Democrat Bill de Blasio, a liberal who grew up in a poor family in a minority community, was elected mayor of New York City on Tuesday last week. By winning 73 percent of the vote, De Blasio defeated Republican candidate Joe Lhota, a former deputy mayor from Manhattan who has a good relationship with Wall Street.
Over the past 20 years, New York has been controlled by two conservative mayors: the Republican Party’s Rudy Giuliani between 1994 and 2001, followed by Republican-turned-independent Michael Bloomberg, who has held the post since 2002. Both emphasized traditional values such as stability, social order and economic growth, as well as allowing police to stop and search citizens in the street or photograph them. They also continuously accelerated real-estate development in an attempt to build a safe and wealthy city.
However, things are clearly different from what upper-class white people living in Manhattan residential districts perceive, and the results of the mayoral election were an expression of what most city residents are feeling.
After De Blasio was appointed as public advocate in 2009, he came in contact with the poverty faced by many residents living outside Manhattan.
He saw that even those in the so-called middle class found it very hard to find affordable housing in the city as prices continued to surge.
He also saw police violating the human rights of black people and other minority groups through improper raids and arrests, as well as noticing that apart from a few top private schools for the wealthy, the quality of teachers and education in many public schools was poor.
To reverse this distorted development, De Blasio proposes to end this “tale of two cities” that divides New York between rich and poor, an aim he used as one of his main campaign slogans.
The message he sends is this: He wants to fight against unfair distribution of wealth, narrow the income gap and protect residents’ human rights and freedom in a fair way.
In addition, De Blasio has a fresh image. He is proud to come from Brooklyn and chooses to stand by people at the grassroots level, refusing to participate in the political and money games of the rich and powerful. He has pledged to “leave no New Yorker behind” once he is in charge of the richest city in the world.
His values and image have struck a chord with the majority of New Yorkers. De Blasio had no financial support from large conglomerates or industries, and lacks a prestigious family background — his father was an alcoholic and his parents divorced when he was eight.
De Blasio participated in student movements in high school and fought for student rights in college. After receiving a master’s degree, he went to Nicaragua to participate in the left-wing movement there.
This ordinary kid completely crushed Lhota, an experienced politician with good political and business connections, who had a lot of support from political and business leaders, and a highly recognized name.
The mayoral election was a choice of values over power or fame. It was a victory not only for De Blasio, but also for the values that he represents and for liberalism.
With this in mind, a look at Taiwan’s political stage is enough to fill one with a deep sense of sorrow.
As next year’s Taipei mayoral election approaches, hopefuls are announcing their bids one after another and arguing over whether they are “typical” or “atypical” politicians.
Take, for example, Taiwan University Hospital physician Ko Wen-je (柯文哲), who claims that there is no “VIP seat” for any candidate on the political stage. Others are calling former vice president Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) an “emerald” (祖母綠) — meaning “green grandmother” in Chinese — claiming she is too old to run, since she will turn 70 next year.
Amid all the bickering, the candidates’ values and visions are nowhere to be seen.
Unsurprisingly, it seems that next year’s contest for Taipei mayor is likely to be a repeat of the old shows, as candidates bid to be louder than their opponents and engage in a war of words. Such a campaign might make for a splendid show, but it will be devoid of content.
Huang Kuo-chang is an associate research fellow at the Academia Sinica’s Institutum Iurisprudentiae.
Translated by Eddy Chang