In New York City, more than a half million young people—mostly African-American and Latino men—are routinely stopped every year by police officers, who stop-and-frisk them though they typically have done nothing illegal.
It is a city where longtime residents of various neighborhoods, from Harlem and the South Bronx to Fort Greene and Bedford-Stuyvesant, feel economically squeezed out of their environs as developers make way for higher-income incomers. It is also a city where unemployment remains at staggering levels in communities of color. New York City is an urban center where a decent education continuous to elude far too many students, many of whom walk to school through neighborhoods where their breakfast of choice is often prepared by such corporations as Hostess and Frito-Lay.
Yet, in this unusual mayoral election season in New York City, the period during which the five boroughs prepare to undergo the transition to the post-Bloomberg era, there now seems to be but one topic that is dominating the campaign: Anthony Weiner.
The public discussion of Weiner’s misdeeds and their impact on his marriage and his poll numbers have been dissected by the media—not to mention in private conversations—to an exhaustive and, frankly, nauseating degree. And I certainly have no intention of reviewing those topics here.
By now, newspaper editorial pages, political candidates and even barbers have come to firm opinions of the former congressman’s fitness for office. They have been joined by New Yorkers, who have weighed in on the subject at water coolers, basketball courts, beauty parlors and even in churches. What remains troubling, however, is that the public discussions in the mayoral race seem to veer only marginally from that topic.
The problem with this scenario is that there is a large swath of New Yorkers whose plight, troubles and struggles are never fully considered or flushed out in the major debates other than at election time. We seem to be watching an opportunity squandered.
Who should marginalized New Yorkers turn to as we near the end of the administration of a mayor who honestly believes that white New Yorkers are stopped by police too frequently and that Black and Brown citizens are rightfully due to be detained in far higher numbers? How would the various aspirants to Gracie Mansion respond to, say, a developer who builds a giant arena yet fails to provide the units of affordable housing that were promised in exchange for financial considerations from the city? What are the best methods in their opinions for upgrading a crumbling school system?
The Weiner revelations are discussed so widely because they speak to the salacious nature of the candidate—and the public. The media’s role in this is understandable and expected. After all, the “Real Housewife” television dramas will always be more beloved than “Meet the Press” or the illuminating programs presented for years by the late Gil Noble. And yet, there remains pressing, urgent issues facing a large number of New Yorkers, whose plight needs to be the focus of the campaign at some point.
I only hope that these topics get the exhaustive focus they deserve, lest we all awaken in November scratching our heads in wonder of how we wound up with a mayor whose positions we hardly heard or understood.