Ask pretty much anyone who pays attention to city government and they’ll probably tell you that, barring some tectonic upheaval in the political firmament, Mayor Bill de Blasio is going to cruise to re-election.
Bob Gangi knows that. But as the 73-year-old driving force behind the Police Reform Organizing Project (PROP) told reporters yesterday outside One Police Plaza while announcing his own candidacy for mayor, it isn’t going to stop him.
“We think de Blasio is vulnerable,” Gangi said. “The common wisdom is that since he wasn’t indicted, and none of the people around him were indicted, and then none of the other mainstream Democratic candidates entered the race, that he would have a free ride, and he would skate into re-election success. But we’re challenging that.”
Gangi, who founded PROP six years ago and headed the Correctional Association of New York for three decades, hits de Blasio the hardest on the mayor’s unwavering commitment to a philosophy of policing sometimes called “broken windows” or “quality-of-life” policing, which emphasizes the aggressive enforcement of low-level offenses. It’s a strategy that disproportionately affects poor, black, and Hispanic New Yorkers, Gangi argues, and serves to perpetuate the “tale of two cities” de Blasio railed against as a mayoral candidate four years ago.
In Gangi’s analysis, de Blasio made a political calculation even before his election, that in order to placate powerful interests worried about his left-of-center politics and to protect his right flank should crime go up, he would appoint Bill Bratton, whose career was synonymous with aggressive broken windows policing, as his commissioner. In 2014, when police staged a minor revolt over de Blasio’s statement that he’d advised his black son that he needed to be especially careful around police, Gangi speculates, the mayor retreated even further from the prospect of meaningful police reform.
In recent months, when the city’s emphasis on vigorous policing of low-level offenses has come under fire, the mayor and police leaders have argued that most quality-of-life arrests are driven by complaints from the community via 911 or 311. Gangi doesn’t buy it. “We think that comment is disingenuous,” he said. “For example, in 2016, there were 106,000 summonses for open alcohol containers. We know there were not 106,000 calls to 911 or 311 because someone was carrying an open alcohol container. There were 29,000 arrests for fare evasion. There weren’t 29,000 complaints about fare evasion. There were probably very few.”
Gangi also criticized the NYPD’s commitment to accountability, noting that the police officers involved in the choking death of Eric Garner on Staten Island in 2014 are all still on the force. “If I become mayor, we will fire those officers day one,” he said.
Policing policy may be Gangi’s primary frustration with de Blasio, but it isn’t his only one. He faults the mayor for his belated and conditional endorsement of the plan to close the Rikers Island jail facilities; for resisting calls for reduced transit fare for low-income New Yorkers; for the city’s spectacularly segregated public schools; and for a an affordable-housing policy that in many instances falls short of producing housing that’s actually affordable.
Gangi is clearly eager to use his candidacy to debate de Blasio on his police policies and the ways he believes the mayor has fallen short of the progressive reforms he promised four years ago. But Gangi is, by his own admission, a novice campaigner — his only campaign staff are two Hunter College students — and he’s still acquainting himself with the mechanics of a mayoral run. He was taken aback when a reporter at his campaign announcement informed him that if he intended to get onstage with de Blasio at either of the official debates organized by the Campaign Finance Board, he’ll need to have raised and spent $174,225. Gangi currently has less than $50,000.
“Well, if we can’t get in, maybe we’ll have one of my campaign aides stand outside holding a stick with a Red Sox hat on it, and I can debate the stick,” he mused.
In any case, Gangi insists, it’s precisely because his candidacy is coming from outside the political mainstream that he can raise issues other politicians won’t touch. “Part of the point of the campaign is not only to defeat Bill de Blasio, but also to get into the public arena the issues that we care about and the kind of remedies that can work to resolve the problems that neither Bill de Blasio nor most mainstream politicians are willing to endorse. Not willing to endorse not because they’re not right or don’t make sense, but not willing to endorse because they’re too politically charged.”