Politics & Policy

The Mugger

The last time a man of Bill de Blasio’s political bent was entrusted with the mayoralty of New York, the city experienced 2,000 murders a year, anti-Jewish riots, economic stagnation, and a general sense of ungovernability. Unhappily, New York City Democrats are preparing to make Mr. de Blasio their candidate for mayor, which, the city’s politics being what they are, and none of the Republican contenders being as charismatic as Rudy Giuliani or as rich as Michael Bloomberg, would make him the presumptive frontrunner.

The far-left element, never far from the surface of the city’s Democratic party, has experienced a generation of frustration: No professing Democrat has occupied the mayor’s office since Rudolph Giuliani was inaugurated on New Year’s Day of 1994, and this period of Democratic exclusion from Gracie Mansion has been one of dramatic improvement for the city — economically, socially, and, above all, in terms of law and order. But the Left has been to a large extent watching the action from the outside, and there is a great deal of pent-up demand for punitive politics on the David Dinkins model. Mr. de Blasio has promised to satisfy that demand in full.

#ad#The centerpiece of Mr. de Blasio’s campaign agenda is a mugging — a multibillion-dollar forcible wealth transfer from New York taxpayers to the public-sector unions that constitute the backbone of the city’s Democratic machine. This will take the form of half a billion dollars a year in new taxes on certain high-income New Yorkers, to be spent on kindergarten, day care, and after-school activities. Never mind that there is scant evidence, to the extent that there is evidence at all, that such programs improve in any meaningful way the education of students — and never mind that in New York City, education spending already is up some 52.7 percent (adjusted for inflation) over what it was when Mayor Bloomberg was elected. The money will go to Democrat-affiliated public-sector employees, which is enough for the Democrats. And the Left cares just as much about where the money comes from — in this case, from New Yorkers earning $500,000 a year or more. The politics involved are pure resentment-driven, Occupy-style hate.

Mr. de Blasio’s wealth-transfer agenda is in fact unlikely ever to come to pass; Albany would need to sign off on those tax hikes, and probably would hesitate to do so. But purely as an instrument of communication, Mr. de Blasio’s proposal is sure to be effective, its unmistakable message to businesses and investors — “Not Welcome” — plain for all to see. The destructiveness of this message is difficult to overstate.

Changes in technology and business practices over the past two decades mean that financial firms, the source of most of those high-paying jobs, have no pressing need to be physically located in lower Manhattan. An office on Wall Street has mainly symbolic rather than instrumental value. Competing financial centers, such as nearby Stamford, Conn., or Charlotte, N.C. — to say nothing of London, Singapore, or Sydney — would be only too happy to absorb those highly paid workers and the already substantial tax revenue they generate. The obvious analogue here is Los Angeles and the movie and television businesses, which have been driven to greener pastures by California’s punitive taxes and regulations. New York City is simply not a going concern without the financial industry at the heart of its economy.

So much for the de Blasio agenda. What of de Blasio per se? New York is a place where people come to invent themselves, which is what Mr. de Blasio, formerly Warren Wilhelm of Cambridge, Mass., has done. He entered politics as a volunteer on the Dinkins campaign before serving as an aide in the Dinkins administration, and he met his wife while working for Team Dinkins. Outside of that world, he is a stranger. He has less-impressive private-sector experience than do many students applying for summer internships, his career having consisted mainly of stints as a minor figure in the administration of Bill Clinton and in the Senate campaign of Hillary Clinton, along with elected offices.

He currently serves as the city’s “public advocate,” meaning roughly “tribune of the plebs,” an obscure office with little in the way of real responsibility or influence. He has made minor crusades out of defending the Section 8 housing program and looking after the rights of transgendered tenants. His most notable success was stopping a plan to expand taxi service with new cabs that would serve the outer boroughs — thus making life less convenient and more expensive for New Yorkers outside of Manhattan, for which he was richly thanked by the cab cartel. And he has been the most severe critic among the Democratic mayoral candidates of “stop and frisk,” a policing tool that has been an invaluable part of New York’s impressive reduction in crime.

His main appeal to the Left is that he is so impeccably Park Slope. He earnestly says things such as: “I am very proud of the fact that my wife and I have raised two vegetarians.” He makes a point of mentioning that his children have attended public schools, and the impressive afro of his mixed-race son has become a sort of campaign rallying point. Not quite fitting this narrative is his wife’s time at Citigroup, where she worked for CEO Chuck Prince, financial archvillain in the minds of the sort of people who vote for men like Bill de Blasio.

In sum, he is a would-be class warrior whose life in Park Slope was partly financed by Citigroup, whose résumé is thin, whose highest-profile job saw him overseeing an agency with a budget smaller than that of a typical Walgreens, who is — thank heavens — unlikely to even begin to accomplish the centerpiece of his agenda, but who has made brilliant if cynical use of his two attractive children in campaign commercials. Rustle up a couple of squeegee men and we’ll know how this story ends.

The Editors — The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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