Bill de Blasio (Reuters/Eric Thayer)

De Blasio, I guess: The Pareene Endorsements™

A New York City primary election voters' guide for the only moderately informed


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Alex Pareene
September 10, 2013 3:44PM (UTC)

Tomorrow is New York's primary election, and the day when the next mayor of this city could very easily be selected. The race has confounded the predictions of pundits who thought City Council Speaker Christine Quinn would easily win. Instead, Bill de Blasio has emerged as the front-runner thanks in large part to a campaign based on what rich people call "class warfare." As a nationally recognized "thought leader," just like Thomas Friedman and Donald Trump, I have been asked whom I'm voting for tomorrow. Here's my guide not just to the mayoral race, but to the other races that I have been paying attention to, which is many, but not all of them.

So, Bill be Blasio. He has the liberals so excited! He's going to work to make New York more equal, he's going to tax the rich, and he's going to force the NYPD to obey the Constitution. This is all great. Should we be worried, though, that he is all talk? That he is not actually as sharp a break with the past as he claims?

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At heart, De Blasio is basically the bourgie Park Slope candidate, for good and for ill. I mean, better a bourgie Park Slope yuppie than an Upper East Side zillionaire. They are sort of annoying but their hearts are generally in the right place. He has a bunch of celebrity endorsements. They're all good, New York celebrities -- "real" celebrities who do good activist things and stay in New York because they only do movies to fund their true love, the theater -- but, you know, celebrity endorsements are sort of embarrassing, really. This is the candidate of New York's forgotten poor, and also Susan Sarandon.

His negatives are, well, many of his political positions and associations prior to this mayoral campaign. He worked for the Clintons, but he wasn't enough of a raging prick to become part of the Clinton inner circle. He's too cozy with developers and landlords. He used to be depressingly reactionary on transit (common among New York pols, who simply hear from richer, car-driving constituents far more often than they hear from car-free ones) and he's still depressingly allied with the taxi cartel. His wife worked for Citigroup.

Obviously de Blasio is not actually the perfect progressive candidate. His message is polling- and consultant-driven. But he was smart enough to actually look at the right polls and listen to the right consultants, and he was politically bold enough to relentlessly push a message that has frankly terrified all the right people. It makes logical sense -- get elected in a primary dominated by liberal voters by sounding like a liberal -- but New York Democrats are so squeamish and so captured by ultra-wealthy interests that no one else was willing to do this. Besides doomed Liu obviously. So in this race, de Blasio is sort of our Howard Dean -- a good Democrat with a fairly middle-of-the-road history running a savvy campaign as the real progressive in the race -- with John Liu as the sidelined Dennis Kucinich, the guy who's always been this progressive but who never seemed electable. (Before you feel too bad for Liu, remember that he has repeatedly, for years, falsely claimed to have worked in a "sweatshop," which is just egregious bullshit. Don't pretend you worked in a sweatshop, people.)

People in New York are obviously incredibly receptive to his message, and to his biography. Changing some positions and messages to better reflect the electorate is what politicians are supposed to do in democracies. And de Blasio is not simply offering empty rhetoric: He has made very real proposals, to raise taxes, reform the NYPD, and more. He unveiled a real pedestrian (and bike) safety plan. That's a concrete plan to address a serious issue. Two hundred and seventy-four people -- including 148 pedestrians and 18 bicyclists -- were killed by cars in 2012. Thompson's transportation plan, by the way, is mostly about tolls and parking.

Christine Quinn just completely botched this thing. Her strategy was to give Bloomberg a third term and then ride his coattails (and his likely endorsement) to victory. The flaws in this plan became apparent in November 2009 when Bloomberg barely eked out reelection against a nonentity (said nonentity is now beating Quinn in the polls), after spending a fortune, in an election with turnout depressed by the pervasive but apparently incorrect feeling that his victory was inevitable. By 2013, "I will be Mike's Fourth Term" was obviously not a winning slogan, but Quinn had nothing to replace it with. The best part is, if she'd decided to lift term limits in 2009, and then run against Bloomberg, she'd be running for reelection right now.

Quinn has blanketed the city with ads, but no one can tell you what she's actually running on. One of her ads ends with a line about her having "a big heart," which is the sort of thing you have to put in your ads when everyone has decided that your candidate is an asshole. Being an asshole has never disqualified anyone from running this city. The bottom line, for me, is this: No one who has promised to retain Ray Kelly should be allowed anywhere near City Hall.

As for Bill Thompson, well, Wayne Barrett has spent years detailing his financial ties to various semi-corrupt sorts, like Kurran Shares of America. He has probably leveraged his former job to enrich himself, with Bloomberg's help. He is quietly running as the most conservative Democrat in the race, with the strange backing of former Sen. Al D'Amato. And he will probably end up in a runoff with de Blasio. While normally I'd predict a really divisive, nasty, racially charged runoff campaign, as is New York Democratic tradition, Thompson is so milquetoast (there's a reason Bloomberg wanted to run against him in 2009 instead of Quinn or Weiner) that I actually think it'd be pretty quiet. But it certainly would be something if he went harder against de Blasio than he did against Bloomberg in 2009. That'd be interesting.

