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Juan Gonzalez Analyzes the New York City Mayoral Race

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Democracy Now! co-host and New York Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez gives an analysis of the New York City mayoral race between Republican Michael Bloomberg and Democrat Fernando Ferrer and talks about the lack of focus on urban America by both corporate and progressive journalists. [includes rush transcript]

  • Juan Gonzalez, New York Daily News columnist and Democracy Now! co-host. He is also the author of several books including “Harvest of Empire : A History of Latinos in America,” “Fallout: The Environmental Consequences of the World Trade Center Collapse” and “Roll Down Your Window: Stories of a Forgotten America.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Here in New York City, the mayoral election is taking place next Tuesday. The mayor’s job in this city is often referred to as the toughest job in America and one of the most influential government posts in the country. The Republican incumbent, billionaire Mike Bloomberg, is seeking a second term in office, while former Democratic Bronx Borough President, Fernando Ferrer, is trying to unseat him. The race is set to go down in history as the most expensive political campaign outside a presidential race, with Michael Bloomberg outspending Fernando Ferrer by tens of millions of dollars. Polls have consistently shown that Ferrer is behind in the race. Last Tuesday night, he and Michael Bloomberg debated for the second and last time before the election.

Juan, you have been covering city politics for many years as a columnist for the New York Daily News. You have written extensively about this administration, as well as previous ones, and also written a number of books. Harvest of Empire is about the history of Latinos in America. Your latest book, Fallout is about what happened after 9/11, the environmental fallout at ground zero, and have written Stories from a Forgotten America: Roll Down Your Window, your columns about the voices we don’t hear. And I think that’s a good launching point here to talk about this race in the context of national politics in cities around the country.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Yeah, well, actually, Amy, I just completed sort of a more in-depth analysis of this 2005 mayoral race, which I have called “Where Have All of the Fighters Gone?” because I think that one of the things, as I have spent close to 30 years now covering urban politics in the United States and not just here in New York, but in Philadelphia and other cities, and I have been actually astounded at the lack of in-depth analysis of this race in New York, which is probably, other than the New Jersey senatorial race, the biggest — the most high profile election in the United States this year. And one of the amazing things to me is how even within the progressive movement, which prides itself on in-depth analysis or looking at the deeper ramifications of political processes, that there’s been so little of it in this race, and especially in terms of what is happening in urban America today.

I understand part of the problem has been that many progressive journalists and the progressive movement, in general, has been so fixated on these huge national problems and international problems like the war in Iraq and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and global warming and a variety of issues, but there has been really a dearth of analysis. What is going on in the cities of America? What are the class forces that are shaping the modern American city, and what do political battles have to do with that? And it’s almost like it’s become a blind spot of the progressive movement in the United States.

One of the points I try to make in my piece is that there are class and racial reasons for that, that the progressive movement in America is still largely confined to middle class and sometimes upper class folks who don’t have a lot of day-to-day direct connection with what is happening in urban America.

The great problem that capitalism has confronted in the last decades is that the great centers of finance and commerce have all become overwhelmingly populated by African Americans and immigrants from the colonial and neocolonial nations of the third world, so that what has happened is that even the progressive movement is no longer directly tied to the populations of the great cities of the United States. And I think that, therefore, they’re not recognizing the enormous changes that are occurring, because what has happened, especially now as the United States is reaching peak oil production, but it started happening in the oil crisis of the 1970s, is that the ruling circles of the United States are trying to restructure the cities to regain control of the cities, because they can no longer control the political superstructure, because the voting power of these communities has grown — of these immigrant communities has grown to such a degree. So they are attempting to recapture control and actually de-populate the major cities.

One of the things that I encountered throughout my coverage of the four years of the Bloomberg administration in every working class community that I visit is the local leaders are telling me: “They’re taking our land.” They are creating all of these huge development projects. They’re making it impossible to live, whether it’s Williamsburg or Greenpoint in Brooklyn or even the South Bronx. Harlem has been completely gentrified. And what is happening is that the ruling circles have been in the process of dismantling democratic government by taking away the tax base of these cities, so that even if candidates from the working class or minority communities get elected, they will have no ability to manage their cities independently, because the tax base is being eroded, and all of these stadium projects and these others, what they are, they are siphoning off the tax base to keep — take economic power away from the growing majorities of the cities and leave them with political power but no ability to administer government. And the Bloomberg administration has been unparalleled in its ability to do this.

So, unfortunately, most of the progressives and the liberals in this city, amazingly in both the Democratic and the Republican Party and among independents, have basically accepted the position of the mass media and the ruling circles of the city that the Ferrer campaign has no issues to speak of, is not representative of the aspirations of the people, when, in fact, when you look at the platforms and the positions of the two campaigns, they’re night and day, in terms of, like, the issues that they raise.

Just one example why Wall Street is so much against Ferrer, he proposed a re-imposition of a sales tax on stock transfers — on stock sales in New York City to help fund public education. Everything in New York City is taxed, except the sale of stock. And a penny — something like a penny sales tax on stocks would produce hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues. As soon as Ferrer proposed that several months ago, he was attacked across the board by all of the media, and he proposed the re-imposition of a commuter tax, because New York City commuters from the middle class who come into this city do not pay income tax, even though they spend eight to ten hours a day in this city using the services that New York City residents pay for. They pay no taxes for those services. So that, that created a furor.

