I recently interviewed one of the country’s unabashed progressive leaders, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio. Our discussion ranged from Ronald Reagan’s legacy to the failures of contemporary Democrats to stand up for their values. “We have an income inequality crisis in this country that will endanger the future of the entire United States of America,” de Blasio told me. We present here the first in a series of clips from that interview. (Full transcript here.)
Capital & Main: Do you see risk in Democrats running away from a populist progressive agenda?
Mayor Bill de Blasio: Absolutely. I think the biggest development we saw [in the midterm election] was Democrats not standing up for the ideals of the Democratic Party, not talking to the economic realities of our people, not being willing to offer real progressive solutions. I think there’s another model of Democrats who actually addressed these issues, who were willing to take on big corporations, who were willing to challenge the status quo, who were willing to ask those who are wealthy to pay their fair share, who were willing to talk about how we create living wage jobs and better benefits….
People are looking for answers to what is now a fundamental structural economic crisis. The middle class has been collapsing, people’s earning power has been declining rapidly…. I love that the conventional wisdom [about the recent election] is about a conservative tidal wave.
To say that Ed Wytkind likes to talk about America’s epic failure to invest in transportation is akin to saying that Pauline Kael enjoyed critiquing films or that Christopher Hitchens was fond of writing political commentary. Because Wytkind, who heads the AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department and will be honored next month at the L.A. Alliance for a New Economy’s City of Justice Awards, lives and breathes transportation, and is determined to bring the issue front and center in the national conversation.
Wytkind, one of the country’s leading advocates for long-term investment in such things as mass transit and air travel modernization, offers a powerful case that the future of America’s economy is inextricably linked with our decision to either fund or starve our transit systems. And he can be a fierce critic of Congressional inaction on such priorities as full of funding Amtrak and repair of the nation’s neglected highways and bridges.
Like most political junkies, I have been so focused on the recent election – national, statewide and local – that I have not been thinking much further. But the vicissitudes of politics always bring me back to the core issues. Once the up and down results are in, I remember again that the electoral process amounts to only a part of what makes a democracy work.
Yes, we must have listening and sympathetic ears among those elected to office. Yes, it helps to have people from the margins brought into the arenas of decision making and sitting in the rooms where deals get made. But without advocates for the issues that matter, however much money gets spent and whoever is elected remains irrelevant.
My loneliest moment as an elected official came about three months into my first term as a member of the Santa Monica City Council. We were deciding on development projects one at a time because we had scrapped the laissez faire rules,