The Sept.10 primaries were a turning point in New York City politics. For five consecutive administrations, the mayor's office has advocated privatization of public schools, hospitals and housing at the expense of the workers who provide those services and to the detriment of the communities that depend upon those services.
City Hall let Wall Street run free and allowed landlords and developers to write their own laws. (All while the "world's seventh largest standing army" - the N.Y. Police Department acts with impunity while holding the ghettos and barrios in a state of siege with "stop-and-frisk.")
In the primary elections last week, hundreds of thousands of Democratic voters selected candidates who advocated a different, more progressive direction for New York City. Bill de Blasio won that contest with 40 percent of the vote. When you add the second biggest vote getter, Bill Thompson, who garnered 26 percent of the vote, you have a clear majority expressing themselves in favor of a basic change of direction. The majority of those favoring change become greater when you include votes that went to city Comptroller John Liu, forced out of contention because of a fundraising scandal surrounding his aides.
New Yorkers, then, said in this last round of elections that they don't want to continue the 20-year-old policy of providing a city government tailored to the needs of the city's 365,000 millionaires and 70 billionaires. They want, instead, a City Hall that gives top priority to the needs of the city's working families.
For much of the race, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and disgraced former U.S. Congressman Anthony Weiner were frontrunners. Although Quinn had support from some women and from some LGBT groups, she was seen as the Democratic candidate most connected to Wall Street and the current Bloomberg administration. Weiner, although also pro-big business and pro-Bloomberg policies, shot up in the polls as many voters saw him as progressive, but then dropped quickly after more revelations of his "sexting" scandal. These early two frontrunners only garnered 20 percent of the vote combined.
This primary was also important because Democrats outnumber Republicans six to one in New York City. If the Democrats come out of this united, the people can expect to go on to win the general election.
Although the labor and people's movements did not unanimously back one candidate in the primaries they were united in their vision for a different direction for New York.
Racism has been central to dividing NYC's democratic majority; this election shows that where people have been previously mobilized by fear and isolation, they can also be organized by unity. New York city is now home to over 8 million people, 70 percent of whom are racially oppressed; 45 percent live in or just above the federal poverty level; over 1 million or 12 percent are union members. These votes went in large part to removing a conservative from City Hall and replacing him with the most progressive option. They were concerned with official racial profiling known as "stop and frisk," education, jobs and housing.
In the spirit of unity, Thompson said he will not campaign in a runoff election and has endorsed de Blasio. This was the hope of those who have November's general election in mind. Thompson should be commended for opening the way for his party to unite in the general election in November.
However, it also places greater importance on the campaign for public advocate, where top vote getter Letitia James is in a runoff with Daniel Squadron. James, the progressive African American councilwoman from Brooklyn, needs the city's working families to come out in big numbers on Oct. 1 runoff. Squadron is a well-financed machine candidate and the danger is that money will determine the outcome.
On issue after issue from racism to public education, to housing and rent being "too dam high," to unemployment and job creation, James is in lock step with the sentiment expressed by voters on Sept. 10. In addition, James is the only nonwhite or non-male candidate with a chance of making it to the citywide Democratic ballot.
If you voted for change in the primary, your job is far from done. A strong message has been sent to the nation about the type of party New Yorkers want to belong to in these hard times. The message also needs to be sent that the Democratic Party needs to support grassroots candidates and support diversity. James was elected to the city council on the Working Families Party ticket, and it is how she can be elected this time to become the second in line to mayor - with volunteers and people power. On Sept. 10, we took one step forward, but a machine win on Oct. 1 would mean two steps back.
Deepened unity of labor and all people's movements are the cornerstones of rebuilding our city on a solid and sustainable foundation. It is also how New Yorkers can guarantee a James victory on Oct. 1 and then on Nov. 5.
Overall the Democratic primary was a defeat for racism and the anti working class/pro Wall Street policies of the past 20 years. Given a James victory in the runoff, and the expected Democratic victory in the general election, many progressives are saying the 2013 elections could open up a new progressive era for NYC.
Photo: New Yorkers march for a city that puts the 99 percent first, during the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations in 2011. (PW)