Occupiers Hope Bill de Blasio Delivers on Inequality

A pro-Bill de Blasio sign at today's protest. (Photo: Twitter/@brigidbergin)
A pro-Bill de Blasio sign at today’s protest. (Photo: Twitter/@brigidbergin)

This afternoon, Bill de Blasio described his candidacy for mayor as an outgrowth of the Occupy Wall Street movement, which is celebrating its second anniversary occupying Zuccotti Park today.

“It’s a complicated movement to say the least, but the core message was we have to address inequality,” said Mr. de Blasio during an endorsement press conference on the steps of City Hall, where the drums from an anniversary march could be heard echoing from the street.

Mr. de Blasio’s campaign, of course, has been premised on addressing income inequality and ending the “tale of two cities” and the growing gap between the rich and the poor. And he had defended the OWS movement at the time, criticizing the Bloomberg administration for raiding their encampment in the dead of night.

But many members of the movement, which was famous for refusing to work within the confines of the political system, were skeptical this afternoon when asked about the mayoral candidate–though many commended him for putting poverty front-and-center in his campaign. New York magazine chronicled some of these doubts earlier today.

“I mean it’s a little ridiculous, let’s be honest,” said Kat Gregor, 28, when asked about the idea that Mr. de Blasio was carrying the mantle of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Ms. Gregor, who lives in New Jersey and recently got laid off from a job in electronic repairs, applauded the public advocate for talking about issues relevant to the movement–but said she had little patience for politicians’ talk.

“He seems like he has a better idea of what’s going on, but he’s still a politician … as soon as he’s a politician you know you can’t trust him,” she said, standing surrounded by police barricades in a mostly empty Zuccotti Park. “Yeah, ok, you can talk about it, but what are you going to do about?” she asked. “Because as far as I know, de Blasio hasn’t come up with any grand plan that he’s actually going to change things. He’s just talking about how [inequality] exists.”

Nearby, a small group of protesters sat, listening as an older man railed against the whole crop of mayoral candidates for failing to explicitly promise retroactive wages to municipal union workers.

Protesters today at Zuccotti Park.
Protesters today at Zuccotti Park.

The small assembly, which was held as other protesters marched uptown, was organized by an offshoot group called “Occu-Evolve.” The group has put together an “OCCUPY the 2013 NYC Elections” platform with19 policy proposals that, in fact, have a lot of overlap with Mr. de Blasio’s agenda, including replacing NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly, adding more police oversight, increasing library funding, negotiating fair municipal labor contracts and giving more power to members of the City Council to balance the mayor.

“You can’t totally disengage from the political system,” said Sumumba Sobukwe, 45, who started the group last February, and said that the movement’s impact on the political system could already been seen in efforts such as Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s eventual embrace of a so-called “millionaire’s tax.”

“It was a result of Occupy Wall Street,” said Mr. Sobukwe, who said that he was pleased about Mr. de Blasio’s rhetoric, but skeptical about results. “If he stays true to his word, that’s even always better … The proof will be in the pudding with him.”

Others, however, were more willing to embrace traditional electoral politics. Deby Schaffer, 70, who lives in Brooklyn and said she’d been visiting the park since “day one” said she’d voted for Mr. de Blasio during last week’s Democratic primary and was proud of the extent to which the movement had shaped the current race.

“I think income inequality came directly from Wall Street,” she said, commending Mr. de Blasio for taking a chance by talking about issues she said have largely been ignored by the current administration. “Somewhere along the line poverty got lost, and I think that de Blasio’s attempting to bring that back.”

“It changed the conversation from taking about the deficit to different things like economic inequality. That’s for sure,” agreed Thomas Hagan, 62, who lives in Bayside, and also voted for Mr. de Blasio. But, after being deeply disappointed with President Barack Obama, Mr. Hagan seemed to have little faith that Mr. de Blasio would deliver.

“We’ll see,” he said. “To tell you the truth, I have a hard time trusting any politicians any more.”

Occupiers Hope Bill de Blasio Delivers on Inequality