The United States constantly does bad things that its political leaders claim go against the nation’s fundamental values. If you do something all the time, isn’t THAT your value?
New Yorkers go to the polls June 22nd to choose their next mayor. They’re primaries, but whoever wins the Democratic nomination will almost certainly move into Gracie Mansion.
Media coverage has focused on the fading fortunes of former presidential candidate and tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang, the dearth of progressives in a wide field and the new, confusing ranked-choice voting scheme. (I have a lot of doubts about ranked-choice voting, which I will enumerate in this space at another time.)
A New Yorker by choice most of my life and, unlike Yang, a guy who moved back to the city during the COVID-19 pandemic while others were running for the exurbs, I’ve been thinking a lot about what the next mayor should prioritize and what I would do if I were in charge of the city. Most of my readers don’t live in New York. But most do live in urban areas. Many who live in rural regions work and shop in cities. So New York’s problems are your problems too.
Even more than in other cities, New York’s mayor is not a king. He has, for example, no jurisdiction or control over the five boroughs’ sprawling mass-transit system, which falls under the aegis of the governor. Public schools were only transferred to mayoral control 20 years ago; they were still locked down by order of Governor Andrew Cuomo in response to the pandemic. To get elected you’ll need allies in one of the city’s three loci of power: the police, real estate or Wall Street. If you win, it’s a bully pulpit job.
To lead NYC you have to have charisma, the gift of gab and a strong work ethic—unlike Bill de Blasio. And new solutions for old problems.
Here’s what I’d do:
Homelessness, a perennial problem and perhaps the most glaring failure of capitalism, has exploded over the last year. 80,000 New Yorkers are homeless—1% of the population. It’s shameful. Even if you don’t care about human misery, homelessness affects everyone else. Mentally-ill homeless people contribute to street crime and drive down property values. Let’s get our brothers and sisters off the streets.
While our fellow citizens are sleeping on filthy, freezing cold or blazing hot sidewalks, tens of thousands of apartments and single-family homes sit empty for no good reason. There are between 2000 and 4000 “zombie homes,” mostly single-family houses abandoned by their owners. 27,000 apartment units are being warehoused by landlords holding out for rents that are even higher than the city’s stratospheric current rates. These properties should be seized under eminent domain—don’t worry, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that such transfers are constitutional—and transferred to the control of a new city agency dedicated to housing, treating, rehabilitating and training homeless people with the eventual goal of returning as many of them as possible to the workplace. Among the side benefits would be the fact that you need a mailing address in order to apply for government benefits and jobs, which would defray the cost of my rehab programs.
With a paltry 17% occupancy rate for New York commercial office space, it’s a safe bet that millions of square feet of empty office space will be vacant well after everyone has forgotten about COVID. Space that remains empty more than 12 months after the end of coronavirus safety rules should be seized and converted when possible—residential space has to have running water and windows—to housing for the homeless and the poor. Interior former commercial spaces should be allotted to artists and musicians by lottery.
Half of New York apartments are subject to rent stabilization. Rent stabilization should be replaced by rent control so that increases can never exceed the federal inflation rate, and should apply to all rental units.
Let’s add commercial rent control as well. Late-stage gentrification led to the weird phenomenon of “luxury blight” in places like Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village and lower Fifth Avenue, where landlords holding out for insanely high-rent increases have been warehousing empty storefronts for years. Lower rents with limits on future increases allow entrepreneurs to take chances, experiment and make neighborhoods and cities interesting and quirky. In New York as in other cities, state legislators will need to approve commercial rent control tied to inflation.
New York has one of the nation’s most racially and economically segregated public school systems. The potential of students of color is hobbled by buildings that look and feel like prisons, outdated books and equipment and burned-out teachers—all due to insufficient funding. Upper-class “nice” white parents finance “their” schools themselves though they and their kids drive themselves crazy hiring fixers to game a byzantine school-application system that begins with pre-K; many couples flee for the suburbs after kids arrive. 52% of white parents fork a median of $44,000 a year for private secondary school, more than many colleges.
Warren Buffett said the easiest way to fix public schools would be to “make private schools illegal and assign every child to a public school by lottery.” He’s right. Ban private schools; assign children to schools by lottery and watch equity reign as it has in countries like Finland and Cuba. Both nations did it decades ago; their students radically outperform students in neighboring countries. The best way to incentivize the city’s wealthiest citizens to support higher taxes for public education is to force them to have skin—their own children—in the game.
I’m out of space, so here’s one final idea: deescalate the NYPD. New York is not a war zone, being a police officer isn’t that dangerous—your life is far more in harm’s way if you’re a roofer, farmer or logger—and citizens have the right to be served by cops who neither act nor look like members of a hostile occupation army.
New York cops should take a cue from one of the 19 countries where the police do not carry guns and rarely use deadly force even against violent suspects, or Japan, where cops carry sidearms but rarely use them. “The first instinct is not to reach for a gun—what most Japanese police will do is to get huge futons and essentially roll up the person who is being violent or drunk into a little burrito and carry them back to the station and calm them down. The response to violence is never violence—it is to de-escalate,” BBC journalist Anthony Berteaux reported in 2017. I’d start with training cops in the technique of “policing by consent”—obtaining compliance from the public by earning respect rather than instilling fear—and, if that fails, I’d take away their guns as well as their bulletproof vests.
