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Bill de Blasio’s vision of one New York

George Gresham | 11/7/2013, 1:04 p.m.
George Gresham, President 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East

Congratulations to Bill de Blasio. His landslide victory belongs to us all. For the first time in a generation, an advocate for all New Yorkers will head the financial and cultural capital of the United States.

Mayor de Blasio also will be able to count on the support of a progressive City Council in his efforts to reverse the course of our city. We in 1199SEIU will continue to stand with him as we have since we endorsed him back in May, when most polls had him trailing three other Democratic candidates.

But none of us can rest on our laurels. For the coalition and voters who helped fashion the huge victory, the greater task lies ahead. We trade unionists know that winning a union election does not guarantee a good first contract. The struggles to realize the gains are as intense as those to win representation.

So it will be with the de Blasio administration. The opposition and their wealthy backers will contest every plank in his platform. Union rights, a living wage, progressive taxation, quality affordable housing, public education—including universal pre-K—and civil rights for all will not come easily.

Among the first issues our next mayor must address is the racial profiling of our children, because a federal appeals court last week ordered a halt to a series of reforms of NYPD’s stop-and-frisk tactics.

After months of testimony from more than 100 witnesses, federal district court Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled in August that the NYPD’s use of stop-and-frisk was racially discriminatory and that it had routinely violated the constitutional rights of African-American and Latino citizens.

Scheindlin ordered a series of remedies, the centerpiece of which was the appointment of an independent monitor to oversee police reforms. Not only did the appeals court rule that those reforms not go forward, but it charged Scheindlin with violating ethics rules and shockingly removed her from the case.

We expect that, with our support, de Blasio, a fierce opponent of stop-and-frisk, will withdraw the appeal and go forward with Scheindlin’s reforms.

A more difficult task for our next mayor will be to begin the transformation of what he rightly terms “a tale of two cities,” where the rich have gotten richer and rest of us struggle ever harder to make ends meet.

“If we are to thrive as a city, income inequality must be at the very center of our vision for the next four years,” de Blasio said. He also frequently reminds us that nearly half of New Yorkers live below or near the poverty line.

Hunger statistics tell the story. The New York City Coalition Against Hunger reports how in 2013, an average of 1.8 million New York City residents—one-quarter of them children—live in households facing food insecurity. And the vast majority of the hungry are neither homeless nor unemployed. They simply don’t earn enough to afford basic necessities.

De Blasio and mayors across the country must deal with the fact that on Nov. 1, food stamp benefits (SNAP) were cut for more than 47 million Americans nationwide as additional benefits under President Barack Obama’s 2009 stimulus bill came to an end. Now under the SNAP program, a family of four will have to make do with about 21 fewer meals each month. Sadly, both houses of Congress are seeking to extract even greater reductions from the food stamp program. The House is seeking $40 billion in cuts over the next 10 years and the Senate, $4 billion.

Coupled with recent cuts in jobless benefits and the continued shredding of the social safety net, the challenges ahead are many. We know that all the answers won’t be found at City Hall, but it certainly makes a huge difference to have a people’s advocate in the mayor’s office. However, he will have to battle the 1 percent, who with their billions of dollars will continue to work day and night to push their agenda. A broad coalition of an informed, organized and energized 99 percent can give our mayor and elected officials the support to stay the course.

With our efforts, a city that works for us all is possible. In the words of our mayor-elect: “It’s time for one New York, rising together.”