“Nature laid bare the circumstances of our nation’s biggest rift,” Fernando Ferrer told an audience of about three-dozen students gathered at Hunter College this Wednesday. The rift he’s referring to is wider than the political polarization between red states and blue states, or bible-touting people of faith versus constitution-wagging secular folks. Ferrer is talking numbers: the broadening gap between the nation’s haves and have not—a theme that Ferrer, of course, has visited before.
The former Bronx Beep hasn’t used the “other New York” slogan this time around, four years after opponents dubbed it “divisive” in post–9-11 New York. He claims he’s not abandoned the cause of the downtrodden in 2005, but his theme this time is the less radical “making New York work better for everyone.” But a subtle shift might be underway, fueled not just by Katrina, but also recent reports from the Census Bureau and The New York Times on deepening poverty and widening income disparity in New York City. “The faces of Katrina live in New York as well,” said Ferrer at Hunter. “And while some things seem fine, there is another, harsher reality living right next door—a reality where poverty is unchecked and government has failed to improve schools that are failing our children, failed to build decent housing that tens of thousands of working people can afford.”
Like New York, New Orleans is one of just a few iconic cities that define the American experience and culture. And icons mask poverty. “Katrina,” Ferrer said, “stripped the veneer away.” It took a natural disaster to do it. Ferrer claims that by providing “affordable housing” along with “real jobs and economic stability,” he’ll shore up the levee.