While New York is seen as a blue state, the reality is that a few corrupt politicians have screwed over voters and avoided true progressive reforms.
New York should be a leader in universal healthcare, women’s rights, and affordable housing, offering solutions that help millions of people and provide models for state governments across the country. Instead, the State Senate refuses to consider single-payer healthcare, lets landlords and real estate developers jack up rents and destroy neighborhoods, and watched a world-class subway system rot into a rusty, unreliable underground nightmare. This hurts New Yorkers and people across the country.
How’d this happen?
In 2011, a group of Democratic State Senators broke away from the party to hand power to Republicans. The so-called Independent Democratic Conference — known as the IDC — violated the wishes of the voters and hurt both the state and real Democrats across the country. Over the years, a series of corrupt maneuvers, bribes, and lies kept the GOP in power.
Alessandra Biaggi is running for State Senate in New York’s 34th district, waging a people-powered campaign against Jeff Klein, the cartoonishly corrupt politician who engineered the deal in Albany that has held back not only New York but all of America.
As a young, progressive candidate from the Bronx running to unseat an arrogant, old-school incumbent, Biaggi’s race is in many ways reminiscent of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s shock upset of Congressman Joe Crowley. She says Ocasio-Cortez’s win has energized her own campaign, but there are also important differences.
“The comparison of Congressman Crowley to my opponent is actually insulting to Congressman Crowley, because Congressman Crowley did not go to Washington, DC and empower Paul Ryan,” Biaggi tells Progressive Everywhere. “The equivalent of what’s gone on in New York is that my opponent has gone to Albany for the past eight legislative sessions has empowered the equivalent of Paul Ryan.”
Biaggi is one of eight young, energetic, and progressive candidates running to oust the members of the IDC in the September 13th primary, an effort that’s getting statewide support because of the huge stakes.
“I’m running not just for District 34, because there had been someone in the seat for so long who has blocked progress for all New Yorkers and that’s really a shame,” Biaggi, whose grandfather served in Congress, says. “It both provides an opportunity to do better and make sure that the needs of people in this district are being met, as well as an opportunity to really shift the landscape in a way that sends a message that you can’t take people and your voters and New Yorkers for granted.”
The 32-year-old, who worked for Hillary Clinton’s campaign and has worked in Albany for years as an attorney and high-ranking aide, is focused on four issues in particular.
Before we even dive into Biaggi’s platform, just know that Klein’s priorities have mostly included buying $10,000 Rolex watches, taking illegal political donations, and sexually assaulting former aides. See, I told you Klein was cartoonishly corrupt.
First, Biaggi is vowing to return full funding to public schools. Her district is comprised of parts of Westchester and the Bronx, creating a diverse community where public schooling and the opportunities they offer are essential. Biaggi notes that Klein’s seat on the budget committee did the district’s schools no favors, an abdication of responsibility she would not continue.
Her district’s unique mix of urban and more suburban communities also has her pushing for housing laws that would benefit tenants in all situations.
“We have people with different housing needs, but when it comes down to it, everyone is trying to afford where they live,” Biaggi says. “There are bills that have been pending in the State Senate that can close loopholes in the law, that can make it so that landlords cannot be predatory on tenants, that tenants have protection, that you can actually control their rent stabilization guidelines and just ways to really make the system fairer.”
Biaggi is intimately acquainted with the stalled legislation in Albany, having worked as a counsel for the governor’s office, leading negotiations across branches, which resulted in laws like paid family leave and $15 an hour minimum wage. She knows much more can be done without the political hurdles presented by the IDC, especially on women’s issues, having worked on the New York State Council for Women and Girls. With Roe v. Wade in the crosshairs nationally, she is adamant about codifying it in the New York State legal system, which last updated its abortion rights laws before the landmark case and thus would not provide the protections needed should Roe get overturned by a right-wing Supreme Court.
Her experience in state government means that Biaggi is less an outside bomb thrower than experienced government expert who grew sick of the systemic cynicism and is now seeking office so that she can inject progressive values into legislation. Growing up between the city and suburbs helps her understand the needs of both communities, and as Mayor de Blasio and Cuomo fight over responsibility for fixing the MTA and feud over potential solutions, she wants to cut through all the political roadblocks and chicanery.
Unfortunately, the state’s entrenched powers are dragging their feet; Cuomo hasn’t even named members of a panel meant to study the issue, and with no urgency coming from State Senate leaders, it may not happen for a while. Klein himself kept pushing policies that would take important revenue from the city, something that would only harm his constituents.
Biaggi is open to all progressive ideas to fix the situation as soon as possible for New Yorkers and create the infrastructure that can once again lead the way for the nation at large.
“Do we have a millionaire’s tax? Do we do congestion pricing? All of these things are reasonable options and things to explore,” she says. “And then even the congestion pricing plan as is I think is not progressive enough. It should have incorporated into it into a fair fairs system so that people who are in certain brackets of income or age don’t have to pay the same price. Obviously, not everybody has the ability to do that and you can’t prevent people from traveling in and out of New York City.”
Her inherently progressive approach to economic justice and fairness represents a generational change for New York politics, which has long been mired in corruption and pay-to-play schemes. Biaggi is very much in favor of marijuana legalization, citing its importance in both criminal justice reform and agricultural development. For so long, New York has been held back by Republicans and classist Democrats who function as conservative co-conspirators. That, Biaggi promises, won’t be a problem if she wins the primary.
“I have no intention of ever deceiving the voters by saying I’m a Democrat and then after a few years go by and I’ll be a Republican or empowering Republicans,” she says. “That will never happen. And that’s something that Jeff Klein, unfortunately for himself, cannot take back.”