2018 is a critical year for electoral politics in our country and in our state. I want to talk to you about what can be done to change how politics are being played out in Washington, DC, the state, and the city.
I will ask you, the reader, the same questions I have asked almost everyone I meet both in the streets resisting and in the community: “Are you running for office?” I usually get a very quixotic response and a surprised look. I repeat my question: “Are you running for office?”
This year, that is the critical question on how to make change on the federal, city, and state levels. If you want change, you need to step up for what you believe in. The Democratic Party Machine in the state and in the city has been in place for as long as I can remember. Machine politics, whether Democrat or Republican, have become the problem. Entrenchment means defending the STATUS QUO rather than looking to what needs to be done.
If they answer me, “No!” I ask, “Are you working your butt off to support a candidate who is running for office and who represents your concerns?” I follow up with a reality check on themselves and the actions they can take.
One example is The Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), a group of rogue, elected Democrats who vote with Republicans and kill progressive Democratic legislation (e.g., a New York State health care-for-all bill). Their actions allow the duplicitous Andrew Cuomo to sprout progressive rhetoric, knowing full well that the IDC will block it in exchange for perks (both financial and power appointments) in the State Senate. This allows Cuomo to sound progressive while his practice demonstrates blue dog (conservative) politics.
Note: Zephyr Teachout has been organizing to defeat the IDC, not reward them. Watch her short YouTube teach-in (https://youtu.be/nTS2VCaxsXo) in which she calls for open primaries to elect true progressives to the State Legislature.
When I ran in a primary for State Senator, I was shocked to discover that few voters I spoke to knew the facts about how the legislature in Albany affects NYC. Rent control, the MTA, hospitals, real estate, housing, and education are just the most visible issues. The failure of local Democratic clubs for the most part and elected officials, including District Leader Keen Berger, to hold town meetings to discuss critical issues impacting people who live here and request their input proves that this machine is out of touch with voters and is afraid of an informed voter.
Democrats need to stop pointing fingers everywhere but at themselves, for only 47% of registered voters actually voted in the presidential election. Why have I not heard, in all the talk of hacking and ‘fake news,’ any discussion of what local activist Teresa Hommel tried to raise regarding the vulnerability of digital voting to hacking? She called for a return to machines with paper ballots until digital voting could be certified as secure and unhackable. The Democratic Machine and all local electeds refused to listen. Well, Hommel proved to be right, did she not? I wonder who profited from the very costly conversion to digital balloting. Last time I checked, the paper ballot machines in the city were still in storage.
Now for some good news: Corey Johnson has been re-elected to the City Council and, most importantly, was elected by City Council members to the position of Speaker.
I suggest you watch (as I did) the footage of 49 members of a very diverse City Council stand up and explain why they were voting for Johnson. They have given him the mandate to make change in business as usual. And Johnson did not miss a beat before beginning to make such change. We are happy for him and, YES, we are watching.
Recently, State Senator Brad Hoylman visited the Village Independent Democrats meeting and was given 15 minutes (it could have been a productive two-hour discussion) to tell the group that, despite his reservations about the seven rogues within the IDC, he was thinking of supporting the Cuomo-proposed compromise to bring them back into the Democratic fold. Why, I asked, reward them for killing in the State Senate legislature that would address health care, etc? Why, given their record, did Hoylman believe they could be trusted? He did not answer but rather gave his reasons for considering support. Hoylman stated that he wanted to support Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the Democratic Conference Leader, because she is a woman and a person of color. What? He should know better than to use political correctness to allow the untrustworthy IDC to stay in power. I suspect it had more to do with his fear of Andrew Cuomo, whom he had endorsed over Zephyr Teachout, than any other criteria.
I also expect elected officials to represent the interests of the voters and not the real estate industry or corporate interests, with their militia of lobbyists, or rich check writers who want their way with electeds. I want elected officials to publicly stand up or sit down and refuse to get up on issues that matter to their constituents. I was glad and proud to see my City Councilman Corey Johnson sit down and block the entrance to a Congressman’s office who refused to meet with activists opposed to the Trumpcare Bill. I want to see more engagement at this level by my electeds.
I am happy to say that I supported City Council Member Margaret Chin, Chair of the Council’s Committee on Aging, when she secured a plot of public land for senior housing. (A group of Rich Moms of SoHo (RMOS) informally squatted and built a small garden in opposition to low-income senior housing on the publically owned land.) Chin won when the Mayor supported her in her fight for senior housing. Local elected officials stood with RMOS and their relationship to power and money in an election year, which included Scott Stringer and Letitia James, both of whom spoke at the RMOS rally in opposition to senior housing. After Chin won, she released the design at a City Hall rally I attended and spoke at the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD). The senior housing design for the site included a garden and support services from both Habitat for Humanity and SAGE.
It is our collective responsibility to watch what our elected officials are doing. Take the Democratic Minority Leader in the U.S. Senate, Chuck Schumer: He did not include immigration, and in particular the DACA kids, in a discussion of the Tax Bill. Schumer also, despite the Democratic position opposing the building of the wall (Where does the money come from, Chuck? From cutting more social services and benefits for the poor or seniors?), walked into a meeting with Trump agreeing to a $2 billion commitment for the wall (since withdrawn).
Okay, how do you change that? Please think and answer my question: Are you running or have you picked a candidate to support who’s running for political office?
So, what can be done? Number one: Talk to your friends who did not vote either in the primary or in the presidential election. Only 47% of eligible voters voted in the 2016 presidential race. Make it your job to get 10 people to vote in the primaries and the general election in 2018. Make sure they understand how the Democratic Party Machine has made it difficult in this state to change parties in order to vote. If you know any young people who refuse to register as party members, be it the Democrat, Republican, Green, Socialist, etc. parties, explain the importance of primary races in the major parties and choosing progressive candidates committed to change. Make sure they know the rules about changing party affiliations or how to register to vote in New York. NYS election laws make it extremely difficult for a voter to change his/her registration in a timely manner.
If you need suggestions, email me. Oh, I think I should also tell you that I received an email which indicates that some people are interested in forming a true progressive political club. Remember that political change starts at the local level, and it is not limited to the two dinosaur parties that control all things political right now. Change is coming: If a Democrat can win in Alabama and a trans-person can prevail in Virginia, then you don’t need to be a meteorologist to know which way the wind blows!
(cc) jim fouratt January 27, 2018