In 2013, only 24% of registered voters in New York City showed up to cast their ballot in the mayoral election, the lowest turnout for a mayoral election in the city in over half a century. Despite the fact that people of color make up a majority of New York City, a plurality of those who voted in the 2013 mayoral election were white. Similarly, though millennials make up a plurality of the electorate, they made up only 11% of voters in the mayoral election.
On November 7, 2017, New York City will again hold a mayoral election. Already, tens of politicians and non-politicians alike have expressed interest in replacing incumbent Bill de Blasio, who is running for a second term after winning 73.15% of the vote four years ago.
But there is one candidate in particular who has made it his goal to engage millennials and people of color in a radically progressive campaign.
That candidate is Bob Gangi, a 73-year-old white man who has never held public office before. And he might just be the person to do it.
Bob, a lifelong resident of New York City, has been fighting for social justice for over half a century. He became active in activism while attending Columbia College in the 1960’s, during the Civil Rights and Anti-Vietnam War movements. At that early age, he made the decision to devote his life to working to achieve equal opportunity and justice for all.
For 29 years, Bob served as Executive Director of the Correctional Association of New York, advocating for a more humane criminal justice system. In 2011, he co-founded the Police Reform Organizing Project (PROP) to combat discriminatory and abusive policing in New York City.
And now, at age 73, Bob is running for Mayor of New York City. “I’m old, although I feel like I’m just getting started,” he said. He started considering a mayoral campaign in 2015, but was moved to action this year through the support of his family, friends, and colleagues. He wants to offer the people of New York City a true progressive alternative to de Blasio, whom he feels betrayed by. “He’s much more a mainstream, calculating politician than he is an honest, fighting progressive.”
Despite receiving an overwhelming percentage of the PoC vote in 2013, Bob says that de Blasio has failed to wear the progressive mantle he campaigned on. “The thing that hit me the hardest was his support for broken windows policing, which is a blatantly racist and deeply inhumane law enforcement practice.”
Bob’s platform is squarely focused on issues of race and class. The first words you’ll see on his website bemoan America’s broken promises to people of color and poor people. The three issues he lists on his website are police reform, public schools, and affordable housing. “The system is this big, institutional bully.”
The Democratic Party has been increasingly drawn to populist progressivism in the past year, largely due to the surprise grassroots success of Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. But Bob makes Bernie look mainstream. “What we’re up to is, in addition to challenging de Blasio and the mainstream politics as usual, we’re in the process of creating an urban agenda… Bernie Sanders’ campaign, for all the good things it did and espoused, didn’t have an urban agenda.”
Though de Blasio promised in his campaign to improve the relationship between law enforcement and marginalized communities, Bob says that de Blasio hasn’t been willing to go nearly far enough to fix the problems. “You can’t champion immigrant rights and broken windows policing.”
Along with ending broken windows policing, which he described as “the new stop-and-frisk,” Bob wants to abolish the quota system, relieving police officers of the pressure to issue a minimum number of arrests and tickets, as well as crack down on abusive and discriminatory cops, such as the ones who went unpunished for murdering Eric Garner in 2014. Bob also wants to decriminalize marijuana possession, sex work, gravity knife possession, and fare evasion.
Bob believes that these reforms will help ensure the safety of the people of color, LGBTQ folks, sex workers, street vendors, mentally ill, homeless, and undocumented New Yorkers who are routinely targeted by the NYPD.
But Bob not only wants to end broken windows policing, reform the criminal justice system, and hold discriminatory law enforcement officials accountable; he wants to reallocate funding for these agencies in community-based programs with the goal of fostering “a more just, inclusive, and affordable city that would benefit people along race and class lines.” This includes providing free public transportation to low-income New Yorkers and hiring more public school teachers.
Though these policies would surely benefit countless marginalized New Yorkers, Bob recognizes that they are exactly the kinds of proposals fiscal conservatives reject for being too expansive and expensive. But Bob thinks that we need to reframe how we think about these issues. “The question should not be ‘how do we pay for it’; the question should be, ‘how do we work together and accomplish this, because we know it would benefit everybody.’”
“We’re not liberal spenders who just want to throw money at problems. We want to make our society better and more just for all our fellow New Yorkers.”
Unfortunately, this attitude is unlikely to change the minds of many Republicans, who view cutting funding to law enforcement as a non-option. Even in the Democratic Party, calls to reject building a new police academy in favor of creating a New York City Land Bank to develop affordable housing are still considered quite radical. But Bob has no plans to tone down his rhetoric, which is already bringing in many of the voters who stayed home in the 2013 mayoral election. His staff is entirely composed of young people of color, many still in school. Bob hopes that his uncompromisingly progressive campaign will inspire progressive all across the nation to run for office.
“One of the reasons I’m excited about our campaign is because we have the opportunity and the potential to shift the debate to focus on how to apply new policy remedies to problems that plague our urban landscape. No more tweaking around the edges. We want people to look to our campaign to for inspiration to bring change. We’re underdogs. We have a fighting, underdog spirit that animates people. We hope that spirit will inspire people across the country.”