And so that both in his taxing policies and his opposition to working class — to the driving out of the working class in rental housing and through a variety of positions, not to mention the fact that he opposes the Iraq war. He has called for a withdrawal of the troops from Iraq, and he has publicly stated he opposes military recruitment in schools, in public schools, all positions that you would think that the progressive movement, which is so concerned about what is happening in Iraq, would find to their liking.

So, what’s happened is, as Wayne Barrett said, he has been saying recently — the veteran reporter, who has got more experience with urban politics than I do, Wayne Barrett, said recently that in all of his years, he has never seen the level of distortion of a political campaign that has occurred in the last four — in the last year around this race. And he is astounded by how all of the newspapers, all of the corporate press are all saying the same thing, and — but yet the progressives are not asking themselves why, if the rich of the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, if all of the corporate media are unified in their opposition to this candidacy, what’s wrong with that picture? So, I — you know, it’s amazing to me that there’s been no analysis. So that’s why I tried to put it together. It’s basically a compilation of my columns and some of the main things that I have learned from this in over the last few years.

AMY GOODMAN: Juan, in terms of the money in this race, the most expensive race in the history of this country outside a presidential race, Mike Bloomberg was a billionaire before he was mayor. He has given a tremendous amount; what is the figure in terms of just charitable contributions to organizations in the city, outside of the actual campaign spending?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Right. Well, he is on track to spend $100 million on —

AMY GOODMAN: On the race.

JUAN GONZALEZ: On the race itself, but what has not been getting a lot of attention is that Bloomberg was a philanthropist before. He was giving about $25 million to $30 million a year in contributions to charitable causes. Then, the year before he began running for mayor, he suddenly sharply increased those charitable contributions to over $100 million a year and has continued to escalate them. Last year, he gave out $140 million in contributions, basically to non-profits in New York City, some nationally, like to his alma mater, Johns Hopkins, but most of them to groups in New York City. That means that over the last five years, Michael Bloomberg has given out close to $600 million in charitable donations to groups, most of them in New York City, in addition to the $100 million he is spending on this race, in addition to the $73 million he spent to defeat Mark Green in 2001, so he is on track, basically, to have spent close to $1 billion to maintain his control of the New York City government, an astounding number.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s surprising he has to spend that much in the campaign, given how much he has spent personally in, what, —


AMY GOODMAN: More than half a billion dollars on organizations in the city.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, not to mention the power of incumbency that you would — normally, an incumbent is already way up, you know, has a leg way up on the challenger.

AMY GOODMAN: And how much has Ferrer spent?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Ferrer has spent about $6 million, and this is $6 million not just against Bloomberg. He spent the bulk of that in a primary against four other Democratic opponents. So, he has maybe spent a couple of million dollars. And that’s not a small amount of money to have raised. Rudy Giuliani in his last race spent $14 million, which was considered an enormous amount of money at that time. So, it has taken local politics — the financing of local politics to an exponentially higher level, when it comes to actual financing.

AMY GOODMAN: Juan, in looking at this race, how it fits into other mayoral races, for example, Los Angeles, where mayor Villaraigosa is now in control, Freddy Ferrer, the Democratic candidate, how much support has he gotten from the Democratic Party? Much was made of a South Bronx event where the former President of the United States, Bill Clinton, came out. Was it in support of Fernando Ferrer?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Yes, yes. Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton have both come out in support of Fernando Ferrer. However, their staffs and their actions have sent a clear signal that they are nominally supporting him, but really not investing much effort and time in the campaign, as has happened with many of the well-to-do Democrats in this race. I mean, Steven Rattner, who is one of the biggest National Democratic Party fund raisers — his wife is the Finance Chair of the National Democratic Party under Howard Dean — held a Bloomberg fundraiser and said —- told the New York Post that: “I don’t know any Democrat who is backing Fernando Ferrer.” And -—

AMY GOODMAN: And she’s the Finance Chair of the Democratic Party?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, this is the husband of the Finance Chair of the National Democratic Party, and he, himself, is a big financial backer. The upper strata of the Democratic Party have made it clear they don’t want to have anything to do with this race, and they like Michael Bloomberg. And one of the things that people don’t understand who have not been in New York City is that for the past 30 years, every candidate for mayor of New York, from either party, has come from the borough of Manhattan, where all of the wealth and power and the elite of the city live, for the most part. And not since Mario Cuomo came out of Queens in 1977 to run on the Liberal Party line against Ed Koch has anyone from any of the other boroughs even run for mayor, because, basically, the Manhattan elite control politics in New York City. And even the Democratic liberals of the past like Ruth Messinger, Mark Green, David Dinkins, they all came out of the Manhattan power structure. So part of what is operating both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party is a class bias against people from the outer boroughs, the more working class candidates, and especially from the poorest borough in the city, which is where Fernando Ferrer comes out of.

AMY GOODMAN: And that’s the Bronx. We only have about 45 seconds in wrapping up this discussion, where you see this going. There’s only a few more days in this race.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, at this point, it’s highly unlikely that Ferrer will win. Bloomberg seems to be assured of victory, although I think it remains to be seen. You never know in politics, but I think it’s — Bloomberg is assured a victory, but I think the more important thing is for the progressive movement to take a deep look at how its class and racial biases were involved in this race and how its lack of analysis of the stakes involved determined the way that many progressives in this city function in relationship to this race, and hopefully, lessons will be learned so that in the future there will be candidates that more clearly represent working people and the racial and ethnic minorities in this city and around the country.

AMY GOODMAN: Juan, we have to leave it there. We’ll certainly continue to follow this story and the underlying story.

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