When you look at his opponents, de Blasio is the only option. Of course he's not perfect. But the rest of them aren't even acceptable. If he governs according to the promises he's made on the campaign trail, he'll be a fine mayor. The fact that he actually has rich people scared is extremely heartening.

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WARNING: Do not proceed any further in this piece if you don't live in New York. Unless you don't live here but are still for some weird reason incredibly invested in the politics of New York City. Otherwise nothing else in this piece will interest you, at all. I know this. Just don't read it instead of complaining that The Media Is Always Talking About New York and Ignoring Wherever Else.

Comptroller

Look, vote your conscience on this one. Spitzer has all the right enemies and quite a few wrong ones. His activist investor approach to the job might be totally awesome, but he's also partly responsible for the two-tiered legal system in sex work in which guys like Spitzer pass laws making sex workers' lives more difficult and dangerous but face no consequences themselves for soliciting their services. I'm not prepared to "endorse" him, especially when there's nothing wrong with Scott Stringer, his opponent.

Public Advocate

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Daniel Squadron is a good liberal and would be a fine public advocate, whatever that means. (It's actually a reasonably useful and important job, even though it has no real authority. A good public advocate is able to identify and generate publicity around scandals and overlooked issues, and perhaps force action by a city government that otherwise would've ignored them.) He won my admiration forever when he took on the Brooklyn machine, and the fact that Vito Lopez hates him is a great reason to vote for him.

But I've also always liked Letitia James, especially for her doomed advocacy against the Atlantic Yards project. If you've been paying attention to my ballot so far, it's all straight white guys. New York City's three major citywide offices maybe shouldn't all be filled with straight white guys, no matter how upstanding and competent and progressive they all are. I'm voting James.

Let's just all do our best not to let Reshma Suajani sneak into this one somehow.

Your Brooklyn voters' guide for low-information voters, from a voter of basically moderate information

Every municipal election, I tell one friend of mine whom to vote for, sort of. He is a very smart and super well-informed person, but, like a lot of very smart New Yorkers, he is a high-information national politics voter and a low-information local politics voter. (There are a lot of these, and New York would probably be governed a bit differently if there weren't.) So, if you are deeply involved in Brooklyn or city politics, this will be a shallow and facile guide. I am aware of that. But if you check in every four years just to vote for mayor and you have no clue who these other people on the ballot are, well, this is the guide for you.

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The way you're supposed to figure out whom to vote for, absent perfect information about all the candidates, is through the community or professional or political or activist or religious or other interest groups you associate with. The point is to offload the work of figuring out where the candidates stand to groups that represent your interests. If you're in a union, and your union endorses, well, you can trust that the candidate will be an ally to your union in office. It's the same if you belong to an activist pro-bicycling group or an environmental group or a civil rights group or a local political reform group. In a general election, this is the purpose of parties. And in New York general elections, you'll do fine voting the Working Families line. In primaries, the rule is, look at the endorsements.

Decide NYC is an incredible resource and your best friend in this process. It has every City Council race listed, with each candidate's lists of endorsements. In most races, you can trust the endorsement of the Progressive Caucus Alliance.

Brooklyn DA

The incumbent, Charles Hynes, should be run out of office for his longtime protection of sex offenders in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. It's absolutely despicable. One of Hynes' top deputies has been credibly accused of a "staggering array of misconduct" in prosecutions dating back years. Finally, Hynes opened up his office to reality show cameras for a glowingly positive CBS series that aired just a few months before this primary. The prosecutor currently facing a lawsuit for misconduct is one of the stars of the show.

Vote for Kenneth Thompson. Hell, he's got Abner Louima's vote. That's good enough for me.

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City Council

[Update: Friendly reminder that your City Council district can be found through the New York City poll site locator. Or find your current Council member here.]

The odds are actually pretty good that your Council race is competitive, thanks to redistricting and term limited Council members. (I am actually not a particular fan of term limits in general, because if people want to keep electing the same person forever that is their business, but the dumbest and most shameless part of the Bloomberg term limit shenanigans was that they just put term limits back once they were done. Get rid of them forever or keep them, people.) Plus: "Low-turnout primary for a City Council seat" is one of those situations where your vote could actually maybe make a difference, so pay attention.

In Brooklyn, you might already or soon be represented by a total asshole. Here's the quick-and-dirty method of figuring out how to vote in downballot Brooklyn races: Google every candidate's name plus "Vito Lopez." If the candidate appears to have any sort of non-antagonistic relationship with the incredibly corrupt and slimy longtime Brooklyn political boss, vote for one of the other ones. (This is an especially effective method in District 34, where Vito Lopez is himself running.)

