In March 2013, two weeks after launching her campaign for Mayor of New York City, then-frontrunner Christine Quinn addressed a captivated audience at Barnard's Diana Center. Recounting a story about her race for City Council Speaker, she told the CUID holders in the room that “people would come up to me frequently and ... tell me I was a woman, I was a lesbian, I was too progressive, and I wouldn't win.” Now in September, Quinn is feeling the heat of tanking poll numbers and being told once again that her aspirations for higher office will be quashed. This time, however, the story reads quite differently.
Three weeks ago, New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, SIPA '87, emerged as the clear frontrunner in the race. In the home stretch, Quinn has been painted as a values-compromising opportunist who abandoned her progressive roots in a quest for power. In fact, “too progressive” is a phrase only used to characterize Quinn among Republican circles. De Blasio now leads decisively among women, has strong LGBT support, and has positioned himself as the most progressive candidate in the Democratic field. As the primary nears on Tuesday, we must reflect on why he is the right choice for the Columbia community.
With a strong commitment to affirmative action and no-loan financial aid, Columbia has been at the forefront of the fight for equal access to education. Yet truly creating an equal playing field involves a process that begins much earlier than a student's senior year of high school. Bill de Blasio's boldest proposal is a plan to tax those making over $500,000 per year and use those funds to institute universal pre-K and to sponsor after-school programs. Beyond early intervention, his commitment to the objective of “higher education for all” is reflected in his call to end corporate tax breaks to funnel more money into the CUNY system, ensuring that all low- and middle-income New Yorkers have access to a world-class education. For Columbians, a strong CUNY system will only further enrich the opportunities for research and academic collaboration in the city.
As residents of Morningside Heights, Columbians also witness New York's “Tale of Two Cities” firsthand each time we walk a few blocks from campus. Nothing better illustrates the city's stark economic inequity than a wealthy, gated academic community nestled in a patchwork of public housing units. De Blasio has pledged to build 200,000 new units of affordable housing and stand up against hospital closures in the hardest-hit areas.
Perhaps the defining issue of this year's race has been the NYPD's policy of stop-and-frisk. Whereas Quinn and former New York City comptroller Bill Thompson both oppose a racial profiling ban, the public advocate has been adamant about ending the practice of profiling among city police. His beliefs are well-founded. In 2009, there were 265 stops at the intersection of 116th Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard. Of those stopped, 250 were black or Hispanic. That same year, there were only two stops at 116th Street and Amsterdam Avenue. Yet the connection between racial profiling and crime is a raw issue even on the streets of Morningside Heights, where actor Forest Whitaker was frisked by an employee at Milano Market just this past February. Columbia was once the perpetrator of “gym crow” in 1968, but the Columbia of today has a moral obligation to recognize the racial disparities so apparent in this city and to stand up against blatant injustice.
It's a running joke that Columbia undergraduates never venture below 110th Street or above 125th, but what happens in the city around us ultimately shapes our experiences on campus. We are a part of this community and this city, if only for four years. For those working on campus to those living down the street, and even for the Columbians arriving on campus for years to come, we must elect a leader like Bill de Blasio. Commit to a better New York and help get out the vote for de Blasio this Tuesday.
Sam Dunkle is a Columbia College junior majoring in economics and Jared Odessky is a Columbia College junior majoring in history. They are campaign volunteers for Bill de Blasio.
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