According to Senator Bernie Sanders, the stakes in New York City’s mayoral election next week are clear: a vote for Bill de Blasio is a vote against Donald Trump.
“I wanna tell you what this election here in New York is about, is the understanding that everything that Mayor de Blasio is trying to do is exactly the opposite of what Donald Trump is trying to do,” Sanders told several hundred of the mayor’s supporters who had gathered for a campaign rally at Terminal 5. “Trump, in an extremely un-American, ugly, and almost unprecedented way, is trying to divide us up! And this mayor is leading this city in a way to bring us together to create a better life for all of our people.”
“This election is not only reelecting the mayor, but this election is more than that,” Sanders said. "This is something he can’t do, the first lady can’t do. We have got to revitalize American democracy.”
Yet the urgency of resistance makes it easier to overlook knotty yet pressing municipal issues over which the mayor has considerable more control, like school segregation, homelessness, or affordable housing. The most recent poll gives the mayor a 44 percentage point lead over his closest rival, a Staten Island Republican who voted for Donald Trump.
In his own way of acknowledging the lackluster mayoral race, Mayor de Blasio invoked, well, you know.
“Now, sometimes you will encounter people who say to you, ‘Oh I’m not going to bother to vote, it’s all in the bag, there’s no reason to vote.’” de Blasio told the crowd. “You tell them the best reason to vote on Tuesday, November 7th is because what happened last November 8th.”
Rogr Otiende, an event producer who attended the rally, said he believed that the mayor’s most important accomplishment “is the fact that he fights for New York to be a Sanctuary City.”
“Not very many places are Sanctuary Cities right now in this era of Trump, and that’s important.”
Ortiende conceded, “I think he could be more progressive, but we don’t have any other option right now. If there were more options of people who were more progressive, then people would have a choice. I think we can support de Blasio and still make sure he stands up for the progressive values that we stand up for, and put pressure on him and make sure he’s fulfilling those promises.”
Elspeth MacDonald, a retired preschool teacher who was wearing buttons that read “Tax the Rich” and “War Resistors League,” defended the mayor from critiques on the left.
“My personal feeling is that he is doing as much as he damn well can, in a tyranny. I just think it’s a scary world, and he’s doing what he can do and if it doesn’t look good to the progressives maybe they should look again.”
But MacDonald sounded a lot more like Sanders, the Independent progressive firebrand, than de Blasio, the establishment liberal Democrat who endorsed Hillary Clinton in last year's hotly-contested primary.
Take the mayor pushing his plan for a millionaire’s tax to fund repairs for the MTA: “I get a funny feeling that the millionaires and billionaires could afford to pay a little bit more, I dunno, I just get that feeling.”
Here’s Sanders: “What the TV tells you and what the establishment tells you—‘You can’t do anything. Who are you? Maybe you’ll vote maybe you won’t vote, you don’t have any power, you’re nothin!’ And our job is to tell the billionaire class, we are something. We can do it if we have the guts to become involved in the political process…If we have the guts to take on the billionaire class, and fight for our children and our parents.”
And while de Blasio painted a vision of a more equitable country with universal health care and free college tuition, he has lagged behind on progressive issues such as minimum wage, or half-priced MetroCards for low income New Yorkers. He recently expanded his efforts to create and preserve affordable housing, answering critics who said for years that his original plan wasn’t enough. A bill that would create a Canadian-style healthcare system in New York State has the support of the State Assembly, but you don’t hear the mayor talk about it much.
Outside Terminal 5 after the rally, Ateeia Kazi, Hoshneara Begum, and Shahana Masum waited for a car. The three women said they had stood on the bleachers behind the mayor and Senator Sanders.
Kazi, who lives in Brooklyn, said she thought the mayor’s biggest achievement was his addition of the Eid holidays on the city schools' calendar.
“I was too young to vote for him [in 2013], but being able to see that everyone voted for this mayor who was able to give us this holiday, and the fact that we were able to finally get off for this holiday instead of skipping school, or just telling our teachers that we can’t come to school, this is the first time we don’t have to get in trouble for it,” she said.
“He brings all different communities together,” Masum added. “Our communities, for like the last 20, years, we were not in City Hall, only certain people were. But the mayor brought the real people from the community.”
“We feel now, we’re home, this is our family,” Begum said. “He’s representing everyone, not just certain people.”