Can Bill de Blasio Usher in a New NYC?

The mayoral candidate talked exclusively with The Root about making the city livable for everyone.

Bill de Blasio with his wife, Chirlane McCray (left), and children, Chiara and Dante (Wikimedia Commons)
Bill de Blasio with his wife, Chirlane McCray (left), and children, Chiara and Dante (Wikimedia Commons)

TR: What do you wish to see happen with regard to the policy? What will you do or propose as mayor?

BDB: Judge Scheindlin was extraordinarily fair in the way she appointed a federal monitor. The police have exercised too much individual discretion in their determination for who counts as a suspect. And since the NYPD has never had substantial oversight, the only way to address these issues is head-on. But the truth is that if our City Council had managed to get its house in order, we wouldn’t have required a court decision. The council has the power to curb police activity. We should vote and take a stand. 

Now that the federal court has spoken, the city should not appeal the decision. And I, as mayor, would push for even stricter protections and safeguards. My problem with the status quo is that it’s counterproductive to public safety. And more importantly, it is corrosive to the self-esteem of young men of color.

TR: Besides your family, is there something in your background that informs your passion for social justice?

BDB: My father was a veteran of World War II. He fought in the Pacific and lost his leg to a Japanese grenade. When he returned, he suffered from what doctors today would diagnose as PTSD — but those were different times. And men were left to wrestle with their demons.

From the time I was born, he was suffering from alcoholism, and my parents split by the time I was 7 years old. After that, he sank deeper into problems, and I felt torn and confused by it. I admired the hero that he was in war, and knew that there was something good and noble about the service to his country, but from a family perspective, he had let us down.

As I gained adult consciousness, it was impossible not to grapple with that. And if you’re a young male and your main example is absent or troubled, that battle becomes your own. It felt like there was an injustice inherent in our experience. And history had come home to our family.

But I believe that is how I developed my sense of social activism: looking for an antidote and finding something therapeutic about attacking problems. Though we’re not able to fully resolve problems, we can gain a sense of empathy. Talk to folks. Understand what’s going on in their lives. And try to make a difference.

TR: And how does that inform your approach to matters of race, racism and racial injustice?

BDB: There are three pieces to that equation. First is my family. What happened between Chirlane and I was completely organic. We met as a part of a common cause. She was an anti-apartheid activist and inspired me. Everything we’re representing is just who we are. We love each other. My desire for change is based on who I am personally, and who she and I are as a couple.

The second piece is philosophical. Early in my life, I recognized the need for fundamental change in the way our society deals with minorities, the poor and working classes. The Dinkins administration was the first to try to address the city’s problems with inequality. That was 20 years ago. I joined that effort then and never let it go. It’s why I talk about raising taxes on the top 1 percent of earners, and I focus on issues like the closing of hospitals in poor and minority neighborhoods. These are the things that matter to me.

The third piece is the company I keep. It’s not been widely reported, but one of the major endorsements I received is from the executive council of 1199SEIU, NYC’s biggest union and the biggest health care union in the nation. These health care workers are 200,000-strong in New York City alone, and they are largely African American, Afro-Caribbean and Hispanic. These people stand with me, at a grassroots level, because they know I stand with working people.

I’ve also been fortunate to receive the support of civil rights stalwart Harry Belafonte and entrepreneur Russell Simmons, who are both committed to the social and economic empowerment of black, Caribbean and Latino communities. People like New York Rep. Yvette Clarke and the Rev. Michael Walrond of the First Corinthian Baptist Church — these are voices of African-American conscience. Something is happening in the country and this city — first and foremost it’s about economics — and these are the people who care and are willing to work to solve the inequities in our society.

Edward Wyckoff Williams is a contributing editor at The Root. He is a columnist and political analyst, appearing on Al-Jazeera, MSNBC, ABC, CBS Washington, Arise America and national syndicated radio. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.