Politics & Policy

ACORN Is Baaack

And, in Bill de Blasio, it has a candidate for New York City mayor.

Twenty years ago, the mayoral victory of Rudy Giuliani represented a repudiation of the dysfunctional left-wing machine that had previously run New York City. Taxpayers, parents in failing schools, residents of crime-ridden neighborhoods, and job creators have all benefited from the tough reforms Giuliani implemented — and his successor Michael Bloomberg largely implemented —  in the years after that sea-change election.

But this November, the Left looks ready to storm back into New York’s City Hall in the person of Bill de Blasio — who, back in the days when he served as an aide to David Dinkins, Giuliani’s Democratic predecessor, proudly said he was an advocate of “democratic socialism.” 

And that wasn’t just a throwaway line. Throughout his entire career, de Blasio has shown an affinity for, and has been in alliance with, extreme left-wing groups. Take ACORN, the community-organizing group whose employees were convicted for voter-registration fraud during the 2008 presidential campaign. The group collapsed in 2009 after a series of undercover tapes showed its employees in Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and Brooklyn giving advice on how to hide prostitution activities and cheat the tax system. Earlier that year, de Blasio had won ACORN’s endorsement for his bid to jump from his perch as a two-term city council member from Brooklyn to become the city-wide public advocate, a job he then used to run for mayor this year.

The New York Daily News has documented the close “give-get” relationship between ACORN and de Blasio. After ACORN’s 2009 endorsement, de Blasio spent nearly $43,000 in campaign money to hire an ACORN affiliate, N.Y. Citizen Services, Inc., for “field staff” and “canvassing.” He also spent over $67,000 to hire the for-profit campaign-consulting arm of the far-left Working Families Party. WFP was founded in part by New York ACORN and shared office space and volunteers with it.

De Blasio also funneled taxpayer money to ACORN during his time as a New York City councilman. The Daily News reported that de Blasio “sponsored or co-sponsored a total of $115,000 in taxpayer dollars for ACORN and an affiliate,” ostensibly to counsel low-income people on tax returns and foreclosures.  

Back in 2009, Dick Dadey of the nonpartisan watchdog Citizens Union argued that the association between ACORN and de Blasio “doesn’t look good.” No kidding. It involved ACORN endorsing de Blasio, its affiliates then being hired by his campaign, and then, after the election, ACORN itself getting taxpayer funding sponsored by de Blasio.

After the devastating videos tarnishing ACORN surfaced, the U.S. Congress, the Census Bureau, and New York’s Democratic governor David Paterson all ended cooperation with the group. But de Blasio sent a letter reaffirming his support for ACORN, merely calling for an audit of the taxpayer largesse the group had benefited from. The swift collapse of the group meant that a truly independent audit was never conducted, but a separate probe of the national ACORN office uncovered the embezzlement of nearly $1 million from the group by a brother of ACORN’s president — a fact that ACORN officials decided to conceal from their own board. “ACORN was rotten to the core, and anyone with any sense should have seen its problems coming,” Marcel Reid, an ACORN board member who was forced out after she asked too many questions, told me in 2009. 

Well, it appears that the characters behind ACORN in New York have a new lease on political life with de Blasio’s primary victory for mayor. The New York Post reports that, according to a Democratic insider, ACORN had long sought to put de Blasio into the mayor’s office. “Without exaggeration, ACORN’s long-range plan since 2001 was to elect de Blasio mayor,” the insider said. “De Blasio was a big ACORN project.”

A key ally of de Blasio’s is Bertha Lewis, who was CEO of national ACORN at the time of its collapse and a co-founder of the Working Families Party. On primary-election night earlier this month, she stood on stage next to de Blasio and told interviewers: “We’re baaaack. The right wing will have to deal with it.”

De Blasio told the Post he’s proud to stand with Lewis. “Bertha Lewis is one of the city’s most passionate and effective progressive leaders, and I’m proud to have worked with her for years,” he said.

When NRO’s Alec Torres asked Lewis how often she meets with de Blasio, she said the encounters have become much more frequent since his mayoral campaign got under way. “We used to meet every month, along with other folks, to talk about issues and strategy, and the structure of the campaign, and outreach, and constituents, and get-out-the-vote,” Lewis said. “We met a lot of times during the primary.”

Certainly Lewis and de Blasio are on the same page when it comes to the issues. De Blasio wants to place a moratorium on the nesting of non-union charter schools within existing public schools and has recommended making existing charters pay rent — a potentially crippling blow to their continued existence. Lewis’s other priorities — more taxes on upper-income New Yorkers, a higher minimum wage, and a dramatic expansion of public housing — are also shared by de Blasio.

New York’s mayor isn’t charged with official foreign-policy duties, but de Blasio clearly has a weakness for associating with foreign left-wing tyrants. In 2002, he joined the city council’s most left-wing members in a City Hall ceremony honoring Robert Mugabe, the corrupt Marxist strongman who runs Zimbabwe. The New York Times has reported on his 1980s romance with the Marxist Sandinista government of Nicaragua, which included a ten-day trip to distribute food and medicine. To this day, he speaks glowingly of the “really inspirational” blend of “youthful energy and idealism” that the Sandinistas brought to the goal of “trying to figure out what would [make their society] work better.” The corruption-riddled Sandinistas were thrown out of office in 1990, which may explain why, when de Blasio married in 1994, he had to honeymoon in Castro’s Cuba to find the right ideological ambience. His decision of a honeymoon locale was not a light one — he had to violate the U.S. ban on travel to Cuba.

As someone who remembers what New York was like under David Dinkins, I find it very unsettling to see a former Dinkins aide campaigning to carry on his legacy. Nothing good will come from handing New York back to a left-wing wrecking crew.

A de Blasio victory in November would also embolden the far Left nationally. The revelation that de Blasio was an active supporter of the “Central American solidarity movement” and also an “outspoken opponent of nuclear power” when he was in high school “should hugely excite the progressive base in New York politics after a long period of Republican rule,” said Tom Hayden, the radical co-founder of the 1960s group Students for a Democratic Society, in the Huffington Post. “De Blasio did not leave his radical youth behind; today, he is a leading critic of stop-and-frisk and the massive economic inequalities dramatized by Occupy Wall Street.”

New York may be on the verge of electing a truly radical mayor. There should be a great deal more debate about what Bill de Blasio stands for and who the friends and allies are that he would sweep into office with him.

— John Fund is national-affairs columnist for NRO.

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