Photo: Nitin Mukul
Welcome to the latest edition of this NYC election-focused newsletter. I’m independent journalist Felipe De La Hoz, and this week we’re going to look forward a little bit, to some interesting and big-ticket city legislative debates that have yet to be resolved and may end up getting punted to our next City Council when it takes office next year. The outgoing Council has been rather prolific, enacting a variety of progressive agenda items in the last year, including raising the cap on street vendors, guaranteeing a citywide right to counsel for low-income tenants, and forcing the NYPD to reveal and justify its arsenal of surveillance technologies.
The incoming Council is expected to be even more progressive, setting it up for a bit of a showdown with likely incoming mayor Eric Adams, a cautious centrist who has espoused some progressive ideas while urging moderation and ridiculing slogans like Defund the Police. That will set some of these issues up as potentially contentious political conversations going into the next year. This is only a small sampling, but these are some policy proposals you should expect to hear more about in 2022.
Always an emotional issue, as it sits at the intersection of a number of charged subjects: immigration, voting rights, community empowerment, the very structure of the electorate. With a supermajority in the Council (34 co-sponsors as of now), Int. 1867-2020 is set for a Council-wide hearing sometime this month. In essence, the legislation would permit legal permanent residents and other New York City noncitizens with work authorization—certain students, work visa holders, people with Temporary Protected Status, DACA recipients, and others—to vote in municipal elections. This includes the three citywide elected positions—mayor, comptroller, and public advocate—City Council, and borough presidents (district attorneys would be excluded as technically they’re state elections). The numbers here are large: it’s estimated that around 900,000 New Yorkers might be newly eligible to vote, or more than the entire population of San Francisco.
Various efforts to pass this municipal bill have come and gone, torpedoed by, among other things, the Trump era knocking voting rights down a few rungs in the hierarchy of imminent concerns for the city’s immigrant communities. Advocates are now confident that the bill has a path to becoming law by the end of this year, but it’s not a path without obstacles. Among the biggest is current Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has repeatedly come out against the bill or declined to commit to signing it. If it does get punted to next year, the more conservative Adams might surprisingly be a better ally, given that he has explicitly called for its passage. (If you want to read more about this issue, I wrote about it for New York Magazine).
Despite his early domination of the press coverage, Andrew Yang’s mayoral campaign kind of spectacularly flamed out toward the end of the primary period, in part owing to a lack of evolution in his policy planks. One idea that did catch on with a relatively broad spectrum of the political field, factoring into even some progressives endorsing him, was the idea of a NYC public municipal bank system. The idea isn’t entirely new, and having a basic public banking infrastructure has long been a goal of progressives; at the federal level, one of the more credible and straightforward suggestions is to run it through United States Postal Services branches. Here in the city, Council members have taken early steps toward a precursor to this policy: making the city better account for where it’s keeping municipal and agency funds, with the goal to potentially divest funds from commercial institutions seen as antithetical to its values.
Eventually, the goal would be to pressure the state to allow the city itself to lend public credit and establish a public banking system. Some advocates have suggested that the city’s municipal ID cards could be used as a sort of debit card for New Yorkers who would want to rely on a public system for basic services like maintaining checking and savings accounts (which many low-income people don’t currently have).
This will likely be a combination of increased oversight over compliance with previous legislation and some new measures to combat coming climate catastrophes in the city. In 2019, the Council passed the Climate Mobilization Act, which laid out certain standards for energy efficiency in buildings, called for studies and reports on energy use and emissions, and otherwise attempted to make New York a greener city. However, according to a tracker maintained by Columbia University, several of the law’s requirements are already overdue. The flooding that the city experienced earlier this month serves as a reminder that these are not issues that can simply be punted down the road.
In addition to doing our part to combat emissions and the progress of climate change, there are a number of active mitigation efforts that should be undertaken to actively prepare for the impacts that can no longer be avoided, such as the flooding. For this, the city will have to work closely with the state on, for example, fortifying the subways (which are controlled by the MTA, a state agency). It can also unilaterally attempt to prevent further tragedies like the drowning of basement apartment-dwellers, including by legalizing such dwellings and using existing programs to insulate them from storm floods.