New York City Mayoral Election 2021: Which Candidate Addresses Black and Working Class Agenda?

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Power yields nothing without struggle. Photo: Tony Webster/Wikimedia Commons 

The New York City mayoral election primaries are scheduled for June 22, 2021; once again the campaign frenzy of advertisements and the polemics on television and Talk Shows are all over the airways. 

Against the background of the growing disparity in wealth between working people and the rich and ruling class, worsened by the global pandemic; how do we as African people particularly and people of color, view the election? Will we view and approach this as part of the Black liberation struggle; the continued struggle for peace, working-class democracy and social progress or just another exercise of so-called “civic duty”? It is a fact that many of our people have made tremendous sacrifices including their lives for the right to vote. But does it mean we just approach it without any analysis, any demands, any agenda that speaks to and addresses our interests? 

What are the criteria by which we select and vote a candidate in office? These are some issues of concern I respectfully submit that we ponder and act on, in this election season. For me, here are a few fundamental criteria for assessment: One, a clear understanding of the socio-economic issues; two, an uncompromising approach to working class interests; three, definitive Policy on race and policing and four, homelessness, not necessarily in that order. 

In the first instance a candidate should not be ambivalent or confused regarding the social issues confronting our City. Many elected officials and wannabes are confused in this regard; one elected official once remarked that when he looks at issues he “doesn’t see race but the issue.”

This shows intellectual and historical confusion. The society is built and divided into race and class. All fundamental social issues has both a race, class or both characteristic. The analysis and solution of the issues are based on this fundamental fact. I have always contended that a Black face is not enough; in other words, just electing a Black person to office isn’t enough. There must be content, ideological and strategical clarity. The myth about “shared values” is an illusion; this is a demagogical rhetoric to deny reality. It sounds good but has no basis in objective reality.

The wealth disparity has increased exponentially over the past years and more devastating for Blacks. The pandemic especially has brought this into stark relief. The access to quality health care and services; adequate health insurance; community outreach and intervention services; meaningful and rewarding employment and affordable housing are just some of the critical issues affecting the Black community and has an impact on quality of life including crime.

Addressing these issues calls for a clear, decisive and relentless approach to fixing them. I have yet to see a Manifesto or Plan of Action how these matters will be addressed by the candidates, including those of color. We have been bombarded with generalizations, no specifics. The interests of the working class in general and Black working class in particular, must take center stage during the campaign and within the Administration of whomever wins the election.

Whites as a collective see profiling, brutality, and killing by the police not as racist based policy but an anomaly by a few “rogue” cops. Faced with this reality and since Blacks are so welded to the Democratic Party, we can’t have the same old, same old approach to electoral politics. If the thinking is focused on the candidate who can win and not the one that has the best ideological and socio-economic platform then, it is business as usual. 

This is political shortsightedness and lack of vision for this election or any other for that matter. Martin Luther King once said “the Country needs a revolution of ideas;” our voting choices need that revolution of ideas. According to the Coalition for The Homeless, as of March 2021, there are 54,667 homeless people in New York City; another figure has it up to 80,000 with 4,000 sleeping on the streets. For the Fiscal Year 2020, 122,926 people slept in shelters of which 39,300 are children. In the richest Country in the world, this is a moral disgrace and abomination. 

The homelessness crisis like mental health is nothing new. Successive State and City Administrations have only given lip service to the problems. The fix for the problem is not renovations like new showers or making the facility “attractive.” The definitive fix is to get people out of being homeless, period. There has to be more investment and expansion into affordable housing. There’s need for outreach and social services including rental assistance for victims of domestic violence and counseling and serious punishment for perpetrators of domestic violence. 

The pandemic has severely increased the unemployment numbers through job loss and, the most critical is the increasing numbers of mental cases which either go untreated or lack of access to treatment and follow-up. 

The upcoming mayoral election comes at a time when the country is in a social, political and economic dilemma. The extensiveness of poverty across the country; the cutbacks in funding of social services programs; the upsurge in white supremacist and militia lawlessness and open confrontations; police killings of unarmed Black people; militarization of police departments; continued mass incarceration of especially Black males; attacks on voting rights of Black people, through voter suppression Bills across States; unrestricted greed and wealth accumulation of the corporate oligarchy, even in the midst of a pandemic are all part of the deterioration of the society. 

The analysis and selection of the candidate must be viewed against this background. They are not insulated from these realities; neither do we expect the winner to automatically solve all the problems, within their Term. However, there must be a modicum of substance required from the candidate, whomever it is. 

I am reminded however of a poignant comment back in the day by Matthew Holden Jr., writing about the Governor Wilder election in Virginia: “The basic rationale for electoral politics, insofar as policy is concerned, is that desirable policies will emerge when there is a clear identity between the interests and values of the elected and of those who elect them.”

The fundamental question arises as to how effectively can these issues be addressed. What is the structural capacity available to get definitive and meaningful results? It is simply not enough to voice demands, vote a person in office and expect that the demands will be effectuated. 

It is said that when Franklin Roosevelt was confronted by Civil Rights leaders regarding legislation that served the interests of African Americans, he reportedly said, “go out and make me do it.” This suggests an admonition to organize, mobilize, set up a mass movement that can force congress and the President, not to ignore calls for social action; meaningful policy change. 

Meaningful change cannot be imagined or assumed, if there is no organized, vigilant and decisive political Movement to effectuate it. As a collective we need to develop a level of political sophistication that, is not personality based or swayed by opportunistic and simplistic demagoguery. 

It is past time for a new progressive working-class ideological climate and activism. Too often we get caught in knee-jerk activism and phrase mongering and, once the issue dies down, the activism disappears. 

We cannot influence Policy by sporadic, splintered, confused and goalless activism. The struggle must be protracted, consistent and goal oriented. Any candidate who wants our vote must exhibit a history of integrity. The candidate must have ideological clarity as to what his or her world, class and race outlook is and, the basis of such ideas.

The candidate must have a deliberate sense of purpose and the fortitude to pursue and develop policies that addresses the plight of Black people in particular and working class in general. Anything less is the same old, same old.

Columnist Richard S. Dunn can be reached at [email protected]

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