New York City swings left

Bill de Blasio Democratic mayoral candidate, New York 2013For New York City to elect a Democrat as its mayor should be no surprise. All the polls suggested this was likely, and Barack Obama secured more than 81% of the vote in the city last year. Still, it is 24 years since New York elected David Dinkins as its mayor. For five successive terms, the mayor has been someone elected on Republican ticket. (Michael Bloomberg actually left the GOP some years ago, but was re-elected in 2009 as an independent who was nonetheless listed on the Republican line). 

Was this, then, the first post-crime election in New York? Obviously, crime has not gone away. There were over 400 murders in New York last year, but that is more than 80% down from 1990. Murder can be a good approximation of overall crime rates, because it is hard to redefine it. Lesser assaults and property crimes can sometimes be classified differently according to the incentives for police. When a high crime rate gets police departments bigger budgets, marginal instances tend to be classified as the more serious crime. If departments are rewarded for falling crime rates, the reverse happens. Murder can sometimes be classified as manslaughter, but that is often a matter for juries not police. New York is generally regarded as having the lowest crime rate among America’s biggest cities, when just a couple of decades ago it was among the highest. This is a post-crime election in the sense that crime is no longer the pressing issue for a great many electors. 

Voters tend to show no gratitude. When a problem is solved instead of rewarding the party that solved it, they tend to vote on other issues. This is quite right. This election was to choose someone to govern for the next four years, not the last four. It is not so much “what have you done for me lately?” but “what are you going to do next?”

Indeed, after five terms from mayors who promised consistent backing for the police, New York now has a mayor calling for an end to ‘stop and frisk’ policies which, he claims, damage community relations while being of little value in combatting crime. We will see whether he is right.

He is also calling for higher taxes for those on incomes higher than $500,000. The rate is already 55%. He proposes an extra 1.5% which is a small proportion of the total, though it increases the city element of the tax by a third. His supporters ridicule the idea that such a small increase in total marginal tax will lead to a mass exodus from the city to Connecticut. He may be right, but the very richest may be able to order their affairs rather differently. Many may already have more than one home and bank accounts in several countries. Connecticut may not offer the short commutes to Wall Street, or the museums and theaters than Manhattan does, but London’s top tax rate of 45% may look increasingly tempting to financial traders. Hong Kong has financial markets almost as important and the top rate of salaries tax there is just 17%. There are many global business centers which may seem more competitive than New York, and small though this increase is, it might prove counter-productive.

Quentin Langley is a Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Bedfordshire Business School as well as a freelance columnist published in the UK and all parts of the US. He blogs on social media and crisis communications at brandjacknews.com

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