How much of a difference will candidates’ positions on living wage make in the 2013 mayoral race?
In a crowded field of Democratic candidates, the issue of living wage may play an outsize role in the 2013 New York City mayoral race.
All of the major mayoral candidates—City Comptroller John Liu, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and former City Comptroller Bill Thompson—have tacitly indicated their support for the wage compromise crafted by Quinn this spring.
But some candidates have been more vocally supportive than others, which could go a long way toward determining which candidates receive the endorsement of some of the city’s most powerful labor groups, like the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which can provide ground operatives to help with voter turnout for their preferred candidate. And with a living-wage mandate now on the books, the next mayor will prove crucial to whether the law is expanded.
Liu has been the race’s most vocal advocate for living wage, while de Blasio announced support for the bill only after it was pared down through amendments. Thompson and Stringer have been relatively quiet on the issue, while Quinn supports the more limited compromise.
But each of the candidates stood on the City Hall steps at the April 30 press conference to announce passage of the compromise living-wage bill.
RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum demurred when asked for clues as to whom the union might endorse, but he said that they would be looking for candidates’ willingness to build on the provisions in the bill.
“I think that every one of the major mayoral candidates has expressed support for this new notion of economic development,” he said. “The question is going to be how we build on it, how we ensure that living-wage jobs are created in New York when public resources are involved.”
But other unions that opposed the living-wage bill, like the DC 9 painters’ union, are more inclined to endorse a mayoral candidate with less enthusiasm for living wage, said DC 9 political director Jack Kittle.
“It’s not at all a deal breaker if a candidate supports it, but I would like to get a sense that anybody running for mayor can learn from the past,” Kittle said. “The two words that come to my mind are Kingsbridge Armory, which is the most spectacular example of failure I’ve ever seen.”
That was the Bronx development project whose demise was blamed on Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz Jr.’s insistence that the developers pay a living wage.
Kittle said the painters’ union is interviewing candidates, but the race is too far away for endorsement speculations.
“I remember when Anthony Weiner was the front-runner, so I wouldn’t predict anything a year and a half out,” he said.
The Partnership for New York City, which withdrew support from Quinn’s living wage compromise when a provision that included a mayoral waiver was withdrawn, said the living wage principle would prove unlivable for the next mayor.
“The living wage bill passed by the Council curbs the powers of the Mayor and his agencies to negotiate subsidy contracts in order to serve the best interests of the city and its communities,” said spokesman Michael Levoff. ” We assume that, once elected, the next Mayor will recognize that no two economic development deals are identical and that they will seek the same type of flexibility that has allowed the Bloomberg Administration to achieve success in promoting job creation and development across the five boroughs.”
But according to Paul Sonn, the legal codirector of the National Employment Law Project, who helped write the bill, the legislation bill has broad enough public support to ensure it will “de facto form a new policy agenda for the next Democratic mayor.”
While advocates anticipate the current administration’s Economic Development Corporation will avoid implementing the living-wage provisions and could even sue to block them, each of the Democratic candidates are expected to support living wage, Sonn said. As the mayoral race draws closer, though, unions and living-wage supporters expect to probe candidates’ willingness to go further than what the current bill requires, Sonn added.
One issue is whether the new mayor will negotiate requiring development projects’ prospective tenants to pay the living wage, a controversial provision that was left out of the current bill, Sonn said. Every future economic-development deal that passes through the mayor’s hands would include living-wage negotiations on applying it to tenants, he added.
Democratic consultant Hank Sheinkopf said the candidates’ safest maneuver will be to support the bill as written.
“Labor will be less the kingmaker in a crowded field,” he said, citing the fact that city residents are generally “more to the left” on issues, even in the outer boroughs.
Sheinkopf said the candidates do not need to worry that their support for living wage might jeopardize money from the real estate industry, one of the measure’s most powerful opponents. Candidates who don’t support the bill might receive additional donations from the real estate industry, but the impact would be largely lost as public campaign financing evens out their coffers, he said.
“Right now there is no right or left; there’s only the Democratic Party, which will decide everything,” Sheinkopf said. “If you’re outside the boundaries, either saying ‘no’ or saying too much, you could lose the race.”
Tags: 2013 Mayoral Race, Anthony Weiner, Bill De Blasio, Bill Thompson, Christine Quinn, DC 9, Economic Development Corporation, Hank Scheinkopf, Jack Kittle, John Liu, Kingsbridge Armory, Laura Nahmias, living wage, National Employment Law Project, Paul Sonn, Ruben Diaz Jr., Scott Stringer, Stuart Appelbaum
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