Morning Read: ‘Nothing Shadowy Here’

Andrew Cuomo and Bill de Blasio. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty)

Andrew Cuomo and Bill de Blasio. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty) Photo: Spencer Platt for Getty Images

Headline of the Day: “Commentary: Beware of childcare from the nanny state.”

Runner-Up: “De Blasio administration has Commie agenda.”

Bill de Blasio is schlepping up to Albany this morning to testify on behalf of his own universal pre-K plan. “We’re going to be able to make a huge impact starting with the school year that begins this September,” Mr. de Blasio told The Wall Street Journal, which got an early look at the mayor’s proposal today.

The politics, of course, set Mr. de Blasio up against Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who wants to fund pre-K without taxes. “Cuomo thinks he can paint De Blasio into a corner with this tax stuff,” a mayoral ally told New York. “Which is kind of strange, because De Blasio is happy to be in that corner — his base wants him to tax the rich.”

The New York Times profiled the relationship between Mr. de Blasio and Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver. “Not since Mayor Dinkins left town have we had someone at City Hall who shared a lot of our views,” Mr. Silver said. The mayor’s election, he said, “gives a lot of credibility to issues that we’ve raised over the years.”

Capital New York profiled Mr. de Blasio’s alliance with Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who will be up in Albany arguing for the mayor’s tax today: “[T]he alliance they’ve formed on this issue is just one example of the extraordinarily close bond between de Blasio and Mark-Viverito, who was elected with help from the mayor.”

Upper East Side Assembly hopeful Gus Christensen is drawing fire for reportedly packing a Democratic club, writing checks “totaling more than $2,600 to cover the dues of his pals who joined the Lenox Hill Democratic Club,” according to the Daily News

While the New York Post has a critical report on Councilman Jumaane Williams moving to evict his tenants for being repeatedly late on rent. Mr. Williams, the new council’s housing committee chair, “is a self-professed champion of tenants — just not his own,” the paper writes.

And Councilman Brad Lander posted a lengthy reflection on his Friday Times profile:

Thanks so much to everyone who reached out with kind words about Friday’s profile of me by Kate Taylor in The New York Times.

I thought it was worth using the opportunity to reflect for a minute on how we organize for the kind of change we want. Can we build power to bring about concrete steps toward a more just and equal society, while holding onto our values? It’s not a rhetorical question, or even (solely) a “cerebral” one.

Nothing shadowy here: The article was very flattering, but one part bothered me – the idea that anyone is referring to me as a “shadow speaker.” Anyone who knows Melissa Mark-Viverito knows that she’s smart, someone who stands up for what she believes in, and makes her own decisions. She ran a great campaign. I was proud to support her (for reasons I set out here), and to play a role in helping her win. I’m honored to be part of her leadership team, glad to be her friend, and eager to offer my ideas. But make no mistake: she’s our leader.

So why the talk of “shadows” and “whispers?” You’d be unlikely to hear such things if the Speaker were white and male, no matter who offered advice. So it seems to me there’s gender and ethnic bias at work here. If Linda Sarsour is right in the article – and I believe she is – that our work for change requires real attention to privilege, then we need to push back against the whisper-campaigns that would undermine the leadership of women and people-of-color.

All about the team (aka organized compassion): As I hope people could tell from the article, the skill I’m proudest of is helping to assemble and be a contributing part of a good team, organized around shared values. Yes, I worked hard over the past several years to build up the strength of progressives in the City Council. But the simple truth is that our successes came through the hard work of so many people. And, whether others believe it or not, that they were motivated not primarily by self-interest, but by a shared commitment to values and goals.

I’d need several blog posts to name them all, but I want to recognize at least a few. The Council Members who created the political arm of the Progressive Caucus – Margaret Chin, Danny Dromm, Julissa Ferreras, Jimmy Van Bramer, Jumaane Williams along with MMV and me – have been organizing together since 2009. The Council Members who joined the “Progressive Bloc” in the Speakers race this fall are already bringing extraordinary new energy to the Council and to their districts. All of them took real risks for something they believe in, put in huge amounts of hard work, and stood together in some tough times.

