Bernie Sanders Throws His Weight Behind de Blasio’s Hollow Transit Populism

"Our Revolution" won't overturn the status quo of free driving privileges, available to the car-owning class, which clogs streets and slows down bus service in NYC.

Sanders and de Blasio on the A train this morning. Photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photography Office
Sanders and de Blasio on the A train this morning. Photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photography Office

On the hunt for progressive cred heading in to a general election he’s expected to win running away, Mayor de Blasio enlisted Senator Bernie Sanders, who represents one of the least urban states in the union, to vouch for his transit plan earlier today. The mayor got a withering quote from Sanders about congestion pricing in the bargain.

At a press conference at Fulton Center in Lower Manhattan, Sanders praised the mayor as “one of the great progressive leaders of the United States,” endorsed his “millionaire’s tax” to fund the MTA, and worried that congestion pricing would tax “working families and working people.” The senator apparently hasn’t given much thought to the ways working New Yorkers are already taxed by free driving privileges available only to the car-owning class.

Sanders was responding to a reporter’s question about congestion pricing. “I think that at a time of massive income and wealth inequality, you don’t want to be taxing working families and working people who might have an automobile and be traveling in the city,” he said. He admitted that he was not familiar with “all of the details,” then compared the potential impact of bridge tolls to a gas tax hike on working class Vermonters with long commutes.

But there are some big differences between New York City and the state that Sanders represents. In New York, working people ride transit, and hundreds of thousand of bus passengers get bogged down in traffic congestion every day — something the small cities in Sanders’ home state simply don’t have to cope with. The number of daily bus riders in New York City is far larger than the entire population of Vermont.

In Vermont, 83 percent of all workers commute in a car, according to 2016 Census Bureau data; in New York City, the figure is just 21 percent. And in Vermont, more than half of commuters living below the federal poverty line commute by personal automobile, while only 2 percent of poor New Yorkers commute via car into Manhattan every day, according to an analysis released last week by the Community Service Society.

There are inequities in NYC’s transportation system that just don’t register in the de Blasio/Sanders populist framework. Relatively affluent car owners can access the city’s busiest neighborhoods for free, while millions of carless residents have to pay a transit fare, and many of them get stuck in traffic on the city’s slowest-in-the-nation bus fleet.

In Sanders’ defense, he’s just passing through. What’s de Blasio’s excuse?

  • Toddster

    Is this why my A train was insanely delayed this morning?

    It’d be nice if de Blasio would use the subway to commute, like the rest of us, instead of as a campaign prop, which only causes further commuting delays; delays that he already refuses to take any substantive action to help through smart street policies and smart policing.

  • On what other issue would anyone tolerate a mayor actively hurting NYC’s economic and environmental future with such a disinformation campaign?

  • Yes, it would be nice. But, realistically, he cannot do that because it would be a security nightmare. You can’t have crowds swamping the mayor, especially considering his unpopularity with the cop-loving right-wing scum.

  • Vooch

    Bloomberg took the Lexington line every day

  • qrt145

    I don’t think that’s quite true, although he certainly took it more often than de Blasio. See for example http://gothamist.com/2007/08/01/mayor_bloomberg_29.php .

  • Lobster

    You’re right but it wasn’t every day

  • Vooch

    when he wasn’t going to Teterboro to take the G5 to Bermuda he took the Lex 🙂

  • Yes, I know that he was on that line most days. But de Blasio’s security needs are greater than Bloomberg’s. And, what’s more, the police don’t have de Blasio’s back; if something were to happen, the NYPD would quickly disavow responsibility and blame it on de Blasio himself. So I don’t fault him for not putting himself in a compromised situation.

  • Komanoff

    Sad to see Bernie copying a page from deB’s “unforced transit errors” playbook. Pathetic that he evidently didn’t bother talking to Riders Alliance, Community Service Society, Tri-State, Straphangers and other true champions of working NY’ers to find out why they’re champions of Move NY-style congestion pricing.

    Fantastic article. But next time please be crystal-clear that c.p. would add a toll only to *CBD -related* car and truck (and taxi/Uber) trips — the very ones that working people rarely make.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Look at the bright side. If the latest Republican tax plan passes the rich in NY will pay higher income taxes unless they move away.

