Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Bill de Blasio : Vision Zero on Dissent and Checks-and-Balances

Dissent is one way for voters to keep a check on the power of Mayor Bill de Blasio's new administration.

No ranking city official can keep a check on New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio keeps repeating that he is a "progressive." It's as if the more times he says it, the more likely voters will believe him without demanding from him the fundamental reforms we voted for in the change election of last November.

Left to his own devices, the mayor will only answer to his small group of political insiders, as he demonstrated with the controversial appointment of William Bratton to succeed Ray Kelly as NYPD police commissioner. Meanwhile, voters have expectations that the mayor will fulfill on his campaign themes of being the anti-Bloomberg mayor. Three top areas where voters are still waiting to see reforms enacted are at the NYPD (such as ending controversial tactics, such as the use of excessive force) ; the provision of adequate funding that will save all of New York City's full-service hospitals ; and ending the corruptive role of money and lobbyists in local elections.

Nobody is asking why, for example, does it seem that under the mayor's new traffic safety plan known as Vision Zero, the mayor seems to want to achieve lower traffic accidents by trading up for more police brutality. The city agencies charged with overseeing investigations into possible wrong-doing by lobbyists, including the lobbying firm The Advance Group, answer in part to the mayor and to City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito -- two officials who have close political ties to The Advance Group. Because of this inherent conflicts of interest such as these, there's no way for the city to regulate lobbyists that do business with elected officials. City government must adopt realistic reforms to restore integrity to campaign finance and to elections. One way to do that, for example, would be for the city to legally challenge the application of Citizens United to local elections. On top of that, true separation of powers and checks-and-balances must exist in city government. Dissent, a form of political speech that is crucial to the full representation of all citizens, is discouraged by the de Blasio-Mark-Viverito administration. After Councilmember Rosie Mendez backed the wrong candidate in the Council speaker race, she was punished by a demotion that stripped her of a committee leadership post. Councilmember Mendez should not be penalized for speaking up for political convictions.

Just this week, the mayor announced that he will allow uniformed city employees to march in the discriminatory St. Patrick's Day parade, even though the parade organizers discriminate against LGBT participants. Allowing city employees to mark in their uniforms lends the city's approval to the anti-LGBT discrimination by the parade, and it allows city employees, notably firefighters and police offices, to propagandize the parade with official presence. Separately, LGBT groups have begun protesting against the controversial new police commissioner -- even though he serves a "progressive" mayor ! To LGBT New Yorkers, their experience of police attitudes remains today eerily similar to the harsh attitudes of the last police commissioner. Even on the day of his ceremonial inauguration, Mayor de Blasio was the subject of a protest by members of the AIDS advocacy group ACT UP over his refusal to meet with activists to create a city-wide AIDS agenda. And New York City community hospitals remain in dire straits, the same as they did under the previous mayor, conditions for which Mayor de Blasio previously faulted former Mayor Michael Bloomberg. There is no oversight or call for accountability for the new mayor to address the issues that he is neglecting.

Everybody, including the federal prosecutor, is looking to the media for help to keep elected officials accountable. But one major reporter admitted that the media did not fully scrutinize the mayor during last year's campaign. Who can keep the mayor accountable ? Voters can.

Already, one group of activists have formed a protest group, New Yorkers Against Bratton. If you want to organize to increase political pressure on the mayor and the NYPD commissioner to adopt meaningful police reforms, this is a great group to join. Some police reforms that remain outstanding include recommendations made by the NYCLU following the massive 2003 anti-war protest and the 2004 Republic National Convention.

Voters need to be proactive about getting informed on issues, staying involved with government, and demanding the reforms they thought that they were voting for in the last election. If no ranking city official will dissent from the mayor's blatant power grabs, then the voters must come forward and express their displeasure. Dissent is one way to keep a check on the new administration's power.

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