The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2013

All Issues
JUL-AUG 2013 Issue

Bill de Blasio, John Liu, and the 99%

Ever since Occupy Wall Street first surfaced in September of 2011, mention of the name Zuccotti immediately brings to mind the 1%. The park itself is named for John Zuccotti, who recently served as chair of the Real Estate Board of New York. He is currently the co-chair of Brookfield Office Properties, the global real estate company that owns One Liberty Plaza, which towers above Occupy’s former ground zero. Zuccotti, a former deputy mayor, clearly maintains an active interest in New York City politics.

John Liu campaign van

And so which of the Democratic candidates do you think Zuccotti is currently supporting—at least financially—for mayor? The answer, my friends, is Christine Quinn, Bill Thompson, and, most recently, Bill de Blasio.

Given that de Blasio has surged to the forefront of the polls by repeatedly asserting that he’s the “true progressive” in the race, his support from Zuccotti may raise a few eyebrows. But as longshot mayoral candidate Sal Albanese has pointed out, along with Quinn, Thompson, and Weiner, de Blasio has also raised a significant sum from several of the developers recently subpoenaed in the Extell affordable housing scam, in which the various parties received more than $35 million in tax breaks to build luxury condos.

Perhaps it’s possible to rake in lots of cash from big developers and still identify oneself as a “true progressive.” And maybe de Blasio’s signature proposal, a targeted tax on the 1% to pay for guaranteed pre-k (as well as after-school programs for middle schoolers), will help reverse the city’s spiraling economic inequalities—in the next decade or so. But after 12 years of Bloomberg, many working people in this city have far more immediate needs.

Alone among the Democratic contenders, John Liu is calling for raising the city’s minimum wage to $11.50 and implementing a People’s Budget that—by closing a range of corporate tax loopholes as well as raising taxes on the 1%—can create up to $15 billion in new revenue, which could pay for much more than just school programs. Maybe that’s not the platform of today’s true progressive. Instead, as was displayed on stage at the Apollo this Thursday night, it is the stuff of a true populist.

As Liu entered the theater to the sounds of the 0’Jays “Give the People What They Want,” a wide swath of his working-class supporters were there to greet him. There were black women from DC37 and CWA-1180 who inserted “baby” into every sentence—e.g. “It’s about taxing Wall Street, baby.” Some men wore Adidas sweat-suits, others donned Muslim skull caps. Beefy corrections officers mixed with slight Buddhist monks. And when Liu stressed his support for retroactive pay for city workers, he was greeted with a chorus of “That’s right.”

Liu’s poll numbers remain in the single digits, although Asian voters are consistently undercounted. Even though his audits of CityTime and other runaway contracts have saved the city upwards of $3 billion, the NY Times loathes him, as evidenced by the cowardly refusal of its editorial board to voice an opinion when Liu’s campaign was denied more than $3 million in matching funds by Bloomberg and Quinn’s cronies on the Campaign Finance Board. Despite the fact that his current position as the public advocate is designed to be a government watchdog, de Blasio—in sync with the Times—also refused to answer a question about the CFB’s decision at a debate earlier this week.

As he warmed up the crowd at the Apollo, Arthur Cheliotes (of CWA-1180) reminded folks that among his other efforts as comptroller, Liu had issued a report that helped forestall Bloomberg’s attempt to move city pensions toward Wall Street-friendly 401k’s. Such actions, Cheliotes said, have helped inspire the attacks on Liu by various powerful interests. But “If they’re gunning for him,” Cheliotes declared, “then he’s the man for us.” That’s true populism, indeed.


Theodore Hamm


The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2013

All Issues