For the first time in a decade, democratic politicians have a majority in the New York State Senate, opening up the opportunity for more progressive policies. Powerhouses of the New York City political scene convened at NYU’s Jerry H. Labowitz Theater for Performing Arts to discuss the future of progressivism on Wednesday.
The “Navigating the City/State Divide: What’s Next for Progressive Elected Officials?” event was hosted by the Urban Democracy Lab and Metropolitics journal. The panel included major players in New York’s progressive scene including Council Member Carlos Menchaca, State Senator Zellnor Myrie and Fordham University law professor Zephyr Teachout — who ran for Attorney General late last year.
University of Virginia Law Professor Richard Schragger moderated the panel. Schragger, who wrote the book City Power: Urban Governance in a Global Age, suggested that local government could be key in advancing progressive ideals.
“There is lots of room for experimentation at the local level,” Schragger said. “The benefit of city government is that it is a fruitful place to pursue innovative solutions to problems that we don’t have solutions to yet.”
Panelists discussed how they navigate political waters and negotiations with the state government to push for progressive legislation. In turn, they hope that programs they create in New York will spread to other parts of the nation, a concept described as local progressivism.
NYU Gallatin School of Individualized Study alumna Isabeaux Kennedy Mitton attended the panel to hear how progressive elected officials planned to keep the momentum going after their successful campaigns. She said she was motivated when she saw how local progressivism could have a significant impact on state and national politics.
“I wasn’t an active citizen until I realized how much legislation can be passed at the local level and how that can trickle up to Albany,” Mitton said. “Then New York State can be like ‘hey America, we’re passing progressive legislation.’”
Senator Myrie said local officials often face roadblocks from the state when bringing progressive bills to the table, encouraging them to push harder for their legislation.
“Constitutionally, cities are just creatures of the state,” Senator Myrie said during the discussion. “We have a role certainly as legislators from the city to be standing up for the city.”
The panelists discussed recent successes at the local level such as beginning to issue municipal IDs and raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Gianpaolo Baiocchi, the Director of the Urban Democracy Lab at Gallatin, was eager to host this discussion to inspire NYU activists and students to get involved at a hyper-local level.
“I want us all to have a more expansive sense of what is possible at the local level and to be inspired to be active on these issues while pushing our elected officials,” Baiocchi said. “I hope the next Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is in the audience.”
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