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Faculty Podcast: A Primer on the 2017 NYC Elections


On Nov. 7, New Yorkers will go to the ballot box and choose a mayor. Democrat Bill di Blasio, the current occupant of Gracie Mansion who’s seeking a second term, is being challenged by New York State Assembly Republican Nicole Malliotakis from Staten Island, and Bo Dietl, a retired NYPD detective who is running as an independent.

To better understand the contours of this race and other important issues that will be decided that day, Christina Greer, Ph.D., associate professor of political science, offers some insight and recommendations. Listen here:

And for more on how Greer thinks New York City can make political races more competitive, listen here.

Full transcript below:
Christina Greer on the 2017 NYC Mayoral Election

Patrick Verel: So Bill de Blasio is being challenged by a little known member of the state assembly from Staten Island and a guy whose main talent seems to be the ability to shout everything. How did we get to this point?

Christina Greer: Unfortunately, we don’t have any legitimate Democratic challengers because after de Blasio was sort of cleared on any misdoings with the financial investigations that happened, there were some really legitimate Democrats that decided to wait. And so we know that 2021 will be the most exciting time in New York City that we’ve seen in a very long time because it will be an open seat and that’s when we’ll probably see Scott Stringer, Ruben Diaz, Tish James, depending on where Puerto Rico is, Melissa Mark-Viverito, I mean, it could be so many really dynamic people who jump in, to say nothing about some borough presidents and other city council members and possibly some independently wealthy people. So all of them have decided to take a back seat.

You know, everyone says that this is a Democratic city and there are six to one democrats to every Republican but, keep in mind, we haven’t had a Democrat since Dinkins. We had 20 years of republicans and I know people say well Bloomberg wasn’t really Republican. It’s like he ran as a Republican and he supported a Republican governor so I’m gonna call him a Republican. He’s a different type of Republican than Giuliani but, he’s still a Republican nonetheless. We can’t take for granted that it’s in the bag for de Blasio, I do think that, probability wise, he’s doing very well but I think as November 2016 has shown us, American politics these days, anything can happen because people harbor very secret leanings and don’t necessarily share that with their neighbors.

Dietl, unfortunately, in the era of Trump, is just this loud mouth anti-establishment candidate and I think that some people are really attracted to that and they’re not thinking long term, like, there’s a campaign phase and there’s the governance phase and there are people who are a lot more attractive in a campaigning phase because they say things in a way that seems real and genuine and they’re not part of the gridlock and the deadlock and all these things that frustrate us about our American democracy. But once we get into governance, we actually need smart people. We need people who are even tempered. We need people who you might even consider to be a bit boring. And then as far as Malliotakis is concerned, so many Republicans just don’t feel like this is the time, right, I mean, de Blasio is very strong even though his numbers don’t show that he’s got 80 percent approval, he’s got a pretty strong base and a pretty dedicated base, especially with people of color and poor people and some whites.

So, Malliotakis, actually isn’t … she’s not really part of the establishment. There are lots of people in Staten Island that actually don’t really support her, I mean, they will because she’s a Republican but she’s kind of not one of the boys. I think she’s going down that Trump, or what I would call a Giuliani road, which is to try and tap into fears of white New Yorkers by saying, you know, crime is up and rape is up and she’s trying to thread this needle in a city that has quite a large population of people of color, right, who will soon be a majority in this city, whether she likes it or not. And it’s like, we are the safest city we’ve been in, like, two generations, so the whole everyone’s coming to mug you on the subway doesn’t really resonate.

Patrick Verel: The New York Times recently reported that de Blasio has about I believe a 40 percent lead over Malliotakis. If this holds true on election day, are there any downsides to this sort of lopsided outcome?

Christina Greer: His campaign people are still working really hard as though that lead isn’t the case just because sometimes when your lead is so substantial, it’s hard to raise money. Why would I give you $25 dollars if you’ve got a 40-point lead, right? And so of course, now Malliotakis can say I out raised him during the last quarter so then that sort of starts to change the narrative. Also, when you’re in such a huge lead, you know, there are costs to voting. If you know that he’s up by 40 points and you were going to vote for him but you’ve also got to get your kids to daycare and all these other things, the subway’s running late, well you can say, well, I can skip this election.

Patrick Verel: What issues do you wish he was really challenged on?

Christina Greer: I’ve always said I really wanted him to have a more robust primary. I don’t think this is coming out in the general, per se, but I really want a more decisive conversation about homelessness, affordable housing, transportation, and Rikers. The system of putting homeless people in these hotels that are like $5,000 a month, which is more than most people are paying for rent, that just doesn’t seem smart. It’s unfortunate, it’s real but, it’s not a problem de Blasio created but we have to figure something out. We can’t become a city of just middle class, upper middle class people. And then I know that the MTA is controlled by the Governor but unfortunately the mayor and the governor can’t seem to get along for more than five minutes, there are some things that New York City can do to assist with the infrastructure.

