5 Signs of Hope for Working Families In Yesterday’s New York City Elections


City Council candidate Carlos Menchaca

Local and municipal elections matter.

Just ask a service worker in Philadelphia who can’t afford to take a sick day because the city council was one vote short of overriding Mayor Michael Nutter’s veto of a paid sick days ordinance.

Or ask a retail worker in Washington, D.C., where the City Council is currently one vote short of a veto-proof majority in favor the Large Retail Accountability Act (LRAA), which would establish a living wage for big box retail workers.

You can also ask anyone who sends their child to public school in Chicago, where Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration has closed dozens of public schools, and where the city’s students are being moved around like chess pieces to make room for a pro-corporate education “reform” agenda.

Yes, city leaders of both parties have been too willing lately to kowtow to corporate interests over the needs of their constituents. But in last night’s New York City primary, there were some signs of hope for working families.

 

1.) Voters approved of plan to raise taxes on super-rich to pay for schools. To succeed Mayor Michael Bloomberg, one of the richest people on the planet and a staunch defender of rich people’s interests, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio ran on a plan to raise taxes on New Yorkers making $500,000 or more and using the revenue to establish universal Pre-K. The plan was derided by Bloomberg and much of the the city’s wealthy elite.

But yesterday, de Blasio took 40 percent in a crowded primary, a sign that some of the folks in NYC making less than $500,000 a year (roughly, shall we say, 99 percent?) favor balancing out our tax system to bolster basic services.

 

2.) Opposition to earned paid sick days was a liability. The longtime expected frontrunner, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, saw her support recede and then evaporate over the summer. Partly, because she was seen as the main obstacle to a paid sick days ordinance for New York City. The ordinance was introduced in 2010 but Quinn refused to bring it to a vote, saying that it would put “undue burden” on NYC businesses, according to the New York Times.

It took three years of pushing from a broad coalition, including the Working Families Party and well-known activist Gloria Steinem, to finally get Quinn to compromise on a sick days ordinance, which sailed through with overwhelming support. Yet her long-held intransigence, which she never truly explained, hurt her in the race, particularly with woman voters.

“We were pleased the bill finally passed,” says Donna Dolan, Executive Director of the New York Paid Leave Coalition, “But all I could think about when I was at the press conference was the number of people I met who had been fired in the past three-and-a-half years.” Voters apparently agreed, giving the once-frontrunner Quinn a third place finish.

 

3.) The real estate lobby spent big money to beat a local labor leader, but he won anyway. In a crowded primary for the Queens-based 27th council district, I. Daneek Miller came out on top last night. Miller is president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1056 and a supporter of affordable housing, so naturally the city’s powerful real-estate lobby was determined to stop him. A real-estate backed PAC spent $261,533 backing up one of Miller’s opponents, but Miller prevailed: the current count gives him a lead of 396 votes.

“There have been tough times for labor and working families,” Miller said last night, “The consensus is: we need a voice. Now we have that voice we set out to represent.”

 

4.) This 32 year-old won a huge upset in Brooklyn to become council’s first Mexican-American. Sara Gonzalez sat in Brooklyn’s 38th council district for decade, and regularly was a no-show at council meetings and public events. She may have expected a smooth reelection this time around. But Carlos Menchaca, a 32 year-old openly gay Latino community activist, unseated her last night by a 16-point margin. (“Men-shocka!” was the headline in The Brooklyn Paper.)

Menchaca will be the first openly gay elected official to represent Brooklyn and the first Mexican-American on the New York City Council. He was active with the Office of Emergency Management after Hurricane Sandy, especially in badly-damaged Red Hook.

“I’m going to be present. I’m going to be visible and vocal,” Menchaca told supporters last night, “I’m going to be someone that’s on the streets talking directly to the people of Sunset Park about your needs.”

 

5.) Pro-worker candidates won across the board. The New York Central Labor Council endorsed 43 candidates for City Council in run up to yesterday’s election. 39 of those candidates won outright last night, with two races (Kirsten John Foy in District 36 and Austin Shafran in District 5) still too close to call.

After 12 years of a Bloomberg Administration that was cold to outright hostile to New York’s labor community, it’s heartening to see advocates of working families have such a good night at the local level.

 
Bonus.) Dante de Blasio’s hair wins mayor’s race, observers say.

Check out this actual headline from USA Today. And this Twitter account. And this cartoon. We can’t remember the last time one person’s haircut played such a decisive role in an election.

What did you think of last night’s election? Let us know in the comments.

Photo of Carlos Menchaca by @lingene_1 on Twitter

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