- Outgoing New York Ciy Mayor Bill de Blasio ran as a progressive.
- But his record on criminal justice — from closing Rikers Island to defending the NYPD — shows he's anything but a progressive.
- So farewell de Blasio, and good riddance.
- This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
Farewell Bill de Blasio, the progressive we never knew, and good riddance.
As the outgoing New York City mayor's second term nears its end, he leaves office with the city in the middle of a humanitarian crisis. This year alone, 14 people have died at Rikers Island, the city's infamous jail. People there are not guilty of anything,they are being held pre-trial and simply can't afford bail. They suffer violence and medical neglect amplified by a pandemic.
Recently, de Blasio also issued an executive order authorizing indefinite solitary comment in New York City jails. Solitary confinement is a form of psychological torture and the UN condemns such confinement lasting longer than two weeks. The mayor's move backtracks from his earlier commitments to criminal justice reform and is an about-face from his rhetoric in June to end solitary confinement.
While this shouldn't be a surprise, I have to ask what, exactly, happened to the man who campaigned as a police reformer and the enemy of stop-and-frisk? The mayor came into office on a progressive platform, pledged to champion overlooked communities and curtail police tactics that had disproportionately targeted Black and Hispanic residents. Many people came to this administration full of enthusiasm, but that hope diminished quickly, as he showed reluctance to use his political capital to push for changes, while dashing hopes for real change among progressives.
De Blasio only talked the talk
If ever there was an early sign of what De Blasio's tenure would become, it would be his very first police commissioner: William Bratton. Bratton is a cop's cop who held the role under the infamously anti-democratic Rudy Giuliani. He reaffirmed the city's commitment to the "broken windows theory" of enforcement, the failed policing strategy which holds that aggressively policing low-level offenses will root out larger ones.
And that was just the beginning of de Blasio's about face on justice reform. De Blasio followed his more conservative predecessors in reflexively defending the cops in a moment of crisis, going from campaign speeches railing against racist police tactics to defending the NYPD's violent crackdown on protests over the last year.
"I do believe the NYPD has acted appropriately," the mayor said on May 31, 2020, the night a pair of police cruisers lurched into a crowd of protesters. A self-defined progressive mayor elected on a promise to reduce police racism defending cop cars ramming into protestors exemplifies his disappointing tenure.
In the last year alone, de Blasio has expanded the NYPD's budget, criticized protestors, refused to end solitary confinement, and has long resisted the grassroots movement to close the Rikers Island prison complex. De Blasio has also expanded the city's collaboration with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and demonized new bail reforms aimed at keeping thousands of people out of jail.
At times of crisis, you see who people really are. De Blasio has taken credit for court-ordered reforms that followed a settlement in the stop-and-frisk lawsuit. He has also claimed responsibility for falling crime rates that have been on a downward slope for decades.
It will be hard for him to undo the harm he has caused in the next two months, but De Blasio Still has the power to end the use of solitary in New York jails and close Rikers Island.
We are far from New York City being a beacon of progressive leadership. De Blasio has lacked the moral clarity and political courage to guide the city through meaningful change, failing to deliver the justice, accountability and safety he had promised all New Yorkers — in particular people of color.