On November 5th, a week from next Tuesday, voters in New York City will elect the next mayor. With gridlock in Washington and a divided Legislature in Albany, the new mayor must have the political will to fight for the best interests of the city.
What will a new administration in City Hall mean for working class New Yorkers? It may seem that with a weak economy, there is little that a mayor can do to affect the problems facing the city, especially those issues of crucial importance to low-income families and individuals. But that is not necessarily true.
With the latest Census Bureau report showing 1.7 million New Yorkers now living in poverty, the city needs to act to improve wages and benefits for the working poor so that employment becomes a viable path to economic security.
Jobs and Wages
The city has created many jobs since the end of the recent recession. The problem is that most of them are low-wage; dead-end jobs with little or no benefits. The people who are employed in those jobs are still living in poverty. The city needs to see where it can upgrade jobs so that working class New Yorkers can still afford to live in the city.
Unlike the current mayor, the next mayor should throw his support behind legislation requiring major businesses and developers that receive taxpayer funded financial assistance to pay workers a fair wage. Living wage legislation has been enacted in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Cleveland, and Pittsburg. To my knowledge, there has been no mass exodus of businesses in those cities as a result. Only in New York City, it seems, does the notion of offering workers a fair wage engender fears of economic calamity.
The city’s bridges, tunnels, and rail facilities are in dire need of being upgraded. Public investment in local infrastructure with hiring requirements would put many New Yorkers without a college education to work. It would put money in their pockets that would be spent bolstering the local economy.
The city ought to include a stipulation to train and/or hire local workers as part of its contracts with private agencies that provide services. This should be a standard provision in the many contracts that the city negotiates with the private sector. And we need job-training programs, apprenticeships programs, and government mandated hiring policies targeted to high-risk groups.
Education and Training
By better linking education to jobs, Mayor Bloomberg’s expansion of Career and and Technical Education (CTE) was a step in the right direction. But most of our public education system – from kindergarten to CUNY – is not turning out enough graduates with the skills necessary to move into well-paying, middle income jobs in our economy. The high school graduation rates of students of color are still abysmal. Funding early childhood education through universal pre-K won’t immediately change the graduation rates, but the long term effects will be beneficial for the students and the city.
Over a million workers in the city do not have a high school degree. The lack of education credentials holds back many workers from advancing into middle income jobs. The city’s GED program has been an utter failure. Greater outreach and better support services would help many more New Yorkers pass the GED exam.
Affordable housing is one of the most important issues for low-income families. Development deals tied to more affordable housing could help to reverse the losses of affordable units over the past decade. As for public housing, which provides low-cost housing to over 400,000 New Yorkers, there is no reason why the New York City Housing Authority must pay nearly $100 million a year for police services or payments in lieu of services. The mayor can end this impropriety with the flick of a pen.
These are all areas of concern where the actions of the mayor can make a difference.
Right to Vote
There is more to this election than determining who will be the next mayor. It is important to remember that the right to vote for our political leaders is precious. The right to vote was bought with the blood of countless numbers of Americans. This is especially true for Americans of color. For too long in this country, black and Latino citizens were denied the right to vote. Often this denial was backed up with violence or the threat of violence, which public officials and the media ignored.
With the battle for civil rights – highlighted by the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act – citizens of color gained the opportunity to take part in the civic life of the nation. Our vote on November 5th is both an affirmation of our belief in the future of this city and a tribute to those who fought for our right to cast that vote. Remember to vote on Tuesday, November 5th.