This may come as a shock to you, but the New York City mayoral race actually revolves around several critical issues that have nothing to do with extracurricular Twitter accounts or Sydney Leathers. Despite the stickball games, celebrity endorsements, and race/gender/sexuality diversity trump cards that have turned this election into a Seinfeld episode, it is a critical time for those New Yorkers who would rather not see their city become the next Detroit, or worse, 1970s New York. If the next mayor cannot effectively address the following critical issues, we run the risk of both.
Over the past several years, the New York City Police Department has employed a tactic called “Stop and Frisk,” in which police officers can routinely stop and frisk anyone they see as a threat. Although the Supreme Court ruled in favor of similar policies in 1968’s Terry vs. Ohio, critics argue that it violates the constitutional rights of minorities, who are predominantly the ones being — wait for it — stop-and-frisked. Current New York City Mayor Bloomberg has appealed a federal judge’s ruling that the policy is unconstitutional, but it is up to the next mayor to address this as well as growing public distrust of police power. Many see the NYPD’s growth under Commissioner Ray Kelly and both the Rudolph Giuliani and Bloomberg administrations as too large, while others note that crime is down to historic lows.
Whoever wins the election will face the hefty task of renegotiating all major labor contracts, including the teacher’s, firefighters, contractors, and other unions. Most unions have decided to wait until the next mayor is elected to renegotiate, rather than work with Mayor Bloomberg, and as a result have gone the past several years without a contract. The city spends about 10% of its budget on union pensions and the Wall Street Journal estimates that union health care costs will reach $85 billion. It’s a critical issue because the costs of union contracts played a large role in strangling Detroit, and that city's bankruptcy now means it can safely renege on pecuniary promises. More immediately, it will also determine how high the Metropolitan Transit Authority raises the subway fare to, for a source of pension funding.
New York City is the largest public school system in the nation, and also has some of the worst public schools in the nation. With some private school tuition reaching over $38,000, it becomes increasingly difficult for the non-Goldman Sachs employees of the world to raise families here and for low-income children to have a safe environment to study and learn. To fix the problem, Bloomberg administration has adopted the charter school approach, closed under-performing schools, and relied heavily on standardized testing, which has garnered criticism from teacher’s unions for putting too much pressure on teachers and relying too heavily on standardized tests. The next mayoral candidate will have to renegotiate with teacher’s unions as well as decide whether to continue the charter-school model.
The next mayor will also have to tackle New York’s growing income gap, which now rivals the income gap in some Sub-Saharan nations. In 2012, the wealthiest New Yorkers claimed 39% of the city’s income as opposed to 12% in 1980 and poverty is now at 21%. More New Yorkers are homeless than at any time during the Great Depression, and affordable housing units are frequently torn down in favor of luxury glass apartments. Although a lot of this has to do with the economic crisis, the next mayor will have to make key decisions that determine whether or not a middle class can exist in New York City. The education system plays a role in this, but so does city regulation of small businesses, often squeezed out by high taxes, fees, and rent prices.