New York Daily News
Progressive Democrats are their own worst enemy
During the past three election cycles, Democrats nationally have had a secret weapon: Donald Trump. Over that same period, while it’s gotten less notoriety, Republicans have also received unexpected help from an unlikely source: progressive New York Democrats.
This Midas-in-reverse effect was most apparent in last year’s midterm elections: while Democrats gained some governorships and one U.S. Senate seat thanks to flawed opponents hand-picked by Trump, Republicans won a narrow margin in the House of Representatives by campaigning aggressively against progressive-driven changes in New York’s criminal-justice laws.
The rest of the nation barely felt the spray of the GOP red wave that some predicted, but New York Republicans flipped four congressional seats. That dramatic shift came a year after those controversial criminal-justice changes produced big GOP wins in Nassau, most notably for county executive and district attorney.
The lesson from those losses has gone unlearned by the sizable Democratic majorities in both the Legislature and the City Council. Left-leaning Democratic state senators took delight in thwarting a governor from their party, Kathy Hochul, by mustering enough votes to prevent her nominee for the state’s chief judge, Hector LaSalle, from being confirmed because they deemed him too conservative.
Then, the Council’s Progressive Caucus demanded that its 35 members — who constituted a veto-proof majority in the 51seat body —sign a Statement of Principles pledging to reduce the size of the NYPD during budget negotiations with Mayor Adams.
The less-ideologically impaired members of the caucus balked, with 15 leaving its ranks rather than endorse what amounts to defunding the police under another name. They’ve seen the damage done by Republicans’ ability to convince voters that increases in violent crime are the fault of Democratic lawmakers who care more about the rights of the culprits than they do the victims.
At the national level, there’s an argument to be made that even before the loss of the House majority, President Biden’s agenda was hindered by the left wing of his party embracing the defund movement. North Carolina Republican Sen. Thom Tillis squeaked home to reelection in 2020 by tagging his Democratic opponent with that issue. If Democrats had captured that seat, Biden would not have been hamstrung by having to placate two members of his party, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, whose interests sometimes diverged.
He has a bit of breathing room in the Senate now, even with Sinema leaving the Democratic caucus, but lost the majority in the House.
This probably seems less relevant to progressive Council Dems here when placed alongside their fears of facing primary challenges from their left in June. Republicans have been plagued by the same concern at the other extreme. But this puts both parties in a self-destructive mode when legislators become so intent on winning internal battles that they risk losing the larger wars.
Some House Republicans, much like Trump, seem indifferent to such consequences, mainly because they are more intent on power than policy achievements.
Democrats in New York’s Senate may have grown so complacent with their supermajority that they forgot the period prior to the 2018 elections when they were out of power for 54 of 56 years.
The Council has been a Democratic bastion for what seems like forever. But one of their “reforms” in the wake of the George Floyd protests — subjecting cops to possible criminal charges if, in subduing someone they are trying to arrest, they compress the chest area — has made officers leery of engaging with those who might violently resist. That reluctance winds up reducing safety on the streets.
The driving force behind that bill was then-Councilman Rory Lancman of Queens, who for years following the 2014 death of Eric Garner had unsuccessfully pushed for a city law to ban chokeholds by police. After the bill tacking on diaphragm compression to the chokehold prohibition became law, Lancman said he had added it because he knew that Mayor Bill de Blasio wouldn’t have the guts to veto the more-sweeping bill despite the objections of top police commanders to that aspect, given the likelihood of a Council override.
Unfortunately, arguments like the unforeseen consequences of that provision get obscured by ideology, as has been seen in the resistance to changing the bail-reform law to allow judges to consider dangerousness, as is done in every other state.
And so the question looms: Will it really take loss of local political control for progressive Dems to grasp how out of step some of their positions are with public sentiment, even in this bright blue state?