In January, only five percent of New Yorkers said Mayor Bill de Blasio would make the best president out of a selection of prominent New York politicians. De Blasio’s approval rating is also fairly low, at 43 percent this past December. However, a quick look at the mayor’s record might leave some wondering why, as most of his policies are progressive and generally beneficial to the city. Nevertheless, de Blasio is fundamentally out of touch with the concerns of most New Yorkers. Most importantly, he seems to be set in his ways and indifferent to his critics; this inflexibility is his greatest flaw. It has contributed to great dissatisfaction with government among the public, which manifests in low voter turnout. Ultimately, de Blasio’s administration reveals an important lesson about governance: a progressive platform is only viable if it meets the most critical needs of the constituency.
The mayor’s defense of his reforms to the city’s ferry system highlights his removed disposition. The project includes more than $500 million worth of spending on the ferry, which has been met with criticism — especially in light of crumbling bus and train infrastructure. The mayor appeared defensive when questioned about the proposal and cited how beneficial the improvements would be to those who depended on the ferry in their commute. On average, 13,400 people use the city’s ferry system daily, which equals fewer than five million rides per year — a million lower than the number of people that use the subway daily.
This deliberate misallocation of resources into a project that does not benefit the vast majority of New Yorkers represents de Blasio’s inability to effectively govern. While the project isn’t inherently negative, it takes away potential resources to fix more prevalent issues at hand and provides no practical solution for them. And while there is something to be said about the complexity of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the inherent difficulty of legitimate reform, de Blasio’s attempt at being a visionary comes off like inadequacy and indifference.
De Blasio’s disposition is overshadowed only by New Yorkers’ dissatisfaction with electoral politics — in the most recent mayoral election, only 24 percent of New Yorkers voted, two percent less than in the previous election. Similarly, the 2019 New York City Public Advocate special election had a voter turnout of only nine percent. This is in sharp contrast to the record-setting midterm elections nationwide, which saw a national turnout of 49 percent. Nevertheless, the Public Advocate race — New York’s most recent election — was unique and gave the city something to look forward to. It featured a range of progressive candidates, each with distinct and interesting policy goals. Most importantly, each candidate seemed to learn from de Blasio’s mistakes and focused their campaigns on issues that were important to their voters.
Ultimately, the Public Advocate election gives us some hope, but the low turnout should be noted. A range of candidates is good, but only if it inspires and invigorates the electorate. As de Blasio looks beyond the city, and as the city looks beyond him, the only thing that’s certain is change. In a moment of national uncertainty, hopefully this can be the time for positive change and the reincorporation of alienated New Yorkers into the political sphere.
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A version of this article appeared in the Monday, March 25th, 2019, print edition. Email Cole Stallone at [email protected]