Off year elections in the US - some surprises, others not at all
2013 is an off-year for federal elections in the United States, so state and municipal elections got to take their turn in the spotlight on November 5, 2013. One the most closely watched elections was for the mayoral seat of the US financial capital, New York City. Billionaire Michael Bloomberg had held three terms as mayor of New York, the third being won after he reversed term limit laws and using vast personal funds to campaign. New York City voters were ready for a change, and with a city that size and that important, much was at stake.
The lead up to the election was a saga to say the least, with candidates ducking in and out of the race and with the question about who was the favorite to win up in the air for months, but by the time election day arrived, the result was not particularly surprising. After three unsatisfactory Republican terms—technically Bloomberg ran Independent his last term but his policies were still the same—in a left-leaning city, Democrat William “Bill” de Blasio won the mayoral seat.
His promises of taxing the rich to pay for Kindergartens, funding affordable housing, and bringing unionized municipal workers to the bargaining table after two years working without a contract speak to what voters want to hear. He gained a high-profile endorsements from SEIU, New York’s largest union; politicians from New York and Vermont; and several New York-based celebrities like Alec Baldwin and Sarah Jessica Parker.
But will he be able to deliver anything different from the norm? De Blasio’s reforms require finances, but he has no plans to obtain them beyond hiking tax on the rich, something he cannot do without the support of a state legislature that is less radical than himself and seeped with the vested big businesses interests that call New York City home. Even with the best intentions, De Blasio will not be able to make all the changes he wishes when he is fighting against a system dating back far beyond Bloomberg’s first term.
Right next door in New Jersey, Republican Governor Chris Christie was elected to a second term without much hassle. While New Jersey usually votes Democratic, a series of bad Democrats in the governor’s seat left voters raw in 2010, and a critical mass voted Republican. Christie took all the fat jokes lobbed at him and shut them down with a straight-talking charisma that has been absent from politics in the US for a long time. He leans center-to-left on social issues and handled the crisis of Hurricane Sandy last year, as well as the hurricanes that hit the state about every other year, with impressive form. So people voted for him again.
The downside to Christie is his conservative fiscal policy. Christie is opposed to more public spending, and lashed out in his first year by cutting millions of dollars from public education, including major portions from the inner-city schools which need state funds most. Christie is a loud advocate for charter schools, which essentially divert funds from the rest of public schools but usually without the same rules applied to public school and without union oversight of how teachers are treated.
Christie will likely continue to quietly cut away at public spending in New Jersey while publically reaching across the aisle on social measures, for instance he chose not to oppose the legislature’s passage of gay marriage. He will smile his way to the 2016 Presidential election where he will probably run as the joke-cracking personable Republican candidate—that is when voters should really start being concerned.
While Seattle is a considerably more progressive city than most of the US, Sawant’s win came specifically from having a platform that resonated with the concerns of working people. She speaks clearly and passionately about the meaning of socialism, debunking the right-wing myth that the social programs and welfare pushed by Democrats constitute socialism. Sawant is now tasked with pushing through her program of radical reforms while in a position that inherently weakens the power of the individual: city council. She will have to convince her fellow council members of the needed change as she convinced the voters.
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