CIVIC CENTER — Mayor Bill de Blasio will face a challenger from the left in this year's mayoral election.
Robert Gangi, 73, was until recently the director of the Police Reform Organizing Project (PROP), which he founded after a 29-year career leading the prison reform organization Correctional Association (CA).
Now he's running for mayor as a Democrat, challenging an incumbent who Gangi charges is "no longer a credible progressive."
"He's been an enormous disappointment to us, to people like us," Gangi said Wednesday, standing flanked by two female campaign aides out the NYPD's headquarters at One Police Plaza. "De Blasio's claims that he is protecting immigrant New Yorkers is undercut by his support of Broken Windows policing. They're in direct conflict."
Gangi voted for de Blasio in 2013, and said the mayor took a very different tone during his campaign on issues that he now embraces — such as of Broken Windows policing.
"We saw him as being sympathetic to our concerns about racial and economic justice. We thought, in particular, having a black family would make him sensitive" to those issues, Gangi said.
Instead, Gangi said, "de Blasio has failed on progressive politics."
Noting that his campaign has "$46,000 in the bank" and a mere two campaign staffers who are both part-time, Gangi acknowledged that he is "obviously a long shot."
He insisted that he is "in it to win it," but also appeared to see himself as the Bernie Sanders to de Blasio's Hillary Clinton, adding, "We're in it to raise these issues and get these issues in the mainstream" that mainstream candidates are "not willing to endorse, not because they're not right or make sense, but because they're too politically charged."
While a major component to his platform is criminal justice reform — specifically, to "end quota-driven Broken Windows policing" — he is also pushing for reduced or free MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers, a pilot version of which got $50 million from the City Council Wednesday. He's also in favor of free tuition to CUNY colleges for low- and middle-income students, smaller class sizes in the city's public schools, and desegregation of the school system, which he noted is the "third most segregated in the nation."
He credited the late African-American novelist Chester Himes with inspiring his campaign slogan, "Now We Will," quoting Himes' words on the murder of Emmett Till: "The real horror comes when your dead brain must face the fact that we as a nation don't want it to stop. If we wanted to, we would."
He accused de Blasio of having failed "to put any significant dent into the homeless problem" and having engaged in "pay-for-play with wealthy real estate developers that should undercut his claim that he's a good government paragon."
While the mayor was recently cleared in multiple corruption investigations, prosecutors accused him of having "violated the spirit of the law."
"The common wisdom is since he wasn't indicted, he would have a free ride. He would skate into election success. Well, we're challenging that," Gangi said. "We think Bill de Blasio is vulnerable... We see him as particularly vulnerable when it comes to his liberal base."
Gangi cited one of de Blasio's greatest sources of pride: affordable housing.
"He and his people brag that they're promoting 200,000 units of affordable housing," Gangi said. "But 80 percent of those units are not going to be affordable for the people in the communities where they're being built."
For anyone who believes that his campaign is just "blue sky and idealistic," Gangi said he has plans for how to pay for his proposals.
Slamming the mayor's recent, sudden support of closing the jail on Rikers Island as "opportunistic," Gangi noted de Blasio wants to spend money building new jails.
"We're not going to spend one dime on new jails," Gangi said, adding that he also would not approve the funding de Blasio has allocated for a new police academy or the controversial Brooklyn-Queens streetcar project.
Gangi also thinks that as a lifelong New Yorker, he can curry the support of people "who have a certain kind of chauvinism about New York City."
Contrasting himself with the mayor, who is a Boston Red Sox fan and has been criticized for eating pizza with a knife and fork, Gangi said, "I eat pizza with my hands and root for home teams."
De Blasio's campaign spokesman noted that a February Quinnipiac poll had de Blasio with a 68 to 22 percent favorability rating among Democrats, doing best among Democrats who identify as "very liberal" in a six-way Democratic primary scenario with hypothetical challengers that did not include Gangi.
"Mayor de Blasio expanded Pre-K for every 4-year-old and raised wages for tens of thousands of workers. Crime is at record lows, jobs are at a record high, and New York City is building affordable housing at a record pace. That is the Mayor’s record, and one that New Yorkers are rallying around," de Blasio campaign spokesman Dan Levitan said.
De Blasio is also being challenged in the Democratic primary by Queens State Senator Tony Avella and former Brooklyn City Councilman Sal Albanese, who previously ran against de Blasio in 2013 and failed to get one percent of the votes.