We were lucky in this effort to have an incredible team of allies who share our goals and know how to win. Some people (even some who support progressive policies) are uncomfortable with the work of building institutional power – through labor unions, community groups that form PACs or 501c4s, and political parties. But there is simply no way we can achieve the goals of a fairer distribution of opportunity – in a society where the vast majority of the economic gains of recent decades have gone to the top 1%, and untrammeled corporate and real-estate cash can flow into politics – without strong organizing institutions.

The Working Families Party has helped make it possible for progressives to come together in electoral space. Labor unions like SEIU 32BJ, Hotel Trades Council, Communication Workers of America, UAW, and 1199 – and the NYC Central Labor Council itself – have shown that unions can not only fight for their members, but engage in campaigns that seek to lift up all low-wage workers. The remarkable and diverse coalitions behind the Paid Sick Days bill and the Community Safety Act showed the hunger for change and the possibility of winning it … and gave Council Members the courage and responsibility to be bold. Community groups like Make the Road NY and New York Communities for Change have learned to translate that issue advocacy into electoral politics. Elected officials like Congressmembers Nadler, Velazquez, Clarke, Jeffries, and Comptroller Stringer all pitched in, believing it necessary to create a pipeline of elected officials committed to these efforts. And thousands of New Yorkers volunteered on and contributed to these (issue and electoral) campaigns.

The centrality of organizing, of building strong teams around shared values, isn’t just about campaigning. It’s also a big part of what we want from government – to do together those things we can’t do on our own – in our public schools, in stronger police/community relations, through participatory budgeting, for safer and more livable streets for all of us (if you haven’t already, check out this beautiful and heart-wrenching article on the organizing work parents of Sammy Cohen-Eckstein in today’s Times), and in our work for a more resilient city. In the past – borrowing from singer/activist Billy Bragg – I’ve called it “organized compassion.” This campaign captured that spirit, and I hope it helps to propel it forward. Only time will tell. If you want a great read about what this moment might hold more broadly, check out “The zeitgest tracked down Bill de Blasio,” in The Nation, a great read by the one-of-a-kind Bob Master, political director of CWA District 1 and co-chair of the WFP.

So (as Robert Redford asked in The Candidate) what do we do now? As a result of the progressive wins of recent months, there’s a lot at stake. We have the opportunity – and the responsibility – to show that progressives can deliver real results and govern effectively. So, under Speaker Mark-Viverito’s leadership, we are getting right to work. We laid out much of what we hope to do in our platform, 13 Bold Progressive Ideas for NYC 2013, and the even-wonkier Toward a 21st Century City for All. We’re working with Mayor deBlasio to push for truly universal pre-K and expanded after-school programs, funded stably with a modest tax on the wealthiest among us. We’ve already taken steps to expand paid sick days to another 300,000 workers who don’t have them. In the coming months, we’ll be taking more concrete action for affordable housing, good jobs, safer streets, and a more sustainable and resilient city. And also making sure that the City remains good at the basics – clearing the snow, picking up the garbage, and dealing with water-main breaks.

While we’re working to achieve tangible results, we’ll also stay attentive to the dangers that having some power can bring. That’s why we’ll get started right away with the “rules reform” platform we developed, to insure a more inclusive, transparent, and democratic City Council. Watch for a first public hearing in the Rules Committee next month.

A few last words of thanks: To Kate Taylor for spending so much time with me (and talking to so many others), and to Karsten Moran for the great photo. To my parents, David and Carole Lander. While it’s true I learned from MLK and AJ Heschel, the deepest values of fairness and compassion that my sister Rachel and I grew up with really come from home. To all my staff, but especially Rachel Goodman and Michael Freedman-Schnapp, who have been in this from the start. And of course to Meg, Marek, and Rosa. It’s true that I followed Meg to NYC, and have kept following her since. Full confession: it was really Meg’s idea to reach out to Linda Sarsour to invite one of their members to the Girls-Read-for-Girls event. As so often (but not enough), the best thing I did was listen.