Thursday, March 25, 2010

Progressive Caucus Gaps

The two co-chairs of the new city council Progressive Caucus lay out their agenda in the Nation (Via Liz)-and there are some high notes that they hit: "The divide between Wall Street and the rest of New York predates the economic downturn. While the economy was booming, New York City largely failed to share the benefits of growth across lines of race, class and neighborhood. The Bloomberg administration's economic development policy focused on real estate development, subsidizing mega-deals to create luxury housing for the wealthiest and retail malls with mostly low-wage jobs."

The Bloombergistas do need to be challenged for their edifice complex-and their failure to address the impact of their mega-development policies on neighborhood quality of life. And one part of that challenge, not mentioned in the Lander-Mark-Viverito manifesto, is the need to reform the entire ULURP process so that there is more accountability. We believe that this is merely an oversight-and that the Caucus will get involved in not only this needed reform measure but also the issue of community benefits agreements that has been taken up by Comptroller Liu.

On the other hand, a real missing piece that needs to be added to the Caucus world view is the need to bolster and nurture small business-and if it does, then the tension between helping these entrepreneurs thrive in NYC and the urge to grow government services has to be resolved: "Today, as we struggle with continued foreclosures, an anemic economy and the large deficits facing the city and state, we hear constant calls for fiscal austerity--to balance the budget on the backs of those most in need, slashing child care and senior centers, laying off teachers and pushing families into homelessness by eliminating subsidies."

Well, if businesses-particularly those neighborhood retailers that are the engine for the local economy-are hurting and tax revenues are down, where will the money come from to do what the Caucus leaders want? And then there's the issue of the cost of living in the city-driven by the high tax environment in the town.

If you go to the various civic associations around town you'll hear cries about too much government and property tax hike and out-of-control water bills. Here is yet another tension between laudable Caucus goals and economic and political reality. Because if we further increase these costs to try to take care of the less fortunate we run the risk of golden goose killing.

It is at just this juncture that the compatibility between right and left wing populism becomes strained. Home owners and small business is right with the Caucus on the dangers of mega-development and the aggrandizement of the real estate elites-but the lack of genuine concern for property rights, and the recognition that these rights benefit a legion of small neighborhood homeowners as well as the hated landlords and real estate tycoons, leads the Caucus into a political cul du sac pitting the middle class against the enlarge-the-government progressive agenda.

Finding a way to bridge this gap should be a primary goal for this new caucus-and ending eminent domain abuse is one bridge that's not too far since it links neighborhoods, small business and the progressives' disdain for mega development. Adding this to their agenda would broaden the progressive base and strengthen their effort to create a more equitable political culture.