, reform "stop and frisk", support a living wage, and build affordable housing. Sounds like a good plan to me. A 21st century progressive plan that a leading American economist, Jeffrey Sachs, strongly endorses. And believe me, very few people are smarter than him. 

Sounds good to you, right? I would hope so.

But not to some people -- like our current mayor or the 1%. If De Blasio wins the Democratic primary -- as it looks increasingly likely that he will -- it'll be a battle royale between him and the Republican candidate.   

Oh yes, there will be a lot of fear mongering. "Oh no! If we elect De Blasio mayor, it'll be like the 1970s again: high crime, fiscal crises, white flight!" Those arguments are crap: this isn't the 1970s anymore, we have new accounting rules that don't allow a fiscal crises to emerge, and crime has fallen so low that I don't think that a mayor, any mayor, could just somehow make it flare up again. No, the city is facing new a crises: affordability, quality of life, fairness, justice. Without these, NYC can't be a truly modern city.  

The last presidential election showed that American is moving in a more progressive direction. With Obama in the White House, America is moving forward. Does NYC want to be left behind?  

If we are to truly be a modern city, we need to move in a more progressive direction and, for that, we need progressive leadership. For mayor, De Blasio is the way to go.