By Arthur Z. Schwartz
65 years ago Greenwich Village was blessed with a unique political organization, a precursor of the progressive movement of the 1960s, named the Village Independent Democrats (VID). Greenwich Village, for decades, had been the center of boss-run “Tamany Hall” politics in New York City under Democratic District Leader Carmine Desapio, who served from 1943 until 1961. This new club was organized by Eleanor Roosevelt, and the nascent organization beat Desapio, and his organized crime friends, in 1961.
In the 1960s VID became a central hub of movement politics in the Village. It fought the war in Vietnam, supported the Black Panther Party against attacks, was an early supporter of the newborn gay rights movement and fought hard to legalize abortion. It became a hub of activity against pro-war politicians, and generally supported candidates who had the most progressive politics. It was the home base of Bella Abzug, leader of the Women’s Strike for Peace and Freedom, who lived on Bank Street; VID played a central role in Bella’s successful run for Congress in 1970 against a 14-year incumbent, Leonard Farbstein. VID was always out there supporting the most progressive of leaders, like Paul O’Dwyer, Mark Green, Jesse Jackson, and David Dinkins (who toppled Ed Koch—he started his career as VID District Leader). You could always count on VID to take the most radical of positions on any issue and translate that into candidate support.
But in the 1990s the organization started to weaken. When I went to my first VID meeting in 1994, as a probable candidate for District Leader, only four people were there. In 1995 I got elected with the support of VID core regulars (who knew how to run a campaign) as did Aubrey Lees, and the club started to rebuild. But it has rebuilt over the last 25 years as simply another slightly liberal Democratic Club. The VID of today is not in the middle of the progressive wave in either New York or nationally.
It supported Hillary over Obama in 2008, Hillary over Bernie in 2016, Hochul over Jumaane Williams in 2018 and 2022, Biden over Bernie or Elizabeth Warren in 2020. It rarely challenges incumbents, rarely endorses candidates of color. (Yes it endorsed Alvin Bragg and Maya Wiley in 2021, which was an anomaly.)
But in the coup de grace, in the wide-open Congressional race in the new 10th Congressional District, which incorporates all of Manhattan below 14th Street, it chose Dan Goldman. Who is Dan Goldman? He is the billionaire heir of the Levi-Strauss fortune, a fact he has largely gotten erased from the internet. His claim to fame is that he was a lawyer on the Special Prosecutor’s team in the first Trump impeachment trial. He doesn’t support creating a public health insurance system—he opposes Bernie’s Medicare for All and the New York Health Act. He is opposed to the Green New Deal and other plans to sharply reduce greenhouse gases. He waffles on Women’s Right to Choose. He believes in using public funds to fund parochial schools and charter schools. Not a word out of him on campaign finance reform, LGBT rights, or proposals to expand the Supreme Court. And did I say this: he is a billionaire who is using his wealth to fund his campaign. VID has endorsed Goldman. This is an all-time low. There are a slew of progressive candidates running. Mondaire Jones, Yuh Line Niou, Joanne Simon are three of them. Instead they chose the Billionaire Candidate who stands to the right of their last major endorsements, Joe Biden and Kathy Hochul. VID is no longer the voice of the left. It’s not even clear if it is the voice of Greenwich Village.
What a Shame.