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August 29, 2013 12:25 PM De Blasio, Sinclair and Kucinich

By Ed Kilgore

PA’s great friend Rich Yeselson penned a Politico profile of New York mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio at a fortuitous moment, just after a new Quinnipiac poll showed his subject experiencing a surge in support from Democrats that has made observers wonder if he might even avoid a runoff and go on to win a Democratic general election victory that seems pre-ordained after two decades of Giuliani and Bloomberg.

Yeselson is actually less focused on de Blasio’s campaign than on what might happen to him if he wins and tries to implement a straightforward platform of redistributing resources from the city’s famously powerful wealthy to the rest of the population. And he offers two cautionary tales from the past, one in California and another in Ohio:

In the past, when state and local leftist Democrats have tried to reach below the heads of the bankers and corporate chiefs to “the people,” they have been crushed. In 1934, during the heart of the Depression, the famous muckraking author of The Jungle, Upton Sinclair, shockingly won the Democratic nomination for governor of California under the platform, “End Poverty in California.” Sinclair wanted a full employment policy that would dedicate unused factories, farmlands, and movie studios in the state to putting Californians to work.
The rich went crazy. The newspaper moguls, like William Randolph Hearst, attacked Sinclair endlessly, the movie studio heads threatened to move to Florida while also making newsreels — the television commercials of their days, shown in movie theaters — to defame Sinclair. Big business and agriculture interests in the state and throughout the nation invested millions into defeating Sinclair and his movement of the unemployed and dispossessed. FDR, worried that Sinclair was just a bit too far left, chose to stay silent. Sinclair lost by 10 percent to the Republican.
Closer to our time, the idiosyncratic former Rep. Dennis Kucinich also felt the concerted wrath of capital when he challenged its prerogatives. In 1978, as the 31-year-old “boy mayor” of Cleveland, and despite sometimes seeming way over his head, Kucinich — with extraordinary courage and tenacity — tried to stop the sale of the municipal power company of Cleveland, Muny Light, to a private company, CEI, which sought to establish a local monopoly. Six large banks, closely linked to CEI, said they would recall a $15 million note to the city unless Kucinich capitulated by midnight on Dec. 15 and allowed the sale. Kucinich refused. His reward was to see Cleveland become the largest city since the Great Depression to default on its obligations. And with the city’s power elite solidly opposed to him, Kucinich lost his reelection campaign the following year.

This the sort of fate de Blasio tempts, says Yeselson, and will need many allies and a lot of savvy to avoid:

[I]t may well be that Bill de Blasio really wants to fight the most powerful people in New York City on behalf of its working class and poor. If he is serious about repurposing some of the money and resources of New York’s wealthiest citizens for the benefit of New York’s non-wealthy majority, the wealthy will hate it and fight it. Dante de Blasio’s awesome Afro won’t charm them in the least.
Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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