Beneath the Surface of the de Blasio Election in NYC

January 27, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper |


Dear revcom/Revolution,

I appreciated the exposure of factors behind the election of Bill de Blasio as mayor of New York City, and the analysis of how his actual program, even if fulfilled, wouldn’t scratch the surface of the glaring inequalities and injustices in New York City and the world as a whole (see “New York City: The Mayor's New Clothes” at This is critical for people to understand.

I’ve also been reflecting on what was revealed, at least in part, by the surprising way de Blasio emerged from the “back of the pack” to end up winning the election by a landslide.

For those who don’t follow New York City politics, “independent” (neither Democrat nor Republican) billionaire Michael Bloomberg reigned over New York City for three terms, branding himself as a “CEO”-style mayor. His designated successor, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, was a Democrat who took some steps to distance herself from Bloomberg, but was closely linked to him in the public perception. The other leading candidate for the Democratic Party nomination, Bill Thompson, has a long track record as a Democratic Party/establishment figure marked by “highlights” like being backed by then-Mayor Rudolph (as Carl Dix has called him “Adolf”) Giuliani to head the NYC Board of Education. But neither of them generated much enthusiasm or energy among the electorate.

Then, as the article at points out, de Blasio broke out of the pack—with a pivotal moment being “the ad.” It featured de Blasio’s Black teenage son saying his dad would “end an era of stop-and-frisk that unfairly targets people of color."

I was walking through the middle class Brooklyn neighborhood of Park Slope the day after the ad. Park Slope prides itself on diversity. It’s home to many mixed-race couples (including de Blasio, who is married to an African-American woman) and is a hotbed of liberal and progressive activism. It also happens to be a place where a lot of enlightened intellectuals raise children, and is known for sidewalks congested with baby strollers, some pushed by nannies from the Caribbean and elsewhere, some by stay-at-home fathers or mothers.

You should have seen Park Slope the day after “the ad.” De Blasio posters in every shop window and on most of the baby carriages—a celebratory, festive atmosphere as if spring had come early to New York City. And throughout the city, de Blasio connected. His leftist background, his mixed-race family. His populist style that echoed at least a bit of the Occupy sentiments, and more of the vibe. And de Blasio’s appeal extended broadly—including into communities of the most oppressed. Revelations in the New York Times that his background included strident opposition to U.S. aggression against the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua served in part as a message that “we know about your past, watch yourself,” but also enhanced his cred. And his denunciations of “two New Yorks” connected with a public that had followed a four-part series in the Times detailing the vicious deprivation faced by a young African-American girl living in a filthy, dangerous, neglected public shelter. And all this is framed by a whole swirl of outrages and crises in society at large, from the NSA spying scandal to the emergency situation for abortion in the U.S.

That it was de Blasio who “connected” with voters tells us something about the depth and breadth of dissatisfaction. My sense is that the connection is much more about style and apparent “stance” that taps idealism and hopes that things can be different. But that’s how people in this society have been trained to judge candidates. It’s why I was attracted as a youth to JFK with his cultured wife, and the big style gap between him and Jackie on the one hand, and that hunkered-down, overtly racist, visceral embodiment of traditional America Dick Nixon and his Stepford-wife Pat.

As I was to learn in a compressed way in the maelstrom of the 1960s, Kennedy orchestrated a CIA invasion to overthrow Castro, did everything he could to keep the civil rights movement “in bounds” and from challenging the status quo more than he deemed necessary, and put the U.S. on the path that led to the deaths of two million-plus Indochinese people from U.S. chemical weapons attacks, carpet bombing, and massacres. And for millions and millions at that time, the disgust that at one point was channeled into Kennedy got “re-routed” by the workings of the capitalist-imperialist system from Selma Alabama in the “deep South” to Vietnam, into people’s resistance to all this—even in the face of violent repression. And by the influence of radicals and revolutionaries into not just questioning but rejecting the very legitimacy of this system, its right to rule over the country and dominate the world. (The fact that the movement for revolution at that time was not strong enough to take that outrage “over the hump” and overthrow the system is not something that has to be repeated.)

