Flip-Flop

01.06.14

When Dems Loved Wall Street

New York Democrats now condemn the very things they wanted 15 years ago.

Listening to Bill de Blasio, you would never know that New York City was ranked 10th among 50 major U.S. cities for upward mobility or that New York’s affluent have a better than average chance of hitting bottom. No, if you pay attention to de Blasio, it sounds as if the city’s problems are Wall Street’s fault and that New York is calcifying, not just stratifying. The fact is that Democrats have been feeding at Wall Street’s trough for years.

Just weeks before de Blasio’s New Year’s Day inaugural address, Hillary Clinton pocketed at least $400,000 at two Wall Street events by saying, “Beating up the finance industry isn’t going to improve the economy—it needs to stop.” In 2008, Wall Street accounted for nearly 20 cents of every dollar raised by Barack Obama. The securities industry was the No. 2 donor to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, trailing behind law firms but ahead of lobbyists in donations.

Reid even took in more than $112,000 in contributions from Weitz & Luxenberg, law firm of Sheldon Silver, the ethically challenged speaker of the New York State Assembly and even better, de Blasio’s newest friend.

De Blasio just named Dean Fuleihan, Silver’s former numbers guy, as director of the New York City’s Office of Management and Budget, and just like de Blasio, Silver now says he, too, wants to hike taxes on the rich and wants New York City’s world-class high schools—Stuyvesant, Bronx High School of Science, and Brooklyn Tech—to be less meritocratic in their admissions.

And in case you have any doubts, New York City’s elite schools are not havens for the rich. Far from it. At Stuyvesant, more than 30 percent of students are poor enough to qualify for free meals, and at Brooklyn Tech, where the mayor’s son, Dante, goes to school, the number swells to more than three in five.

In New York City, where 46 percent either live in or near poverty, those stats are impressive. Add them up and they depict a reality in which the poor can make it up the ladder and in which able-minded strivers may be able to leave the old neighborhood if that’s what they want. De Blasio knows it, but he won’t or can’t say it.

De Blasio, Clinton, and Silver now condemn the things they once wanted, things like lower taxes on high-end suburbanites.

They brought Wall Street its slippers, coffee, and newspaper.

During Clinton’s 2000 run for the U.S. Senate, New York Democrats were all doing their damnedest to stroke the bankers who commuted to Wall Street from New York’s tony suburbs, such as Chappaqua, which Clinton calls home, and which Clinton bought with a handout, er hand, from Terry McAuliffe, crony capitalist par excellence and Virginia’s new governor.   

Clinton didn’t comment on the repeal of the .45 percent commuter tax in 1999, as she was mulling her Senate run. And Silver was instrumental in its repeal. The tax repeal costs New York City $500 million annually. 

Early in the aughts, Wall Street whistled, and neither Clinton nor de Blasio barked. No, instead they brought Wall Street its slippers, coffee, and newspaper. 

De Blasio didn’t say boo when his ex-boss Andrew Cuomo, then-HUD secretary, loosened lending requirements for residential mortgages in 2000, to the delight of both halves of the Democrats’ Upstairs-Downstairs Coalition.

Bill Clinton administered the oath of office to de Blasio and then ritually nodded to inequality as a source of “moral outrage.” In de Blasio’s inaugural speech, he took the bolder—though not necessarily more courageous—approach. 

The new mayor demanded “social and economic justice.” He also called for raising taxes on families with incomes between $500,000 and $1 million by $973, which he calculated to be “less than three bucks a day—about the cost of a small soy latte at your local Starbucks.” 

Sadly, de Blasio never uttered the words “jobs,”  “construction,” “manufacturing,” or “growth.” He mentioned “middle class” all but once and then only in a run-on-sentence: “Black, white, Latino, Asian, gay, straight, old, young, rich, middle class, and poor.” Work, toil, and upward mobility never received their due. 

By picking Bill Bratton as police commissioner, de Blasio has signaled his concern for keeping the city’s streets safe. As Rudy Giuliani’s first commissioner and then as top cop in Los Angeles, Bratton delivered safer cities. But beyond public safety, de Blasio seems keen on playing the politics of resentment, at the expense of implementing policies for growth. 

De Blasio has clearly has demonstrated he can win. The question is whether he has the goods to govern.