    The current plan is to keep local property taxes, but not state and local income taxes, deductible for the federal income tax. To the detriment of NYC which has a local income tax. And Vermont which has a state property tax.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “de Blasio’s security needs are greater than Bloomberg’s.”

    Why?

  • Joe R.

    The loss of the state/local income tax deduction probably isn’t going to affect most of the middle class. I made over $100K last year, but my standard deduction was still much more than itemizing and taking the state/local income tax deduction. Many people in NYC, particularly renters, have no other potential deductions besides state/local income taxes. The loss of these deductions is mainly going to hit the upper middle class ( $200K+ ) and the wealthy. I feel a bit for the upper middle class, but I’m not shedding any tears if the wealthy pay more taxes.

  • Because de Blasio is hated by a dangerous element of society.

  • Joe R.

    You can include a growing number of cyclists, particularly delivery workers, in that group. Granted, cyclists are far less dangerous to the Mayor’s personal safety than the police, but in his current position I’d want as many friends as possible.

    Unfortunately, de Blasio has nobody to blame but himself for his current predicament. I think the police will tend to dislike whoever is in charge to some extent, but they will respect, and even somewhat fear, a good mayor. The converse is true also. Like a pack of predatory animals, the NYPD smells fear and takes advantage of it. The Mayor reeks of it, not just when dealing with the police. He’s compromised his policies all over out of fear of losing popular support.

    Ironically, Guiliani was the last mayor who might have been able to reign in the excesses of the NYPD, if not for the fact he supported a lot of those excesses in the interests of bringing down crime. At his essence Guiliani was a vicious attack dog, which is exactly what you need to bring the NYPD in line. They would have feared him had he given them reason to.

  • Note: “rein in”.

    The point with respect to security is that cyclists are not very likely to physically attack the mayor, whereas some unhinged right-winger might just do so.

  • Joe R.

    Spelling corrected.

    Very true about the relative danger of cyclists versus far-right nut jobs.

  • Vooch

    Ferdinand,

    I respectfully disagree with you on this one.

  • JoeyBaggs

    Public workers’ pensions generally take precedent over social security and SS isn’t available to public workers with a pension. Public employees generally have lower pay than most in the private sector too. It is fair for public employees to have a comfortable retirement since generally pensions are not really all that lavish.

  • ohnonononono

    What? I’m pretty sure (all? almost all?) public employees with pensions in New York today pay into social security and are thus entitled to collect it when they retire.

    There was a time when some public workers didn’t pay into social security, with the idea being that they had secure public pensions so they didn’t need it, and I believe there are some teachers in some states that still don’t (Puerto Rico too), but I don’t think any public worker in New York today isn’t paying into it.

  • JoeyBaggs

    I don’t know the particularities of the pension plans for NYC or NY, to be clear.

  • stairbob

    Vermont has the 10th highest state VMT per capita. Of course Bernie is blind to these issues.

  • vbtwo31984

    That’s true. The only way to not pay into SS as a public city employee is if you contribute to deferred comp (401k), but do not sign up for the pension, then they do not collect SS taxes, thus you won’t get SS.

    They specifically say that you have to pay into SS if you sign up for the pension plan.

  • The OP is just parroting libertoonian/conservative talking points about private-sector pensions and unions. Since these were destroyed in the public sector by sending jobs overseas, they’ve been looking for a way to get this money from the part of the working a middle class they couldn’t outsource.

    It’s got nothing whatsoever to do with the topic at hand, but talking point-spewers don’t really pay attention to such things.

  • Isaac B

    This sounds like Senator Sanders is making appearances like Krusty the Clown on The Simpsons: “I hereby endorse this politician and their position.”

  • Tyson White

    Did he come into the city by car?

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Photo: Crain's New York

Bucking de Blasio, Speaker Candidates Support Congestion Pricing

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Mayor de Blasio is pulling out all the stops to frame congestion pricing as a "regressive tax," even though low-income New Yorkers stand to gain enormously. Not a single contender for council speaker is on the same page as the mayor. In a debate hosted by Crain's this morning, they all signaled support for congestion pricing, with a few caveats.