Here are the races I know enough about to make some sort of recommendation:

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District 33:

Well this is certainly one of the more strangely drawn Council districts. It's Greenpoint, then it sort of snakes down the riverfront to the Navy Yards, Dumbo, Brooklyn Heights, a chunk of very Hasidic Williamsburg, and then an incongruous little patch of Brownstone Brooklyn in Boerum Hill and Gowanus on the edge of Cobble Hill. It really makes no sense, geographically or in terms of the character and demographics of the neighborhoods contained in it. "Political considerations" may have had something to do with this, according to local reformist Democrat Lincoln Restler, a foe of Vito Lopez and the Brooklyn Democratic machine.

The incumbent, Stephen Levin, is a loyal Lopez lackey, meaning he is a cancer on the city and an amoral scumbag masquerading as a good progressive. If you are in this district (you might be! it goes all over town!) you should vote for the other guy. Please. Stephen Pierson. That's the one.

District 34:

This is where Vito's running. This district includes a large percentage of "hipster" Williamsburg and Bushwick, and, amusingly, that doesn't matter at all, because none of those people vote in local elections. Maybe for mayor. But: If you live within walking distance of Roberta's, you are in the district that might soon be represented by a corrupt creep. You should probably do something about this! First of all, be a registered Democrat already. Second, go vote for Antonio Reynoso tomorrow. He was endorsed by Quinn, de Blasio and Liu.

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District 35:

Really all of these candidates seem pretty good? Laurie Cumbo has the better/lengthier endorsement list, but Jelani Masharki says he was endorsed by Taleb Kweli.

District 36:

Live in Bed-Stuy? This might be your race. Kirsten John Foy has the Working Families and Progressive Caucus endorsements.

District 37:

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And here's the rest of Bushwick, along with East New York, Brownsville and Cypress Hill. Kimberly Council has the Working Families and Progressive Caucus endorsements. Rafael Espinal has, for some reason, some big-money PACs sending out mailers on his behalf. So you know what to do.

District 40:

I admitted the other day that I had no clue whom I was voting for in my own Council election, but I think I've made my mind up. Incumbent Mathieu Eugene has been a disappointment to many longtime residents of his district, which includes Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Flatbush, Ditmas Park and a sliver of Kensington. He's been accused of being absent, both in the physical sense of sort of not living in the district, and in the less tangible sense of not delivering for the district and, at least according to one local blogger, not having any idea how the city budgeting process works. Plus the local Caribbean press has printed some really bizarre, salacious and incredibly vaguely sourced rumors about his professional and personal conduct. There's a reason, in other words, that Flatbush is full of signs for his primary opponent, Saundra Thomas. Eugene still has the support of most of the city's major liberal groups, including the Working Families Party and 1199 SEIU, but I think I'm going Thomas. (The other major candidate, Sylvia Kinard, is basically running as the pro-charter schools candidate.)

District 41:

This is an interesting one. The district includes Brownsville, Bed-Stuy and Ocean Hill. The incumbent, Darlene Mealy, has the requisite liberal endorsements, but she has the worst attendance record of any City Council member from Brooklyn last year. Kathleen Daniel, who has the support of NOW and Planned Parenthood, might be worth a look.

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Fixing New York Elections

They're a mess. I know multiple people who registered Working Families Party because they want to support it and now have no say in who the Democratic nominee for mayor will be. This is their fault for not understanding closed primaries, sure, but New York should have a better process of picking nominees. I am a strong believer in ranked choice voting, and in my dream New York, we'd use it for everything. (So, for example, in 2009 I could've ranked Reverend Billy one and non-reverend Bill two, and thus been able to vote my conscience while also not contributing to Bloomberg's reelection.) The general election in a town with millions of Democrats and thousands of Republicans should never come down to a Republican versus a Democrat -- it makes no fucking sense.

Also no one ever, ever knows how to vote for judges, so maybe we just shouldn't do that.

Things I Wish People Had Talked About

Everyone's transit plan was utterly uninspiring, even though de Blasio gets credit for his safety plan. This is depressing. The mayor can't control the MTA but it'd be nice to hear people coming up with plans to address that problem. Also, whoever is elected, please, please keep Janette Sadik-Khan, she's the best hire Mayor Bloomberg ever made.

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Plus it's time to just completely reform the taxi industry. Not in the Uber "disrupt it and make it a freer market where it's easier for asshole tech company execs to skim tips" sense, but in an "end medallion leasing and restore drivers to the status of unionized employees with benefits" sense. We'd have better, happier drivers. Only people who profit off exploiting drivers would lose. It's a no-brainer.


Alex Pareene

Alex Pareene writes about politics for Salon and is the author of "The Rude Guide to Mitt." Email him at apareene@salon.com and follow him on Twitter @pareene

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