You Can’t Afford to Sit This One Out

David R. Jones, The Urban Agenda

New York City votes for its next mayor on November 5.  Interested in voting?  You can still register by October 11th and vote for mayor in November.  You can register online or call 1-866-868-3692. 

For the first time in decades, voters have a choice between candidates with starkly differing positions on many crucial issues of concern to New Yorkers, Bill de Blasio and Joseph Lhota.  De Blasio, a former city councilman, is the current Public Advocate.  Lhota was the former head of the Metropolitan Transit Authority and a deputy mayor and budget director for former mayor Rudy Giuliani. 

The Bloomberg administration claims that the city weathered the recession better than most urban areas in the nation.  But the recovery – here and nationwide – has been uneven.  The wealthy – and the banks – have done well.  But working class families have not.  Many of the jobs created in the city over the past three years have been low-wage, often with little or no benefits.

Growing Inequality

Increasingly, New York is a city of the rich and the poor.  The middle class is disappearing as incomes stagnate, jobs are lost, and the amount of affordable housing shrinks.  This growing inequality is not sustainable over time without serious consequences to the nation’s economic and social fabric. Unfortunately, those consequences are already hitting home here in New York City.

The city’s poverty rate rose to 21.2 percent in 2012.  Over 1.7 million New Yorkers are now living below the official federal poverty line ($23,314 for a family of four).  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 31 percent of the city’s children live in poverty, as do 43 percent of single mothers.  Two million New Yorkers receive food stamps.  Another one million on Medicaid are not getting food stamps, although they are eligible.  They may not be eligible at this time next year, though, because many in Congress are hell bent on drastic cuts to the food stamps program.

For low-income families, rent is the biggest expense.  The city lost 33 percent of its private subsidized housing units between 1990 and 2012.  Thirty percent of New Yorkers pay more than half their income in rent. Not surprisingly, more than half (52%) of those who responded to the latest Community Service Society survey think it is not very possible or impossible for poor people to make it into the middle class.

Into this maelstrom steps the next mayor.  Joe Lhota and Bill de Blasio each has different takes on how to respond to these problems.  Based on news reports, here are their positions on a series of important issues.

Important Issues

Taxes: Bill de Blasio wants to raise taxes on the city’s wealthiest residents, specifically to fund universal pre-kindergarten, which he thinks is crucial for children going on to attend our public schools.  Joe Lhota wants to lower taxes, believing that this will help local businesses and keep the city competitive in the global economy.

Growing the economy: Lhota wants to nurture businesses, especially high-tech industries which would provide well-paid jobs.  De Blasio points out that the fast growing jobs in the city are mostly low-wage; relatively few New Yorkers have benefited from the tech boom.

Policing: Stop and frisk has been in the news for a while.  Several lawsuits are pending, and a federal judge recently found that police use this practice in discriminatory fashion (the city is appealing the ruling).  De Blasio wants to reform stop and frisk.  He believes that the way it is used now makes the city less safe in long run, focusing almost entirely on black and Latino male youth and leading to mistrust of the police in communities of color.  Lhota supports stop and frisk, believing that it is effective in lowering the crime rate and is in compliance with Constitution. 

Homelessness: On any given day, about 50,000 New Yorkers are homeless.  The problem of homelessness has been a sore point for Mayor Bloomberg and, while he strove to deal with it, it has only gotten worse since he has been in office.  Lhota thinks that relying on a market solution would solve much of the homeless problem.  De Blasio has been critical of Mayor Bloomberg's policy of increasing requirements to access the city’s homeless shelters.  He favors giving vouchers for vacant apartments in the city’s public housing buildings.

Education: De Blasio has come out against adding new charter schools.  He wants to achieve universal pre-kindergarten and expand and improve Career and Technical Education.  He also wants to reduce class size.  In contrast, Lhota supports charter schools, saying that the city needs more of them.  He is also in favor of merit pay for teachers.

These are just a few of the issues that separate the candidates for mayor.  I urge you to study their positions on the issues and vote.  

If you are not registered, you can register up to October 11th to vote in the November election.  Register in person at one of the offices of the Board of Elections, or by mail.  You can download a registration form.   You can also call 1-866-868-3692 to get a postage-paid registration form in the mail.  You may also obtain registration forms from libraries, post offices, and most New York City government agencies.

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