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Collective Impact

April 21, 2015

“We simply feel that the primary role of city government — not the secondary role, not the tertiary goal, (but) our primary goal — is to advance equity…” NYC Deputy Mayor Richard Buery.

We read this quote in a Daily News article and were surprised by it. Our gut response was to say: Isn’t the first priority of the mayor’s office to ensure that trash is picked up, the sidewalks are shoveled and the streets patrolled?  Isn’t the second priority to promote economic development – the rationale being that a good job is always the best social policy? And the third priority, isn’t it to do your best to keep the raucous, disparate city from chaos and to be a champion of the quintessential New York spirit that we’re all in it together?

The notion that the administration of any one city, even a large and influential city like New York, would identify income inequality as the most important problem facing society and endeavor to “advance equity” threw us. And the first thing we did was look up Richard Buery wondering about the experience level of a person who would say such a thing.  But when you do that, you can’t help being wowed. Mr. Buery has an amazing resume. Son of immigrant parents. Harvard alum. Former teacher. Founder of a non-profit mentoring organization. Yale Law School grad.  Leader of the Children’s Aid Society.

This is a person who has devoted himself to the cause of social justice. This is the person who thinks of himself as “deputy mayor for collective impact.” You can listen to several recent speeches by Buery on Youtube. He’s passionate, articulate and unmistakably in it for the right reasons – to help people.

Now, in the back of our minds, we know that if we ever met Mr. Buery, we’d end up differing with him about what’s realistically possible for government to do, but we’d still admire him.  We mean that. We’re not being cynical. Think about it: When is the last time you ran across someone in government with a consistent political philosophy that is rooted in a love of the people? Cuomo?  His biographer just called him a pragmatic misanthrope.  Bloomberg? He was a corporate technocrat. Paterson? He seemed more interested in having a good time. Spitzer?  He was packaged as a populist, but was an elitist. And Pataki?  He had a political philosophy – several of them.

But with current New York City administration you have a group of true progressives. It’s Buery and, of course, it’s DeBlasio. Yes, we’ve been critical of him in the past, but we now believe that his activism is, or at least can be, legit. It’s risky, very risky for him in that he’s going to get into a lot of trouble if there’s evidence that he’s neglecting the duties we described above. But damn, having an idealist in office is cool.

Reality check: No, DeBlasio’s new progressivism isn’t supported by a large percentage of the population. In this regard, we wrote previously that self-identified conservatives actually outnumber self-identified liberals.  That said, we trust our gut on something.

It’s possible that DeBlasio succeeds. He could become a national progressive leader and he could become a popular and effective mayor. But it depends on two things. First, he has to have some degree of “cool.”  Can he overcome his awkwardness? Can he project strength? Can he make a persuasive and practical case for progressivism? We don’t know for sure.

The second thing is this: Is he competent?  Can he run the city well? We hope so, but we don’t know for sure and there is some cause for alarm. He’s not seeing this right now, but eventually he will be forced to do so: It’s not enough to get a few progressive wins. Expanding Pre-K and affordable housing simply won’t matter if crime spikes and city services decline.

In the end, most people in New York, let alone the nation, simply aren’t going to buy into the notion that “income inequality is the defining issue of our time,” but lot of people, including many moderates, might come to respect and support DeBlasio’s for his idealism – so long as it’s coupled with real competence in office.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    April 21, 2015 1:42 PM

    Red Bill is a communist. He is to the EXTREME left of the progressives. I wish the people of NYC a long and extremely miserable life under his leadership. Given enough time he’ll turn the city over to the criminals and malcontents and eventually the Big Apple will become an open garbage pit.

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