Politics and Governance in New York City

New York City Politics – How Gotham Is Govern

New York City politics involves a wide range of formal and informal political institutions and actors that formulate, legitimize, and implement public policy. These include interest groups, legislatures, executive agencies, and political parties.

A large number of city programs are financed through intergovernmental funds. The federal and state governments therefore constantly affect the city’s budget, taxation, and revenue sources as well as its public policy responsibilities.

Economic Development

The City’s elected officials oversee the City government, its budget, public safety and the economy. These officials – the Mayor, Borough Presidents and City Council members – govern Gotham with the support of a powerful group of civil servants who implement policy.

Affluent Liberals (and Moderates)

Comfortably to the left of New York’s ideological median, Affluent Liberals retain a significant clout in City politics. They are a key component of the City’s broad-based progressive coalition, with support from the city’s reformers and the influential New York Times endorsement.

In a primary contest, Affluent Liberals can coalesce behind a single candidate with the backing of the working class Democratic non-profit community like the Working Families Party and DSA. Carlina Rivera’s struggle in the NY10 race, amidst the chaos of endorsement migration from the Alphabet Left to Yuh-Line Niou and the REBNY-aligned Dan Goldman, is a case study in this phenomenon.

Intergovernmental Relations

The governance decisions that city officials make are influenced by a number of forces. The three critical ones that Bruce Berg focuses on are economic development, the city’s relationships with the state and federal governments, which influence taxation, revenue and policy responsibilities; and New York City’s racial and ethnic diversity.

For example, the city’s economy depends on its ability to attract private investment. Public officials often promote economic development initiatives to stimulate growth and improve the city’s tax base. But they face constraints that limit their ability to make such investments.

For example, if a business wants to build an arena on city-owned land, it must go through the city’s land use review procedures. Such a project can be blocked by local residents or businesses that oppose it. City officials are aware of this constraint and seek to work with other levels of government to overcome it.

Racial and Ethnic Diversity

The city’s racial and ethnic diversity continues to be a major political challenge. As the city’s demographic composition shifts, political influence must be exerted across an increasingly wide range of communities whose residents often share cultural and social experiences, but differ in their income levels, class identities, and ideological dispositions.

This new diversity has made it difficult for fervently liberal candidates to appeal to voters in communities that once gave them solid support, such as the largely Black neighborhoods of Central Brooklyn and Bedford-Stuyvesant; Latino neighborhoods in Sunset Park, Bushwick, and Cypress Hills; and white neighborhoods in Manhattan south of 96th Street and in Brownstone Brooklyn and Riverdale/Spuyten Duyvil. This explains why Jumaane Williams struggled to sustain a formidable progressive coalition that had previously backed him, allowing his opponent Kathryn Garcia to blitz Manhattan’s upper-class neighborhoods and Brownstone Brooklyn. The same dynamic played out with the Borough President race, where Antonio Reynoso won by appealing to Affluent Liberals and Alphabet Left progressives as well as working class Black voters in Williamsburg, Ridgewood, and Brooklyn Heights.

Public Health

As one of the nation’s largest cities, public policymaking in New York City is both complex and influenced by a wide range of forces. While the mayor is a primary agenda setter and chief executive, policy decisions are largely implemented by the 51 members of the City Council. The mayor and council members are elected to three-four year terms.

During the progressive wave of 2021, several Democratic Socialists – including Jabari Brisport, Zohran Mamdani, Phara Souffrant-Forrest and Marcela Mitaynes – won City Council seats in traditionally moderate districts by either dispatching resurgent IDC-aligned incumbents or netting blowout open-primary victories. However, these candidates have yet to demonstrate a capacity to form a hybrid coalition with Alphabet Left community activists and Manhattan liberals or to perform well in working class enclaves throughout the City.

Despite the apparent convergence of these seemingly disparate factions, little scholarship has sought to understand how they impact and intersect in a single urban political system. This book seeks to fill this gap by examining how these critical forces – economic/fiscal, intergovernmental and social – shape governance in NYC.

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