New NYC mayor’s liberal experiment
A large tent was set up in the fashionable neighborhood of Soho in New York on Nov. 9, with a sign hanging at the entrance, “Talking Transition.” Four days earlier, Bill de Blasio was elected the city’s 109th mayor, and his camp was gathering opinions from the public. The tent was crammed with enthusiastic citizens. The survey tablets offered a Korean option, among other languages. An unemployed man spoke up in front of the camera that was filming video messages to the mayor-elect. Each day, three trucks went around the outer boroughs seeking the voices of New Yorkers.
In this digital era with ubiquitous social networks and smartphones, the future mayor’s moves are quite analog. However, the tent in Soho may only be a prologue to the de Blasio administration. The Democrat has kept his distance from Wall Street giants since his election. He is known to have admired socialism in his 20s. He was a supporter of the Sandinista National Liberation Front of Nicaragua, which was considered an eyesore for the Reagan administration. He witnessed socialist reform while working as a volunteer in Nicaragua.
He may have given up on his socialist revolutionary dream, but his ideals of progressive politics are deep-seated. But he is also a practical politician. He was elected to three terms on the New York City council, winning more than 70 percent of the vote each time. He won the mayoral election in a landslide, with 73 percent of the vote. It is amazing that he has garnered nearly 40 percent of support from those earning more than $100,000 a year, despite his campaign promise to raise taxes on the wealthy.
He got over the brand of “socialist” with his multicultural background. His African-American wife, who is seven years his senior, and his son, Dante, give him an image of tolerance and harmony. Two decades of Republican mayoral administrations in New York City have widened the gap between the rich and the poor, and 45.8 percent of New Yorkers fall into the low-income class, with less than $46,000 in annual income for a household of four. To those who are desperate, de Blasio may look like a reformist, not a socialist dreamer.
However, de Blasio has to overcome many obstacles. To implement his promises, the city needs money. While his prescription is a tax hike for the rich, it won’t be easy. New York City and the state of New York are strongholds of the Democratic Party. With midterm elections next year and the presidential election in 2016, the Democratic leadership would not welcome a tax increase. The breakthrough has to come from the power of citizens and street politics. That’s why the tent in Soho is significant.
New York City is the heart of American capitalism. It’s an interesting irony of history that an experiment of progressive politics is conducted not in South America or Africa but in the core of Wall Street.
*The author is a New York correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By JUNG KYUNG-MIN