The Partisan Mind and NYC Politics

Dana Goldstein bemoans the reactionary attitudes taken by many NYC Democrats toward the Bloomberg administration’s forward-looking transportation policies and his visionary DOT director Jeanette Sadik-Kahn.

It’s worth saying that this is, in part, personal. JSK’s predecessor under the Giuliani administration was Iris Weinshall who happens to be married to Senator Chuck Schumer. Meanwhile, Rep Anthony Weiner got his start in politics as a staffer for Schumer and Schumer helped mentor him into political office.

But I think it also reflects the perverse logic of partisan municipal elections. Bloomberg is for bike lanes. The bike lanes are controversial. And Bloomberg’s not a Democrat. So someone has to take the anti-Bloomberg side on bike lanes, and those “someones” wind up being the Democrats. So even though at the margin the decision to mildly reduce the massive pro-automobile bias of status quo allocation of streetspace is good for poor people and good for the environment, you have prominent Democrats taking the anti-bike stance. This upends the logic of the national Democratic Party’s ideological commitments, but it makes sense within the context of a New York City politics that pits a “change a bunch of stuff” Bloomberg administration against sundry small-c conservative interests.

I think partisanship is a very useful device of governance and democratic accountability. But large American cities are so lopsidedly Democratic and deal with issues that are so different from the national ones, that I think most cities would be better served by a different system. The ideal thing, I think, for places like NYC and DC would be to actually have freestanding separate municipal level political parties.