“Gotham City” signals a new movement fighting the ‘urban growth machine’

By Jon Funabiki

As a longtime observer of New York politics, journalist Juan González could easily have written a book focusing solely on how Bill de Blasio, a relatively unknown politician, won a surprising victory in that city’s 2013 mayoral elections.

Instead, González broadened the scope of his exploration to show how de Blasio represents the most visible example among a new generation of young, progressive leaders who have cropped up in San Francisco, Seattle, Philadelphia, Boston and other cities across the nation.

These new grassroots politicians offer hope for those who oppose the “urban growth machine” that, until now, has freely pushed development under the philosophy that land decisions should be based on the ability to yield profit, rather than public benefit. This strategy has imperiled the lives of the poor, people of color, immigrants and, increasingly, the middle class, with the gap between the haves and the haves-not growing ever larger.

Juan González also believes that these new leaders represent the front lines of a brewing political war between left-leaning local communities and an increasingly right-wing federal government.

González is a co-host of “Democracy Now!” and a longtime former columnist with the New York Daily News. His new book is “Reclaiming Gotham: Bill de Blasio and the Movement to End America’s Tale of Two Cities.”

He spoke at San Francisco State University and City Lights Bookstore as part of Renaissance Journalism’s Bay Area Media Collaborative initiative, which invites local journalists to undertake collaborative reporting projects to address the region’s crisis in housing, gentrification and displacement.

González said that de Blasio’s message caught fire among ordinary voters. In a city formerly run by billionaire Michael Bloomberg and prosecutor Rudy Giuliani, de Blasio called income inequality the “moral issue of our time” and campaigned to end the “tale of two cities” that exists in New York. In 2012, the top 1 percent of the city’s residents earned 45 percent of all income, nearly double the rate a decade earlier.

After winning election, de Blasio formed “the most left-leaning government in the history of America’s greatest city,” and he began to carry out a series of progressive reforms, including freezing rent hikes, instituting a pre-kindergarten program for 70,000 children, and throttling the police department’s controversial stop-and-frisk policies.

The “big picture” painted by González shows that de Blasio and other local politicians are weaving together “a whole new progressive movement” in defiance of the right-wing policies being implemented by President Trump and federal agencies. “Reclaiming Gotham” identifies a number of these local politicians, including former San Francisco Supervisor John Avalos, who appeared with González at City Lights Bookstore.

Texas will become a battleground state because the state legislature, in a crackdown against the sanctuary cities movement, and has passed a law earlier this year that would punish local officials who refuse to assist federal immigration officers. González said that most of the major cities and police agencies in Texas oppose the new state law, which is now tied up in the courts.

“These battles will happen more and more,” said González.

González’s talks in San Francisco were part of a series of programs sponsored by Renaissance Journalism to examine the causes, impact and possible solutions to the Bay Area’s housing crisis.