Next Tuesday, November 5th, voters in New York City will elect a new 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 on a number of fronts.
With a weak economy, it may seem that there is little that a mayor can do to affect the problems facing the city. But that is not necessarily true.
While the city has created many jobs since the end of the recent recession, most of them are low-wage jobs with little or no benefits. Work is supposed to be a pathway out of poverty, but many New Yorkers employed in these low-wage jobs are still living in poverty. There are ways to correct this situation.
The next mayor should support 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. There has been no mass exodus of businesses in those cities as a result. Only in New York City 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 repair. Public investment in local infrastructure with hiring requirements could put many New Yorkers without a college education to work in well-paying jobs. And they would be spending money and paying taxes, 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 public services. This should be a standard provision in the many contracts that the city negotiates with the private sector.
Our public education system is not turning out enough graduates with the skills necessary to move into middle income jobs in our economy. And 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 would 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. Greater outreach and better support services by the city 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. And 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.
These are all areas of concern where the actions of the mayor can make a difference.
But it is also important to remember that this election is about more than determining the next mayor. 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.
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. We should grasp that opportunity and make our voices heard. Remember to vote on Tuesday, November 5th.