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Why We Are Launching the New York City Council Progressive Caucus

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On Wall Street bonuses are back. Bolstered by a government bailout in the hundreds of billions, New York City's financial sector is once again riding high. But just off of Wall Street, neighborhoods across New York City are struggling to pull out of an economic crisis that has left too many New Yorkers without jobs or homes - a crisis largely rooted in speculative real-estate investments that saw our neighborhoods as commodities to be packaged by investment banks.

The divide between Wall Street and the rest of New York predates the economic downturn. While the economy was booming, New York City largely failed to share the benefits of growth across lines of race, class, and neighborhood. The Bloomberg Administration's economic development policy focused on real estate development, subsidizing mega-deals to create luxury housing for the wealthiest and retail malls with mostly low-wage jobs. We passed up too many opportunities to invest in more diverse sectors, or to improve job quality for the millions of New Yorkers facing poverty even while working.

Today, as we struggle with continued foreclosures, an anemic economy, and large deficits facing the city and state, we hear constant calls for fiscal austerity - to balance the budget on the backs of those most in need, slashing child care and senior centers, laying off teachers, and pushing families into homelessness by eliminating subsidies.

We disagree. We believe that New Yorkers want a more just, more equal city. We believe that as we work our way out of this crisis, New York City can and must plan a recovery that looks to narrow the growing economic divide.

Last fall New Yorkers spoke loud and clear at the polls, sweeping progressive Democrats into office in City Council and citywide elections. Today, a dozen of us are forming the New York City Council Progressive Caucus - to work as an organized group of policy-makers committed to the idea that now is the time to renew New York City's historic commitment to policies that expand opportunity.

At so many points in our history, New York has chosen to invest in public infrastructure, job creation, better working conditions, and stronger neighborhoods. We created the nation's first and best public transportation system, established the first building and zoning codes, and launched public works programs that built everything from public swimming pools to airports to health clinics to affordable housing. We partnered with unions to insure not only a more equal share of the fruits of our labor, but a city where working-class families could find neighborhoods that offered decent public services and a good place to raise a family.

In recent years, however, other cities have done more to blaze a progressive trail. In Los Angeles, the primary goals of the economic development agency are to create living-wage jobs for residents of low-income neighborhoods, and to nurture sustainable communities. Boston and Denver and London and Barcelona require that all new housing developments include affordable units. San Francisco requires that all workers have at least five paid sick days, so they don't have to go to work when they're sick, putting themselves, their families, and the public at risk.

Mayor Bloomberg has taken some good steps in recent years - promoting environmental sustainability, combating illegal guns, advancing public health - and we are proud of those places where the New York City Council has partnered with him in these efforts.

But in key respects, he has fallen short. The Bloomberg Administration has done little to confront inequality, preferring instead a trickle-down economic approach. And the Mayor has frequently undermined grassroots democracy, by extending term limits and mayoral power, instead of seeking to partner with New Yorkers in developing solutions.

We are forming the New York City Council Progressive Caucus to confront both of those gaps. We will combat inequality head-on, building on what other cities have done, to help create a new economy that offers good jobs, thriving communities, and a healthy environment for all. And we'll do it by involving New Yorkers across lines of race, class, and neighborhood in conversation and action about the direction of our city.

Brad Lander (D-Brooklyn) and Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Manhattan/Bronx) are the co-chairs of the New York City Council's new Progressive Caucus. Other members of the Progressive Caucus are Annabel Palma, from the Bronx; Letitia James and Jumaane D. Williams, from Brooklyn; Margaret Chin, Rosie Mendez and Ydanis Rodriguez, from Manhattan; Daniel Dromm, Julissa Ferreras and Jimmy Van Bramer, from Queens; and Deborah Rose, from Staten Island.

Cross-posted at the Nation.