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NY Mayoral Candidate Bill de Blasio SHOCKS Media by Talking About Inequality

In the nation's finance capital, a candidate talks about fighting inequality—voters are flocking to him.
 
 
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NYC Mayoral candidate Bill De Blasio, from his website.

 
 
 
 

In the same week that has seen Wall Street aristocrats and Silicon Valley tycoons collude to buy the New Jersey U.S. Senate race, there has been the opposite kind of political news just across the Hudson River. In of all places New York City – aka the world capital of international finance – the former no-chance-in-hell candidate Bill de Blasio has leaped to the  top of mayoral polls through a campaign advocating activist government initiatives to address economic inequality.

Much of the media commentary about this development has expressed the kind of surprise that suffused the recent  New York Times’ piece on de Blasio. Labeling his strategy “risky,” the Times seemed astonished that de Blasio is “surging into the top tier of the field by talking about decidedly unglamorous topics: neglected hospitals, a swelling poverty rate and a broken prekindergarten system.”

An enraged  political class seems to be wondering how – how, dear god! – is this is all happening? But the two more pressing questions are 1) Why is anyone at all surprised that this kind of positioning can work? and 2) Why hasn’t the critique of economic inequality that de Blasio is evincing been far more prevalent and equally successful in other campaigns throughout the country?

The first question is particularly relevant to the Big Apple. More than any other city, New York epitomizes the truth of  Warren Buffett’s famous declaration that “There’s class warfare, all right – but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”

The scope of that victory in New York City is breathtaking. According to  Census data, New York is America’s most economically stratified state and New York City its most economically stratified city. It is a place where the top 1 percent of income earners make an eye-popping  44 percent of the city’s total income. That means, as journalist  Christopher Ketchum reports, if the city was its own nation, “it would come in as the fifteenth worst among 134 countries ranked by extremes of wealth and poverty.”

To achieve those kind of horrifying results, New York City’s class war has been a notably intense affair – one marked by “shock and awe” contrasts.

For instance, the Big Apple is a place where the elite media publicly complain that it is tough to get by on  $500,000 a year and where the rich have  elevated apartments for their cars – all while  46 percent of city residents are below or near the poverty line. It is a place where a billionaire mayor who has  overseen a spike in poverty nonetheless defends Wall Streeters,  justifies police actions disproportionately aimed at the poor and  issues one-way tickets designed to permanently exile homeless people. It is a place where that same mayor fights initiatives to mandate  paid sick leave and to  force city-subsidized companies to pay better wages – and then  jets off to his estate in Bermuda where, according to the Times, “he is a fixture, dining out with lawmakers, cruising its streets in his golf cart and hosting small parties at his house.”

As this Dickensian tragedy has unfolded, New York City’s aristocracy has – predictably – marshaled its power to try to suppress any kind of class-based politics from emerging.

In the electoral arena, that aristocracy has responded to the down-ballot success of the Working Families Party with an effort to  bury the party in expensive lawsuits. At City Hall, Bloomberg boasted of having  “my own army” in the New York Police Department – and he has  deployed that army to forcibly crush protests against wealth inequality. Meanwhile, in the press, local media barons like  Mort Zuckerman and Rupert Murdoch used their papers to cheer those police actions on – all while devoting column inches to  downplaying the very existence of poverty and railing on even the most modest initiatives to address inequality.

 
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