New York politics follows a long arc of progressivism. This commitment to forward-thinking, to change, and social reform, is stamped across our political identity from the Roosevelts to the Cuomos.
Naturally, this progressivism has kept our country’s extreme partisanship and political division from our doors. Yet that same partisanship is how my generation and the next have understood media and politics for the last three decades.
In each presidential contest, we part red states from blue and outline a battlefield to conquer the smaller, less partisan “purple” constituencies. And as much as New York is a sign of progressive American ideals, every four years we feel like the placeholder, a safely blue state, perhaps too blue to matter. Our political identities seem often prewritten and prescriptive. New York is a perennially blue state — but we are also more.
Terms to Know:
- Progressivism: a political philosophy that promotes ongoing social reform
- Partisanship: a strong prejudice toward a certain cause or movement, leading often to a rejection of compromise with political opponents
- Purple: A term describing a state or smaller constituency where the two main parties in the United States (Republican and Democratic) have equal degrees of support from voters
In search of perspective, I spoke with two people I associate strongly with where New York has been and where we are going: Hector Carosso, writer, filmmaker, longtime West Village resident, and Henry Robins, former Legislative Aide to Speaker of the New York City Council Corey Johnson.
I spoke with Henry about “blue fatigue” in New York. He had some surprising insights on how significant moderate-leaning constituencies in New York get overlooked by the extreme partisan media narratives. “I do think the pendulum is swinging in many places from extreme positions to the middle,” says Henry. “People don’t talk about it but there is a strong Republican tradition in Staten Island, Queens, Brooklyn, Long Island and upstate — and a strong moderate tradition among Black voters in New York City”.
Moderate political views do get a bad rap. I, too, absorbed the media narrative that moderation was either weak or establishmentarian. But moderation defines how New York has rebalanced against a swing to the partisan extremes.
New York’s Rockefeller Republican generation made their name by reaching across the aisle on issues of substance. It’s clear that New York moderates get overlooked — and perhaps taken for granted in spite of the fact that they are a core constituency of both Republicans and Democrats in New York. Extreme partisanship enables the uneven, unequal valuing of these voters.
“I believe too many politicians spend too much time chasing and swaying “toss-up” constituencies and not enough time among their core bases — driving up voter turnout and actually getting to know and address the needs of their constituents,” argues Henry. “If there was more of that, especially in regards to the Black community, I think we’d see much higher levels of engagement and more of our problems solved in ways that would satisfy everyone.”
Latino-Americans are another often-misunderstood but essential constituency that leans towards the middle. “Latino-Americans in New York and across the country are traditionally more conservative than people might expect — but that conservatism doesn’t necessarily mean that Latinos always vote Republican,” says Hector.
This could not be more apparent in the current election, with action-based principles guiding political sentiment rather than a conservative value system. “The fact is that [President] Trump has crossed the line over and over in disparaging and targeting Latinos, and even the conservative Latinos are fed up,” Hector points out. “Those who came from authoritarian countries and have become US citizens know what a wannabe dictator looks like, and they are not going to stand for it here.”
In a state with such strong and consistent progressive political outcomes, our blueness can cause fatigue — with a resignation that perhaps our votes matter less than those of less-populous, more purple states. This could not be further from reality.
It cannot be said enough that what happens in this state has arguably the most significant influence within the United States. From President Trump to Bernie Sanders and his acolytes like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, New York-style politics are at the helm of both ends of the partisan spectrum. In this election cycle alone, seven New Yorkers ran mainstream campaigns for the presidency. New Yorkers are the ones shaping our present political moment.
“We’re seeing a shift in New York politics at the moment and much of it is generational”
At home, Henry says, “We’re seeing a shift in New York politics at the moment and much of it is generational. We have younger politicians like Corey, AOC, and countless candidates for [New York City] Council in the 2021 cycle who have injected their personalities into their public personas. You could call it a form of populism but, in my mind, it’s reflective of a whole new demographic of voters and constituents. Millennials and Gen Zers want to see more humanity from their elected officials. People want candor, not BS.”
In this era of public life, the political is deeply personal. The politics of exclusion and exclusivity cede to a newer, broader bloc of voters, as Henry defines them, who think and care deeply about the intent and biases of their elected leaders. This hunger for authenticity in our politics is somewhat at odds with the extreme partisan swings in our public life. Is it healthy to have such wild swings in our politics? What does it indicate about our democracy?
“Many of our founding fathers lamented a two-party system on the grounds of partisanship and promoting a business-style of government that is not necessarily democratic. One might project into the future that the parties could splinter,” Hector says. “Meaningful change is going to take time, but what I am most optimistic about is how young voices — new political vanguards like AOC — can effect change. You now have former DAs and prosecutors leading criminal justice reform and youth activists who are focused on environmental justice and climate policy.”
New York’s blueness does not always reflect our true political diversity and character. Perhaps it doesn’t need to. Perhaps our blueness is our diversity, and how we give our fellow citizens across the country a window to how we progress as an American body politic.
“In previous elections, my vote as a New Yorker has gone to the Green Party but this year I’m definitely going to vote for Biden,” Hector concludes. “The news media is bought, punditry spews from all directions and information is getting more and more skewed. So it really is up to the citizenry to take our politicians to task.”
“If it weren’t for New York City, New York would be a purple state like Pennsylvania. This election could be decided by lawyers, so it really is unlike any other,” Henry stresses. “Our vote really does matter; a strong turnout in New York and in California sends a huge signal to the rest of the country.”
Our late Supreme Court Justice and native New Yorker Ruth Bader Ginsburg had apt reflection on the partisan swings in American public life: “The true symbol of the United States is not the bald eagle; it is the pendulum. When the pendulum swings too far in one direction, it will go back.”
This Election Day is as important for us as New Yorkers as it is for our fellow Americans west and north and south of the Hudson. Next year the mayor of New York and 70% of City Council seats are on the ballot and will define the road ahead for our Empire State. Let’s get to the polls, New York. Ever upward!
Early voting in New York started on Saturday, October 24 and runs till Sunday, November 1. Find your polling place here. You can also mail in your ballot — it’s recommended to do so as soon as you can so your vote gets counted. Your last chance to vote is Tuesday, November 3 — make sure your voice counts.