New York’s Faux Democrats Are Out, and Conservative Democratic Politics Thoroughly Discredited

Voters in New York just told members of the conservative-leaning IDC to GTFO.

Theo Anderson September 14, 2018

Alessandra Biaggi ousted IDC leader Jeffrey Klein on Thursday. (Alessandra Biaggi / Facebook)

Thursday’s pri­ma­ry in New York spot­light­ed both the very best and very worst of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Party.

The movement on the party’s left dealt a serious blow to the corruption at the core of the Democratic political machinery.

The bad news for pro­gres­sives shouldn’t over­shad­ow the good news. The high­est pro­file pro­gres­sive can­di­dates, Cyn­thia Nixon and Zephyr Tea­chout, lost by wide mar­gins. But the move­ment on the party’s left dealt a seri­ous blow to the cor­rup­tion at the core of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic polit­i­cal machin­ery — like­ly trans­form­ing the state’s leg­is­la­ture, which has tech­ni­cal­ly been con­trolled by Democ­rats but effec­tive­ly ruled by the GOP.

Six mem­bers of the Inde­pen­dent Demo­c­ra­t­ic Con­fer­ence (IDC) were boot­ed. That’s a group of eight Democ­rats who thwart­ed pro­gres­sive leg­is­la­tion by cau­cus­ing with Repub­li­cans in the state sen­ate since 2011. IDC mem­bers were heav­i­ly fund­ed by New York’s real estate inter­ests. The GOP reward­ed them for cross­ing over with perks like plum com­mit­tee assign­ments and plush offices.

The most star­tling win of the night was Alessan­dra Biaggi’s win over IDC’s leader, Jef­frey Klein, whose cam­paign raised near­ly $2 mil­lion, which he used to bliz­zard the dis­trict with ads in the final weeks. Biag­gi raised just a fourth of that. But she had the back­ing and vol­un­teer sup­port of groups like Our Rev­o­lu­tion and the Work­ing Fam­i­lies Par­ty (WFP).

The WFP, in par­tic­u­lar, has had IDC in its sights for sev­er­al years. WFP state direc­tor Bill Lip­ton put out a state­ment Thurs­day night say­ing that New York pol­i­tics changed for­ev­er tonight” and that a new gen­er­a­tion of lead­ers are head­ing to Albany to fight for a New York that works for the many, not the for­tu­nate few.”

Many leg­isla­tive seats were uncon­test­ed, but all eight IDC mem­bers had chal­lengers. Like Biag­gi, the chal­lengers most­ly ran on plat­forms that stress anti-cor­rup­tion mea­sures and broad­ly pro­gres­sive agen­das, with a strong focus on afford­able hous­ing — an issue that con­nect­ed the dots between the IDC’s fun­ders and out-of-con­trol rents in New York.

In the 20th sen­ate dis­trict, Zell­nor Myrie’s plat­form called for a raft of mea­sures to cre­ate more afford­able hous­ing — an end to a law that caps rent sta­bi­liza­tion, a new for­mu­la to cal­cu­late afford­abil­i­ty lev­els for new devel­op­ments, and the clos­ing of a loop­hole that allows for sud­den rent increases.

In the 13th dis­trict, Jes­si­ca Ramos — a labor orga­niz­er and daugh­ter of Colom­bian immi­grants — won on a plat­form call­ing for afford­able hous­ing, expand­ing labor and repro­duc­tive rights, cre­at­ing a sin­gle-pay­er health­care sys­tem, and invest­ing in edu­ca­tion and the MTA, New York City’s pub­lic trans­porta­tion system.

MTA fund­ing was a key issue for many of the insur­gents who top­pled the IDC. It’s a state agency, con­trolled by the gov­er­nor, and the sys­tem is falling apart and in cri­sis under the watch of Gov. Andrew Cuo­mo who has con­sis­tent­ly blocked new invest­ments in it. A pub­lic trans­porta­tion advo­cate, Nick Sifuentes, recent­ly not­ed in the New York Times that the con­se­quences of years of dis­in­vest­ment have been severe: Rid­ers now have to con­tend with more than 70,000 delays a month (well over a delay every minute) and record lev­els of over­crowd­ing on trains.”

A new morn­ing in Albany

Incum­ben­cy and name recog­ni­tion helped Cuo­mo sur­vive that and oth­er cri­tiques — he beat Nixon hand­i­ly, 66 to 34 per­cent. But the chal­lenge from his left prob­a­bly sig­naled that the New York gov­er­nor­ship is the end of the line for Cuomo’s polit­i­cal career.

Dur­ing a debate, he promised not to seek the Demo­c­ra­t­ic nom­i­na­tion for pres­i­dent in 2020. That’s a lit­tle like Red Lob­ster announc­ing that it hasn’t been award­ed a Miche­lin star: Not sur­pris­ing. He was nev­er a seri­ous contender.

It would be dif­fi­cult for a Demo­c­ra­t­ic gov­er­nor to be more out of sync with the ener­gy in the par­ty, or for a state to be more out sync with its rep­u­ta­tion as a lodestar of pro­gres­sivism. And it isn’t just about the MTA cri­sis. New York is gen­er­al­ly a neolib­er­al mess. The state leads the nation in inequal­i­ty, for exam­ple, with the top 1 per­cent earn­ing 45 time more than the bot­tom 99 per­cent, accord­ing to a 2016 report by the Fis­cal Pol­i­cy Insti­tute. Since 1979, infla­tion-adjust­ed incomes have grown by 272 per­cent in New York for the top 1 per­cent, ver­sus 5.4 per­cent for the rest of the population.

Cuo­mo — the state’s gov­er­nor since 2011, and heav­i­ly fund­ed by real-estate devel­op­ers — has used his time in office to, among oth­er things, sup­port cor­po­rate tax cuts and veto a bill that would have required the state to fund legal ser­vices for the poor.

Cuomo’s sor­ry record didn’t cost him his job on Thurs­day. But the elec­tion marked a turn­ing point as deci­sive as if Nixon had won. Cuo­mo has said that New York is the alter­na­tive state to Trump’s Amer­i­ca” — a boast that’s most­ly hot air to this point. But a wave of insur­gent pro­gres­sives is about to call Cuomo’s bluff. As the WFP’s Lip­ton not­ed in Thursday’s after­math, he’ll have to deal with some­thing new for him after November.”

That some­thing looks like actu­al pro­gres­sive pol­i­tics — a wel­come change for New York. 

Theo Ander­son is an In These Times con­tribut­ing writer. He has a Ph.D. in mod­ern U.S. his­to­ry from Yale and writes on the intel­lec­tu­al and reli­gious his­to­ry of con­ser­vatism and pro­gres­sivism in the Unit­ed States. Fol­low him on Twit­ter @Theoanderson7.
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