Participatory Budgeting week + Everybody hates the Bedford Armory deal

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Local News

Upcoming Elections

  • DSA member & endorsee khalid kamau was successful in reaching a runoff in his bid for City Council in South Fulton, Georgia. khalid captured 43% of the vote compared to 17% for his opponent. As noted in our previous newsletter, DSAers from around the country, pitched in by phone-banking for khalid in what will hopefully be a blueprint for DSA electoral mobilization in the future. Information on phone-banking for the April 18th runoff can be found here.  To get involved with your local NYC DSA Electoral Working Group Field Team check out the signup form here.
  • As City Council primaries get started, here is a relatively comprehensive summary of key races from City and State. It is missing some candidates, notably Jabari Brisport in the 35th District (see below).
  • Queens Councilmember and potential Republican nominee for Mayor Eric Ulrich will not run in 2017. The Republican primary is now unlikely to feature any prominent politicians, and now includes Rocky De La Fuente, a millionaire real estate developer from San Jose who does not actually live here.
  • Ede Fox, Laurie Cumbo’s opponent in the Democratic primary for District 35, has announced her opposition to the Bedford-Union Armory deal. Whoever wins the Democratic primary will have their leftist credentials put to the test when they face the DSA’s own Jabari Brisport in the general on the Green Party line.
  • Participatory Budgeting is underway throughout New York City. This year, 31 council districts are participating, including 10 in Brooklyn. Read more about it below!


This is voting week for New York City Council’s Participatory Budgeting (PB) project. PB is a process in which community members directly choose how to spend a portion of the City budget. Started in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2005, it was first introduced in New York City by four City Council Members in 2011, and has since spread to 31 districts across all five boroughs.

How does it work?

In New York, each participating City Council Member designates at least $1M of their discretionary funding budget to be allocated to projects through a series of public meetings and a public vote. In October each year, Council Members hold public assemblies to solicit project ideas. From November to March, volunteers work with Council Members’ staff and City agencies to hone these ideas into a list of approximately 25 discrete and workable project proposals, which are then placed on a ballot for a week-long voting period at the beginning of April. PB funds capital projects, which are physical, “brick and mortar” projects that cost at least $35,000 and are designed to last at least five years, and generally include improvements to schools, parks, libraries, public housing, and streets.

Political context

PB is a project of the City Council’s Progressive Caucus, a group of self-identified progressive Democrats formed in 2009 that has since grown to include 19 of the City Council’s 51 members. Both Mayor de Blasio and City Council Speaker Mark-Viverito are public allies of the Progressive Caucus. As all but three City Council Members are Democrats, the relationships between groups like the Progressive Caucus and borough conferences are often the main political frictions within the City. When it comes to PB, not all Council Members are fans, referring to it as superfluous community input and citing the extensive staff time is requires. Should a less progressive faction of the Democrats take power, rolling back or eliminating PB could be used to make a statement against the Progressive Caucus. Prior to PB, all of Council Members’ discretionary funding was opaquely allocated and occasionally to questionable ends; for example, in 2014, CM Laurie Cumbo earmarked $1.4M to a museum that she founded.

Critiques from a left perspective

While PB is by no means a full socialist project, it does align with some broadly left goals, and involves a form of direct democratic control over economics that has been proposed by leftists in various forms. Chief among these goals is the expansion of the franchise to noncitizens and communities that are otherwise underrepresented in local politics. The breakdown of who participated in the 2014-2015 PB cycle is promising: nearly 60% were people of color (notably higher than turnout in local elections), 10% were under 18, 10% were non-citizens, and over 50% said they are not affiliated with any other community groups. Furthermore, PB helps enfranchise young people in community decisions, as the minimum voting age is 14 and this can be seen as part of a larger and welcome program to involve high schoolers in local government.

Additionally, PB vote tallies remain small, with only one to two thousand votes in each district. With low turnout, it is easy for supporters of an individual project to organize and win. So in the short term, one way to improve PB could be to increase public knowledge of and participation in the process.

However, there is reason to be cautious of these kinds of small-scale community development programs. PB is vulnerable to being dominated by pre-existing constituencies and/or a hyper-political local elite. Arguably, Community Boards - local neighborhood panels that advise on land use and development decisions and are the traditional vehicles for providing community input on capital funding needs - have succumbed to this pitfall in New York City. Although PB is meant to broaden the conversation around capital funding, it could easily lead to the same kind of dynamics that reinforce the structural impoverishment of certain areas over others.

The scope of PB is also limited – about $30 million is allocated compared to the city’s nearly $60 billion capital commitment plan – so it raises questions about why such a small amount of the budget is decided democratically and whether the public time and resources used in PB to pit small projects against each other might be better used towards more comprehensive solutions. Our city should be able to fund a necessary repair of a NYCHA facility and a new sprinkler in a park instead of forcing constituents to frame them as opposing priorities. Unquestionably, opening city funding up to a democratic process to increase community participation is a positive thing for the City and community engagement in general, and we should encourage our friends and neighbors to get involved in PB and ask why certain CMs choose not to participate. However, as we attempt to broaden the horizons of left politics in NYC, we should envision a city that can maintain its public infrastructure under all circumstances and doesn’t ask communities to play a zero-sum game with its insufficient budget.

You can vote online right now if you are in a participating district here:

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