Some may ask, since you have so many ideas, Mr. Smarty-pants, why not run yourself? You need millions of dollars to run for mayor and I don’t know how to get it.
Maybe someone will fix that problem.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of a new graphic novel about a journalist gone bad, “The Stringer.” Now available to order. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
July 14, 2017 is Bastille Day and Also I Finally Get To Tell a Court What the Los Angeles Times Did to Me
If you live in or near Los Angeles and you have Friday mornings off, here’s a Save the Date: LA Superior Court, 111 North Hill Street, downtown LA. Take the elevator up to the 7th floor, to Department 74. Friday, July 14, 2017 at 9 am: be there or be square.
I’ll be defending myself against The Los Angeles Times, which colluded with LAPD Chief Charlie Beck to fire me two years ago. Personally. Pro se.
I’ll be acting as my own lawyer.
My crime? For six years my cartoons in the Times criticized the police in general, the LAPD in particular and Chief Beck personally because of his department’s deplorable history of brutalizing civilians and murdering people of color, widespread corruption and incompetence.
I don’t blame Beck, the LAPD and the LAPD police union, the Los Angeles Police and Protective League (LAPPL) for hating my guts. I’m a political cartoonist. I pissed them off. Cartoons still matter.
If LA cops were nicer and smarter, of course, they wouldn’t have gotten mad at me. They would have remembered their slogan — “to protect and to serve” — and started doing that and stopped beating up young black men. Instead, the LAPD was out to get me.
Being hated by the cops wasn’t new. In addition to the Times, I drew cartoons for Pasadena Weekly. Publisher Kevin Ulrich remembers that I was “infuriating cops, ticking off prosecutors and politicians, and regularly challenging the powers that be at City Hall.” In other words, doing my job.
“In his latest controversy, Rall suspects police officials told the Times to fire him, which would not be surprising,” Ulrich wrote in 2015. “That same request was made of me many times by Pasadena police and other city officials. If the cops in LA despised Rall half as much as did Pasadena’s Blue Crew, it is certainly believable that they would set him up for some sort of fall, just as it would probably be just a matter of time before some ‘lucky’ LAPD officer would run into him on the street.”
Indeed, that’s exactly what I learned after the Times fired and slimed me, portraying me to their readers as a liar and a fabulist in not one but two pieces. The chief of police told the Times to fire me.
So they did.
Chief Beck read a cartoon I wrote about the LAPD’s latest nasty crackdown on the phony crime of jaywalking, which disproportionately targeted working-class and people of color with $200 fines they couldn’t afford. In an online blog I wrote to accompany my toon, I mentioned that I’d been arrested for jaywalking by a mean cop in 2001. The officer, I wrote, had falsely accused me of jaywalking. He threw me against a wall and handcuffed me. An angry crowd gathered.
Beck strolled the single block between the Times and LAPD HQ and walked into the office of then-publisher Austin Beutner. Beutner, a billionaire, didn’t have newspaper experience. But he wanted to be mayor. And Beck was his only major political ally.
The LAPD had long enjoyed a cozy relationship with the Times. The paper relied on the cops for tips, especially after years of slashing the budget for reporters. Cops even ate in the Times cafeteria (me, I had to sign in). But things had gotten even more lovey-dovey under Beutner.
A couple of months after Beutner became publisher, the LAPPL awarded its pet billionaire its “Badge & Eagle Award” for “their dedication to law enforcement” and supporting the LAPD “in all that they do.” Never mind the paper’s “ethical guidelines,” which state: “Awards: Staff members should enter their work only in contests whose central purpose is to recognize journalistic excellence.”
Newspaper stocks have been reliable losers for a long time. But the LAPPL viewed Tribune Publishing, the Times’ parent company, as a solid investment — in influence. As Tribune’s stock plunged, the LAPPL spent tens of millions in pension funds to effectively become the Times’ #1 shareholder. Nothing new there — back in 2009, the LAPPL bought a chunk of the San Diego Union-Tribune, then told a newspaper that that investment bought influence, influence it planned to use to force the firing of editorial writers it didn’t deem sufficiently pro-cop. That paper was the Times.
Whole lotta cozy going on.
Beck gave Beutner an audio recording secretly made by my cop back in 2001. This proves Ted Rall lied, Beck told him. It shows no angry crowd. No handcuffing. No mistreatment.
The audio was almost all static and traffic noise.
After they canned me and published their first attempt to destroy my journalistic career and send a chilling message to police critics, I had Beck’s secret audio sent to a company that cleaned up some of the noise.
“Take off his handcuffs!” one woman yelled at the cop.
People were on there, all right. And they had lots to say — angry things about police brutality — to the cop.
Did the Times admit they messed up? Nope. They doubled down, publishing a second piece — this one full of even more lies.
So I sued. Did they admit they messed up? Nope. They doubled down, filing a “anti-SLAPP” motion that — get this — argues that I censored the Times with my lawsuit. For having the temerity to try to clean up my libeled reputation, the Times is asking a judge to force me to pay their legal fees — which they say will be at least $300,000.
I lost the first of three anti-SLAPP motions. The main event, against the Times itself, is Friday, July 14th. My attorneys fired me after the first loss, so I’ll be on my own. That’s right: I’ll be representing myself in court.
If you care about a free press, please be there. I’m free for lunch after.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)