Tuesday's election results suggest that by taking on a third term, Mayor Bloomberg is putting his legacy at risk. Clearly his support is eroding -- Bloomberg got fewer votes than he did in 2005. As my colleague Amy points out, times are tough and voters are reacting accordingly. Unemployment has hit the city's African American population especially hard, with unemployment rates four times higher than other groups. Not surprisingly, less than one in four African Americans voted for Bloomberg.
But Bloomberg's economic problems go back to before the recession. The real reason for voters' disillusionment with the mayor is that even during the boom years, many New Yorkers saw their wages stagnate while their housing prices escalated. Under Bloomberg, New York saw extraordinary growth, but that growth was far from equitable. The coalition One City/One Future points out that for most New Yorkers, hourly wages have actually declined, even during the boom years. At the same time, New Yorkers at the upper end of the income ladder saw their wages skyrocket.
Bloomberg failed to win the majority of votes in Brooklyn and the Bronx, and these defeats represent some of the larger failures of his administration. Brooklyn experienced rapid development, growth, and transformation under Bloomberg's watch. But many Brooklynites were not invited to the party. Instead, they were displaced from their homes, saw luxury developments rise that they could not even dream of being able to afford to live in, and saw good paying jobs vanish.
The Bronx also saw some new development, though not on the same scale as Brooklyn. The boom years mostly passed the Bronx by; its residents are still among the poorest in the country. Millions of public dollars were used to build a new Yankee Stadium, but South Bronx residents didn't benefit from the deal, they just saw their parks vanish. The Bronx also has a new, fortress-like mall, inhospitable to neighborhood residents without access to a car (58 percent of Bronx households do not own a car). Instead of economic opportunity, they get minimum-wage jobs.
New York City will likely experience another period of growth before Bloomberg's next term is over. When it comes, there is much that the mayor can do to make sure that the next period of growth is equitable. Wages have been stagnating? Well, why not do what San Francisco has done: enact a city-wide minimum wage law? Luxury developments are pushing out long-time neighborhood residents? Again, let's look at how San Francisco requires 15 percent of all new housing units to be affordable. We're losing high-quality jobs? Let's protect the city's remaining manufacturing jobs. Some will argue that these types of policies will hurt the city's economy, that they are bad for business. This simply isn't true. What is bad for business is entrenched poverty.
The good news for all New Yorkers is that Bloomberg will be able to continue to remake the city's streets, to take them back from automobiles and give them to the people. New parks, like the world-class-in-the-making Brooklyn Bridge Park will continue without delay. The mayor's ambitious and laudable plan for affordable housing will also continue.
The good news for progressives and Thompson supporters is that if Bloomberg wants to leave office in four years with a solid legacy, he will need to start worrying about something called "equality."
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