Will Apathy Defeat de Blasio’s Grand Plan for Democracy?

Will Apathy Defeat de Blasio’s Grand Plan for Democracy?


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Mayor Bill de Blasio delivering the State of the City address on Tuesday.

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Dave Sanders for The New York Times

Mayor Bill de Blasio offered a bleak view of civic life in New York and the nation on Tuesday night. If put to canvas, his State of the City speech setting forth an agenda for his second term might well be colored in 50 shades of charcoal gray. He spoke about “the decline of democracy,” about a country at risk of becoming “a pseudo-democracy,” about how “we are so far from what the norm should be of an active and inclusive democracy,” about how “I have never felt our democracy as imperiled as I do today.” The grim litany was almost enough to make one reach for the bottle.

We’re in sync with him on the perils of social and economic inequality and on the need for vigilance in the face of this White House’s routine flouting of democratic norms. But it’s hard to escape the sense that Mr. de Blasio is an imperfect messenger for some of the reforms he advocated to “redemocratize a society that is losing its way.”

His call for broader public financing of local elections and “getting big money out of politics” sounded good. But it might have resonated more had it come from someone who did not rely on big money in his campaigns, and was criticized by federal prosecutors for blurring pay-to-play ethics — and has no doubt run his last race for local office.

The mayor pledged to create a commission to revise City Charter provisions on campaign financing. Every New York mayor in the last quarter-century has favored this sort of panel to achieve a specific goal, usually stocking it with loyalists. Why bother with a process that may well run a tortuous course? Nothing stops Mr. de Blasio from immediately drafting legislation to get the same result, and persuading the City Council to pass it.

Like his sparring partner, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the mayor urged that the state free itself from stifling election procedures, in particular constraints that make it one of only 13 states without early voting. It remains unclear if the State Legislature, notably the Republican-controlled Senate, will go along with the idea. But Mr. Cuomo at least gave it a helpful lift this week when he heeded a call here to show he means business by adding necessary money — $7 million in his proposed budget — to make early voting happen.



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