MIDTOWN — While mayor-elect Bill de Blasio and other top city officials spent Veterans Day honoring those who served, a group of New York City’s progressive brain trust gathered Monday to plot a path forward under the new administration.
Labor activists, Democratic elected officials, nonprofit leaders and political organizers attended the event, Toward a 21st Century City for All, at the CUNY Graduate Center in Manhattan to discuss solutions to some of the big policy issues facing the de Blasio administration, while vowing to both defend and push the administration to deliver on its promises as the first left-leaning administration in a generation.
“The administration needs our help,” John Mollenkopf, director of the Center for Urban Research at CUNY, said during his opening remarks at the event. He told the few hundred gathered in the Proshansky Auditorium that it would require a push both inside and outside the administration to see de Blasio’s progressive agenda realized. He also cautioned against unrealistic expectations.
“We're bound to be disappointed from time to time,” said Mollenkopf.
Communication Workers for America’s political director Bob Master—a long-time de Blasio ally and a leader in the Working Families Party—framed de Blasio’s victory for participants as the result of the failure of 30 years of political orthodoxy.
“The great recession threw into question all the assertions made by the apostles of trickle-down economics,” Master said.
Those assembled said De Blasio’s win is more than simply a break from the Bloomberg years, it's a chance to push the city in a leftward direction that could be a model for the nation.
“Bill’s campaign vision captured the imagination of literally millions of New Yorkers and tens of millions more across the country, who are hungry for a new, more humane, more equitable direction for our city and our nation,” Master said. “We must demonstrate that here in New York we can implement policies that improve the lives of those left out and left behind for the last 30 years."
The mayor-elect will also have to work hard to keep the most essential aspects of city government running smoothly, from snow removal to public safety, to ensure his progressive policy proposals don’t get derailed by critics, Master said.
“The enemies of the transformational changes that were at the heart of Bill’s campaign will pounce on any such failures to discredit the broader agenda,” he said.
The Center for Social Inclusion’s Maya Wiley echoed Master’s warning.
“Our ideas are not our problem,” she said during the opening panel. “It’s our ability to come together and pushback against those who have a heck of a lot more money than we do.”
Kathy Wydle of the business-backed Partnership for New York City attended the event. She said the business community has a “wait and see attitude” towards the new administration, even as de Blasio’s allies begin revving up for big changes in City Hall.
“They’ll be looking to see who he appoints in his administration, and how he reaches out to the business community to try and deal with shared concerns,” Wylde said.
While she noted that “Bill de Blasio wasn’t elected for what he was going to do for the business community,” Wylde said the business community remained hopeful it could work with the new administration on a broad-based economic development plan.
Brooklyn Councilman Brad Lander, who helped organize the event, said De Blasio understands latent concerns over the city’s coming shift to the left. The goal — both among the progressives organizing in advance of the inauguration and inside de Blasio’s closest circles — is to maintain a balance, he said.
“The people of New York have overwhelming chosen a progressive path that is going to be more attentive to shared prosperity,” Lander said. “He’s also been very clear, and I completely agree with this, that it has to work for business people to do business in New York City.”