Ron Radosh

Comrade De Blasio Takes the Helm


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In the 1940s, the New York City subways and buses were represented — as they still are now — by the Transport Workers Union, whose chief at the time was “Red” Mike Quill. A fiery Communist who left the Party in 1948 but remained firmly on the political Left, Red was famous for his quip: “I’d rather be called a Red by the rats than a rat by the Reds.”

I’m certain that New York City’s new mayor, Bill de Blasio, wishes Quill were still alive. He would then have a major ally to work with when the time came for the MTA to negotiate a new union contract with the city. Judging from his inauguration, a parody of a left-wing gala dreamed up at the U.S. desk of the Castro brothers’ Foreign Ministry, de Blasio has taken his big win as a mandate to create social-democracy in one city.

De Blasio has pledged to make his term as mayor the time for implementation of a war against inequality. My colleague Roger L. Simon thinks he and those with him do not believe a word of what they say, that it is all “high comedy” and they “can’t be serious.” I disagree. The rhetoric may be old-fashioned and seem corny, but de Blasio is a certified red diaper baby, he was born and bred in an ideological cocoon of Marxism, and later, by his own word, was inspired by the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and Castro in Cuba.

He chose whom to appoint and who would speak at his inauguration, and if the talk was inflammatory and ideological, it was de Blasio’s intention. He would take the high road and let the words of his apparatchiks and celebrities like Harry Belafonte talk the talk for the true believers who would provide the inspiration. As Slate writer Matt Yglesias quipped on Twitter as he watched the speeches: “Daring of de Blasio to appear on stage with the embalmed corpses of Lenin, Mao, and Ho Chi Minh at his inauguration.”

Actually, it was not corpses who spoke. Rev. Fred A. Lucas Jr. told the audience that New York City was like a slave plantation run for the wealthy. Belafonte falsely asserted that Mayor Mike Bloomberg had increased the concentration of African-Americans in the city’s prisons. The city’s newly elected public advocate, Letitia James, called for a government “that cares more about a child going hungry than a new stadium or a new tax credit for a luxury development.” All this was even too much for the New York Times editorial board, who called the speeches “backward-looking … [and] both graceless and smug.” As for James’ comments, they were “the worst among them.” And Belafonte’s remarks, they noted, were “utterly bogus.”

Perhaps the owners of the Times were afraid that next on the mayor’s agenda might be Hugo Chavez-style press control or, God forbid, a takeover of the paper by the mayor’s press office carried out by administrative decree. No wonder the paper is considering a bid to sell to a Chinese magnate. As Mona Charen quipped, if the Chinese Communists buy it, the paper will definitely be more rightwing.

Jim Epstein, writing at The Daily Beast, understood what de Blasio is about better than anyone. Let him aim away, he writes, pointing out that “[h]is new job won’t afford him the political power of Lenin or Mao — or anything close to what would be necessary to reshape the city’s demography.” His plan to raise taxes on the rich will collapse in Albany where the state’s budget is created, the city’s budget has to be balanced by law, and he doesn’t have on hand the money he promised to the labor unions when new contracts are negotiated. Actually, he is only beholden to the teachers’ union in particular, since only they backed him in the primaries and did the legwork on his behalf.

That is clearly why de Blasio has promised to cut down the charter schools popular with the African-American community. The anti-reform union opposes them. As for his promise to build 200,000 more units of affordable housing, Epstein writes that “will only happen if the city gets a miraculous windfall of federal tax credit allocations, which provide most of the equity for such projects.”

The tragedy is that leftist do-good programs for the poor are self-defeating, and could make the city far worse. Moreover, they are based on a faulty understanding of why big cities like New York have both rich and poor living in their domain. Writing in the New York Daily News a few months ago, Ed Glaeser, a professor of economics at Harvard, explained that the city’s “extreme inequality reflects other extraordinary aspects of New York: the massive global financial markets based here, America’s most accessible public transit system, hyper-dense immigrant communities and broad social services, like public housing. These forces attract both rich and poor to New York, and New York should not be ashamed of that economic diversity.”

The poor flock to New York for the reason that it is there they think that there will be mobility that will let them eventually move up the ladder, making it what Glaeser believes is a “viable home for the poor.” It is and has been a port of immigrants who come to America via New York and view it as the starting place for their journey into the middle class.

Then there is the classic failure to comprehend the results of good intentions. Making the public welfare system give more to the poor in the form of various subsidies, Glaeser warns, means more of the poor moving to the city and hence an increase in the inequality. It also means more middle-class people moving out, as well as the wealthy that leave again for the suburbs or other states.

A problem is that the mayor has the backing of the far left New York City Council, which as Steven Malanga pointed out back in 2003 in an article titled “The Council’s Confederacy of Dunces,” “seems intent on doing the bidding of its most radical union supporters through the narrowest special-interest legislation.” With Mayor de Blasio — who started on that very City Council — in charge, he will not even have to try hard to get the city’s major governing board to approve all of his campaigns against “inequality.”

Malanga’s ten-year-old prediction proved accurate. He also wrote that the council, in passing extremist legislation that hurt the economy, “could have political ramifications for years to come, because the council serves as the local political minor leagues, preparing candidates for higher office in New York.” Indeed. The result is Mayor Bill de Blasio, a dream of the far Left coming to fruition. Malanga also predicted that New York City would experience “a torrent of anti-business, anti-taxpayer legislation that will damage it for years to come.”

So welcome, New Yorkers, to your future. The crowd at the inaugural cheered former Mayor David Dinkins — New Yorkers alive then well remember his time in office as a period of increased crime, a lack of basic services, higher taxes, a takeover of the streets by de-institutionalized mentally ill patients, and inefficient city government. Those who followed him in office successfully made the city a safe place to live and work in by undoing Dinkins’ failures.

The left favored what was bad for the city. Now with their man in office, New York City residents can see the past as their future.