Someone said they need a beer summit. I was like no, they need a Greer Summit, they need to be with my mother for five minutes and she would get to the bottom of all of that. I had an older sister, we fought but my mother never knew about it ‘cause it’s like, oh no, we do not need her involved. And the last one is Rikers and I’ve told the mayor this several times. I was like, ten years? So all these great kids that you’ve put in pre-k, they’ll be in high school by the time Rikers is closed. We gotta figure that out, ten years is just ridiculous especially because we know about some of the atrocities that are happening on that island.

Patrick Verel: Besides the mayoral election, what other important races and issues should New Yorkers be paying attention to this coming November 7th?

Christina Greer: The three provisions on the ballot are incredibly important. Many people have not been paying attention to the big Con Con debate so it’s whether or not we should call a Constitutional Convention. Every 20 years we have the option to call it, we haven’t had one since 1967. Really, it’s a question of can we essentially open up the New York State constitution and drastically alter it. In 2017, we’re voting to say whether or not we’ll have a constitution convention. If we say yes we will then in 2018 we’ll vote for these delegates who will then get paid and, for however long it takes, they will sort of change our whole constitution.

That worries some people just because Albany has some Republican and some democratic leadership. Some people are worried because of who’s in D.C., that could alter some things. Some people are worried that the fact that, yes, many progressive groups want it but also many alt right groups, like the Koch brothers and Mercer, they also want it so it’s like, what are they thinking about because they’ve been looking at state houses and they control 32 or 33 of state houses across the country.

There’s another question about should elected officials who have essentially been ousted from office or charged with a crime, should they lose their pensions and then the last question is about environmental issues and whether or not things like 250 acres should be used for some sort of power lines and power grids that possibly, not definitely, but possibly need to go through this protected land. I feel like the constitutional convention question needs to be thought about a little bit longer and possibly some research for people who are just interested in sort of, okay where do I even start, I would start at

Christina Greer on Making NYC Elections Competitive

Patrick Verel: Some of what we’re seeing right now is de Blasio is doing a well enough job to sort off, he fended off any challengers in the primary, but some of what we’re also witnessing is just we’re sort of in the middle of a period before term limits comes into effect and changes the game for so many different races.

Christina Greer: Right, and I think you’re excited to figure something out, right? Because, we can’t have this sort of, once you get in, you’re guaranteed to be in for eight years. We have elections for a reason. I do think that we still have such a machine politic on so many different Burroughs levels and in neighborhoods.

You know that old saying, Chicago saying, it’s like, “I don’t want nobody who nobody sent”? That’s the way we operate in a lot of ways when people go to these party leaders and say, “I’m interested in getting involved.” And then, “Well who sent you?” Say, “Well no one sent me.” It’s like, “I don’t want nobody who nobody sent.”

Patrick Verel: Nice.

Christina Greer: And I think that we’re still in this moment. And another thing that does worry me is that, because we have term limits in New York City politics and we don’t have term limits in Albany, and because city council members get paid so much more, get paid about 140, a little over 140, and members in Albany get paid about 79-80, I really worry that as these city council members get term-limited up, we’re going to see this seat swapping.

You’re a city council person, you’ve done your eight years, you can’t run again, my district somewhat overlaps your district, I’m in Albany, I don’t really like commuting, but we’ll trade. Right? So I’ll go to the city council, basically for eight years, you’ll go up to Albany for eight years or more, even though you now have to commute and you’re taking a pay cut, you’re still an elected official.

I’m loving it because I don’t have to commute anymore. I did give up “tenure,” but I’m also making 140. Right? And so we’re seeing these horse trading deals on smaller scales, just here and there. We’ve seen it a few times, but I don’t like it. And I think that it sort of sets up this system where when a seat becomes open, that sort of knocks out young people and interesting people and new people who want to be in the political process.

Patrick Verel: When it comes to these races, how do you think we can make them more competitive?

Christina Greer: I don’t know if people are really aware of all the institutional barriers that are on the micro, sort of local, neighborhood level. So for me just to say, “I want to run,” well some of the people who are ahead of you are usually the chief of staff of the outgoing city council person or someone who is very high up in their administration. There’s someone else who is in the queue, who’s been very involved as either a district leader or a community board leader. And so that creates a queue.

Trying to demystify the process for a lot of people is really difficult, but there’s some great organizations who are doing that and there’s some new clubs. The example I’m thinking of are the New Kings Democrats out in Brooklyn. They’re an offshoot of people can really get into the established club that was there, and so it’s like, “You know what? We’ll start our own club and we’ll start supporting candidates who actually aren’t getting the love and attention that they need from the established club.”


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