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New York Needs to Re-Elect Bill de Blasio

January 5, 2017

Bill de Blasio ran for mayor of New York in 2013 on a very liberal platform. He was determined to change the city’s story from “A Tale of Two Cities” to a fairer, more equitable story. When de Blasio won, conservatives predicted a “return to the bad old days” of the 1970s. Captains of industry predicted the demise of free enterprise in the People’s Republic of New York. John Rocker offered his opinion, just in case anyone wanted it, that de Blasio would turn the city into a Third World country “that smelled like a sewer and had the murder rate of an African civil war.”

Curiously, Donald Trump predicted that de Blasio would be “a good mayor, maybe a very good mayor.” He said that de Blasio would “make New York great.”

Most of all, conservatives foresaw skyrocketing crime rates. In their view, liberal government is simply inconsistent with peaceful and orderly civil life. Three years in, with the 2017 mayoral campaign about to begin in earnest, I want to point out how wrong the conservatives were.

In 2016, New York saw 335 homicides, just two more than the record low set in 2014, de Blasio’s first year in office. New York has reliable homicide statistics only back to 1963, with somewhat patchier statistics for some earlier years, back to 1928. The only years on record in which New York experienced less than one homicide per day are 2013 to 2016. Giuliani presided over an average of 889 homicides a year, and he’s nationally celebrated as some kind of crime-fighting hero. Homicides under de Blasio have averaged 340 a year. Bloomberg’s average was 515.

To small-town America, 335 homicides sounds like a lot. So let’s consider homicides per person. I grew up near Lancaster, PA, in the conservative heart of Amish country, a town with a population just under 60,000 people, as peaceful a town as ever there was. New York is about 144 times as populous as Lancaster. To have a murder rate as low as New York, Lancaster would have to stay below three murders a year – which hasn’t happened since 2005. New York mayors like to say that New York is the safest big city in America, but the fact is, liberal New York is safer than a great deal of small-town and rural America.

Shootings were down as well – 998 shootings in 2016, the lowest number since computerized record-keeping began in 1994. (Since shooting is not a separate crime, and shootings were not counted before computerization of crime records, counting the shootings before computerization would require individual review of typewritten crime reports to determine whether firearms discharges were involved.) The New York Police Department attributes the decrease in shootings to a decrease in gang violence, which has been a policy priority of de Blasio’s NYPD.

In fact, major crime as a whole is down under de Blasio. For the seven categories classified by the FBI as “major crimes” – homicide, rape, robbery, felony assault, burglary, grand larceny, and grand larceny of a motor vehicle – there were nearly 10,000 fewer crimes in 2016 than in 2013, the year before de Blasio took office.

While Donald Trump was running for president, he changed his mind about Bill de Blasio. After the Mayor criticized Trump’s plan to institutionalize surveillance of mosques, Trump tweeted that de Blasio is “the worst Mayor in the U.S., & probably the worst Mayor in the history of #NYC.” Now, of course, Donald Trump is the president-elect of the United States, and he aggressively espouses a very different governing philosophy than Mayor de Blasio’s.

Mayor de Blasio’s administration can be seen as a test whether 21st century liberal governance can include fiscal discipline, low crime, and economic prosperity. In that respect, de Blasio is the municipal analog of Jerry Brown, whose liberal administration, supported by Democratic super-majorities in both houses of the California legislature, is a test of 21st century liberal state governance. Six years into Governor Brown’s administration, and three years into Mayor de Blasio’s, it is not rationally possible to say that liberal governance cannot work – that liberal governance must necessarily lead to high crime rates, bloated government spending, economic hardship, and social disarray.

President Trump, supported by hard-right Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, may run the most radically conservative national administration in the history of the country. The liberal cause requires that California, being by far the country’s biggest state, and New York, being by far the country’s biggest city, stand strong to lead the liberal opposition. California and New York must stand as potent counterpoints to Trump’s radical ideology.

Trump abhors Hispanic and Muslim immigrants; California and New York welcome them. Trump dismisses diversity and multi-cultural inclusiveness as “political correctness”; California and New York embrace their multi-cultural diversity and work hard to be inclusive. Trump despises labor unions and opposes minimum wage increases, whereas California and New York support unions and increased minimum wages. While Republicans in Washington search out new and innovative ways to advantage the wealthy, the “job creators,” and to slash Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and repeal Obamacare, California and New York don’t just maintain existing social programs – they enact new ones. While Trump and his supporters weaken legal protections for voting rights, abortion rights, same-sex marriage rights, and anti-discrimination rights, California and New York work to strengthen them.

The Mayor has had a tough time in the polls. Of particular concern, his approval ratings among liberals have been surprisingly low – not because of what he stands for, but because liberals believe he has not been effective in dealing with homelessness and poverty.

But 2017 is not a time for intermural battles among liberals, especially not in New York City. In 2017, liberals need strong resistance to the Trump onslaught, and strong resistance requires a unified front. New York City must stand with other progressive cities, with California and other progressive states, as an alternative to the dark ideology that has taken over Washington. It is of vital importance to liberals nationally that New York City not devote 2017 to a Democratic primary spat between Mayor de Blasio and, say, Comptroller Scott Stringer. For nothing less than the good of the country, Stringer, and all other progressives of good will, must sit the 2017 mayoral primary out.


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