I’m not comparing de Blasio to Kennedy or anyone else. He got elected Mayor of New York City, not President of the U.S., and history doesn’t repeat itself. And I’m not predicting a re-run of the ’60s. But I’m reflecting on how to recognize and act on what might be “early stage” harkenings of legitimacy crises from the point of view of bringing REAL change through revolution, even though those “early warning signals” might not take forms that revolutionaries would prefer (as an example, the way sections of the people may be drawn into political activity through what they see as appeals from electoral candidates “promising change,” such as de Blasio’s appeal for diversity and inclusiveness).

Back to the election story. Bill de Blasio ended up winning the Democratic primary and he won the general election by a landslide—something like 75 percent of the vote—against Joe Lhota, the Republican candidate.

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But let’s get real. You can’t become mayor of New York City without an OK from the ruling class—those who own and control everything in this country and political operatives who serve the whole setup. There actually was at least one other candidate who by conventional election standards was to the “left” of de Blasio on stop-and-frisk at least. City Comptroller John Liu, who has a substantial resume in New York City politics, was on record that “Stop and frisk should be abolished.” Liu’s criticisms are framed in the same terms as de Blasio’s (See "The Real Problem With Stop-and-Frisk—and the Real Solution" at, that “stop-and-frisk continues to deepen the chasm between communities and police.” He too was trying to shore up the damaged legitimacy of the system. But he was the only major candidate with that position. His campaign was effectively shut down—he didn’t have the bona fides to convince the powers-that-be he was fully housebroken. His campaign was dogged by investigations for financial irregularities and prosecution of his aides, and he was denied millions of dollars in “matching funds” necessary for a serious campaign.

Beyond things like what happened to Liu’s campaign, public opinion, while not always micromanaged by the ruling class’ media, can be manufactured to make or break a candidate with a well-timed scandal or expose. But that didn’t happen—even as Bill de Blasio emerged from the back of the pack and began to surge in the polls. The Times piece on de Blasio’s leftist past established how he became “a part of the institution he had railed against—the establishment.” And Bill de Blasio had a track record—he served under a succession of ruling class figures, including Bill “end welfare as we know it” Clinton, Hillary—the Iraq war hawk—Clinton, and as Public Advocate during the administration of his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg.

In short, the powers-that-be were sufficiently convinced that if de Blasio moved into Gracie Mansion (the mayor’s office in NYC) he wasn’t going to “pee on the carpet” because whatever his leftist past, activist connections, and counterculture style, he has been thoroughly housebroken.

De Blasio’s first act, appointing Bill Bratton as police commissioner, was far more defining of the substance of what he is about than the lineup of radical views given time on the mic at his inauguration (see “Mr. ‘Stop-and-Frisk’ Bratton as New York's Police Commissioner” at

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The fact that the perception that de Blasio represents something oppositional to the status quo, from a progressive (not Tea Party) direction and connected so broadly and deeply actually sheds light on, in a non-linear way, the potential for revolution — why revolution is not only necessary, but possible.

I say that NOT because de Blasio represents any kind of real “progress” in addressing the profound injustices in society and the world! There’s simply no evidence in his stated program or promises that he is, in essence, anything but the same old system in—as put it—“new clothes.”

But the profound discontent that was revealed in the attraction to de Blasio, and the fact that the ruling class made a call to at least give a stamp of approval to his dark horse campaign when it became clear how he was connecting with people, points to the depth and breadth of discontent, rooted in the depth and breadth of the outrages built into this system.

That discontent can develop, in conjunction with other factors, including the work of revolutionaries actively hastening the development of a revolutionary situation, into a “legitimacy crisis,” where the very right of the capitalist system to rule becomes seriously questioned, and disputed by millions throughout society. And such crises can become part of the mix that goes into one of those rare moments that revolutionaries prepare for, and work to accelerate the motion towards, when it is possible for a revolutionary movement of thousands—if it has been forged—to lead millions and for there to be a real chance at a real revolution.

We definitely WON’T do that without telling the truth about what de Blasio represents and illustrating, as the article at does, how that won’t touch but works to re-trench this global system of oppression. The sentiments that were reflected and expressed in the attraction to de Blasio will, left as is, flow along the path of least resistance into the dead end of working through and relying on the very system responsible for all the outrages that define today’s world.

Or … those sentiments can be diverted, through a whole ensemble of revolutionary work to contribute to building a movement for revolution with the Party at the core. The forces for revolution didn’t have that ensemble in place going into the height of the ’60s, but we could—if we bend all efforts, and work with a sense of and in conjunction with developments in the situation and people’s mood—be in such a position “this time around.” That is what we must do.

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