How Will NYC’s Progressive Caucus Approach Progressive Transportation?

Last week a group of 12 City Council members announced that they’re forming a new bloc, called the progressive caucus, "dedicated to creating a more just and equal New York City." The Times notes that the caucus signifies an unusual development, in that the members came together around shared ideology, not racial or sexual identity.

viverito_lander.jpgMelissa Mark-Viverito and Brad Lander.

Streetsblog readers will notice that the caucus is led by two members who’ve been enthusiastic supporters of sustainable transportation initiatives that promise to improve life for New York’s transit-dependent majority, many of whom cannot afford to own a car. Melissa Mark-Viverito and Brad Lander have both taken vocal stands in favor of congestion pricing and Bus Rapid Transit, citing the numerous benefits of better transit for poor and middle class New Yorkers.

It remains to be seen how the bloc as a whole, which includes members from all five boroughs, will address transportation. The caucus is still working out the details of its policy agenda. "I certainly anticipate that in the weeks and months to come they’ll be forming subcommittees related to specific issues," said Rachel Goodman, Lander’s chief of staff.

For now, there is a broadly worded plank in the caucus’s statement of principles [PDF] that links transportation to sustainability and environmental justice. It calls for "a more sustainable and environmentally just city, that takes the lead in preserving the environment for generations to come, improving the health of current residents, insuring a sound transportation system, and working toward a more equitable distribution of burdens and benefits." Viverito also told the Times that the caucus thinks Mayor Bloomberg has performed well on environmental initiatives.

The other ten members of the caucus are Margaret Chin, Daniel Dromm, Julissa Ferreras, Letitia James, Rosie Mendez, Annabel Palma, Ydanis Rodriguez, Deborah Rose, Jimmy Van Bramer, and Jumaane Williams. All together they control nearly a quarter of the 51 votes on the council.

With transit funding and better bus service on the line in Albany these days, it will be interesting to see whether the caucus takes positions on issues that play out at the state level. "I’m sure there will be situations where they choose to weigh in," Goodman told Streetsblog. "That said, I think they’ll be pretty focused on the legislative matters before the city."

  • The central question is, will they support progressive transportation citywide?

  • Larry Littlefield

    What does “progressive” mean, really.

    You had a bi-partisan progressive movement a century ago. Progressive Democrats wanted the government to be more fair and efficient, so it could meet more needs, and opposed machine Democrats, who were backed by bad producers of public services. Republican Progressives accepted the government needed to do things, but wanted it to be more fair and efficient, so it could get the job done at less cost to taxpayers.

    So you had a competition as to who could make government work. Lots of the constitutional provisions that have been ignored, barring special tax deals and debts incurred without a referendum, date from that era.

    We’ve spent 30 years undoing all aspects of the Progressive era and going back to Tammany Hall, especially among NY state legislators.

    So what does progressive mean? As far as I can tell, it means increasing New York’s taxes, already the highest in the U.S. as a share of income, and reducing the services the public employee unions are required to provide in exchange. Conservatism means cutting spending on the poor, minorities, immigrants and those living in central cities, increasing wasteful spending on others be a greater amount, and borrowing money to pay for tax cuts for the rich.

  • Thanks, Larry. That makes a lot of sense.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    I think Progressive is a chicken shit code word for Socialist. Socialists that don’t have the balls to stand up and declare themselves Socialist.

  • mfs

    Oh Niccolo, you crack me up.

  • GRR

    I go by both.

  • Niccolo, the original Progressives were typically patrician capitalists. Many of the progressive reforms they proposed – good government, zoning, suburbanization, building codes, environmental legislation, slum clearance, referendums – were ways of fighting the social conditions of poverty without acknowledging the labor movement’s demand for higher wages, shorter working hours, and unions.

    Essentially, think of them as Bloomberg and JSK.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “I think Progressive is a chicken shit code word for Socialist. Socialists that don’t have the balls to stand up and declare themselves Socialist.”

    It’s got to the point that the only polical types I respect is the handful of Socialists and libertarians. At least each has an idea of what is far for everyone, rather than just seeking deals for some at other’s expense.

    As for the progressives being patricians, they are the ones who built up the state and local government services that made the mass middle class possible — and that the debts and public employee union pension deals — are about to destroy (for the second time in NYC). And don’t forget the progressive personal income tax, which was their doing.

    Where are Teddy Roosevelt and Al Smith when you need them? We’ve got Sheldon Silver, Joe Bruno, Dean Skelos, George Pataki, etc.

  • J:Lai

    Larry, don’t forget the “Law and Order” crusades of Giuliani and Bloomberg’s first and part of his second term . . . The massive empowerment of the NYPD during this period was principally done to increase property values for the ownership class in the city. (Giuliani only liked people with mortgages.) It was an accelerant in making the city dependent on finance and real estate at the expense of many other areas, and as a side effect create a sense of alienation from the government and particularly from law enforcement on the part of non-property-owning people both poor and middle class.
    That trend has done a lot to encourage the “transient” feel that has developed in many city neighborhoods, and is another reason why there is so little voter accountability among the state legislators who represent NYC districts.

  • J:Lai

    by the way, correct me if I’m wrong but didn’t Al Smith preside over a period of general economic growth from late teens – late 20’s?

  • Bolwerk

    Anyone who gets wound up over socialism, a political strain that scarcely exists in the USA, when crony capitalists have them bent over the hood of a car ready to shove a priapic member in their back doors really just needs to stop being taken seriously. It’s irresponsible journalism to even consider the “arguments” of Glenn Beck or teabaggers.

  • The progressives made the suburban middle class possible. They fought tooth and nail against local immigrant-dominated communities’ attempts to decide their own fates. They believed in racist myths about the neighborhoods they called slums; much of the infrastructure they built – first transit, then roads – was specifically intended to get people out of cities and into single-use suburbs, where they would be remolded into what the patricians thought would be good citizens.


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