A place at the table

"A place at the table" Continued...

Issue: "Blind exiled brave," Aug. 10, 2013

Fuchs noticed something else in the polls that makes her skeptical of Weiner’s prospects: He has a high unfavorability rating, a number that is typically difficult to overcome. Fuchs explained that it’s easier to go from being unknown and win than to have high unfavorables and win.

“People in New York City are very forgiving,” she said. “Does that mean they’re going to vote for them? That’s a different issue. … Do these guys have the character and competence to run? That’s a very different question than, Do you forgive them?”

Not terribly far behind Quinn and Weiner in the Democratic field are the former city comptroller Bill Thompson and the city’s public advocate Bill de Blasio. 

In the Republican field, former deputy mayor to Rudy Giuliani and Bloomberg’s head of the Metropolitan Transit Authority Joe Lhota is the frontrunner, but billionaire entrepreneur John Catsimatidis is mounting a Bloomberg-type run to challenge him. Registered Democratic voters outnumber Republicans in the city six to one, so the Republican candidates have small chances. But voter participation has been so volatile over the years that Republicans feel a glimmer of hope.

Many in New York respect Bloomberg’s wealth, because he has been generous in spending it on the city. But in this year’s campaigns, Bloomberg’s wealth has also become a symbol for what’s wrong with New York: a city increasingly defined as a place for the uber-wealthy. All Democratic mayoral candidates have made this theme central in their campaigns. Weiner opened his campaign by saying, “The very people who put everything they had into this city are being priced right out of it.” De Blasio uses the phrase “a tale of two cities” in most campaign stops.

The two cities are visible in del Rio’s neighborhood on the Lower East Side. With the current councilwoman Rosie Mendez, the city is working to finalize plans for new luxury apartment developments on public housing land. The proposal would help the New York City Housing Authority find much-needed revenue, but would eliminate open spaces in the projects—parking lots but also playgrounds and basketball courts. Del Rio is furious over the plans.

“When the city needs something, they can just push out the poor,” he said. Del Rio moved to the neighborhood in 1982, when it was rough and people were moving out. “The ones who stayed were the poor. They lived through all the ups and downs. Now that all the folks want to come back, they’re pushing [the poor out]. There is a way to do this without eliminating the people who have stood there.” 

Del Rio said the sewers are regularly backed up in the public housing complexes, and work orders are regularly behind too. He worries that the new infrastructure demands of the new complexes will make current problems for the public housing residents worse. 

“Bloomberg’s whole way of doing things is very top-down. He used his money and business savvy to get what he wants. He propped up the wealthy and ignored the poor,” he said. 

In late spring a coalition of pastors held a mayor’s forum in Cabrera’s district in the Bronx, New York’s poorest borough. Quinn didn’t show up, and Weiner hadn’t entered the race yet, but the rest of the major candidates were there, sitting in the half-full gym of Monroe College and enduring microphone feedback. The candidates talked about the two cities, about the city pushing out the poor and the middle class. A particularly raw point for poor communities like this one in the Bronx is the current administration’s policy allowing police officers to stop and frisk any suspicious-looking individuals. The candidates all criticized the stop-and-frisk policy to applause. The pastor moderators also asked each of the candidates about churches renting public schools for worship. De Blasio, the first to answer, readily took the churches’ side. 

“It was unfair to treat faith-based organizations differently, especially because faith-based organizations were so often doing the work that government wasn’t,” de Blasio said. “Too often the government has held the faith community at arms’ length. ... Just look at what happened after Hurricane Sandy.” 

Thompson echoed de Blasio, and went a step further, saying city hall should have an office of faith-based development. 

Yes, this is still New York City.

“There are a lot of stereotypes about New York that are about to be changed. There are many religious people in this city,” said Cabrera. “You look at the gay community—it’s a very small percentage of the population. But they have so much influence. The religious community is a bigger community and now they’re starting to step up and say, hey, we want a seat at the table.”

Emily Belz
Emily Belz

Emily, who has covered everything from political infighting to pet salons for The Indianapolis Star, The Hill, and the New York Daily News, reports for WORLD Magazine from New York City. Follow Emily on Twitter @emlybelz.


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