Friday, 14 February 2014

We like our new mayor

Just a few weeks into his tenure, our refreshing new mayor, Bill de Blasio [above with family], is sounding pretty much all the right notes and, by all indications, assembling the right team of collaborators. Even his miscues are so far more laughable than disturbing, the mistakes of a newcomer who wrong-foots out of inexperience with the intense spotlight now illuminating his every move.

I sat in on a meeting of the city’s AIDS service providers and longtime activists Friday afternoon, and the atmosphere was cautiously cheerful with regard to the incoming municipal government. De Blasio has just fulfilled a key campaign promise by pushing Gov. Cuomo to revive the 30% rent cap for people on HIV-related disability. This means, if the agreement doesn’t hit a snag, that people with HIV won’t be evicted from their apartments any more when skyrocketing housing costs gobble up their paltry checks.

Here’s a first-hand account by an acquaintance, Reginald Brown, about how it happened to him. The irony is that the city saves no money by letting this cruel practice continue because people like Brown still have a guarantee to shelter, so the housing agency ends up paying huge fees to slumlords (like the ones described here) to put him into a subsidized domicile. The measure de Blasio is championing as promised is actually revenue neutral for that reason.

It’s a good metaphor for the breath of fresh air that de Blasio brings us in contrast to Bloomberg’s years-long Scroogian sabotage of the 30% cap, consistent with his overall bloody-mindedness and dedication to turning Manhattan into a playground for plutocrats. But de Blasio has moved just as quickly on several other fronts as well:

• He booted Bloomberg’s miserable police commissioner and brought back Bill Bratton who, though the originator of stop-and-frisk, is now formally charged with ending it. A well-organized popular movement set the groundwork for this victory, aided by a successful ACLU lawsuit against the criminalization of black and Hispanic males for being on the street (or even in their building lobbies). The campaign was key to de Blasio’s victory in the Democratic primary, which came as a shock to many white residents who had no idea how deeply this racist practice bothered people—doh.
• He put an actual former teacher (and former school principal) in charge of the city’s schools, another stark contrast with Bloomberg’s privatizing thugs like Joel Klein (now making millions at the Murdoch empire) and the ridiculous Cathie Black, a fancy-pants magazine editor who didn’t know her ass from a hand grenade. De Blasio is forging ahead with his plan for universal, free pre-K services for all New Yorkers, and he’s got some upstate allies for that although the corruptoids in our state legislature undoubtedly will find some way to throw in a spanner.
• So that’s education, policing, and a smidgen of health, and de Blasio is making further noise about the broader housing crisis in the city, hospital closings, taxes and development. The rash of pedestrian deaths should get him thinking about land use and traffic, too, and Laetitia James, who took over his old job as Public Advocate, is militant on those issues.

On the debit side, de Blasio urgently needs some PR coaching to prepare for the mortar rounds heading his way as he treads on the tootsies of the power far too accustomed to getting their way under the reign of multibillion Mike. The mayor has taken heat for not closing schools after this latest winter storm, and he unwisely made a phone call to a top cop after one of his preacher supporters got popped on an outstanding warrant. Assuming de Blasio didn’t think through how it might look for a mayor to make a call like that, it’s clear that someone should be advising him to slow down and do so in the future to avoid costly distractions. There are plenty of people already gunning for him, and we want his good instincts to bear a lot of fruit.

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