Police reform advocate Robert Gangi launches mayoral bid, hoping to outflank de Blasio from the political left

Robert Gangi, center, during a press conference in front of One Police Plaza in Downtown Manhattan. Mr. Gangi announced his campaign to run for the Democratic Party primary in the 2017 New York City's mayor's race. With him were his two campaign coördinators : Alicia Bella, left, and Maesha Meto, right. Source : Louis Flores/Progress Queens

Robert Gangi, center, during a press conference in front of One Police Plaza in Downtown Manhattan. Mr. Gangi announced his campaign to run for the Democratic Party primary in the 2017 New York City's mayor's race. With him were his two campaign coördinators : Alicia Bella, left, and Maesha Meto, right. Source : Louis Flores/Progress Queens

By LOUIS FLORES

Robert Gangi, who co-founded the Police Reform Organizing Project to hold the New York Police Department accountable for racially-biased policing practices and for misconduct, announced on Wednesday a campaign to win the Democratic Party primary in the 2017 New York City mayor's race. The announcement was made in the courtyard in front of NYPD Headquarters, providing Mr. Gangi with a convenient backdrop for what he revealed to be his major campaign theme : to complete the unfinished work of reforming the NYPD that was once championed -- and later abandoned -- by Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-New York City), the incumbent, who is running for reëlection.

A key issue for Mr. Gangi's campaign will be to end the quota-driven, Broken Windows approach to policing by the NYPD, "which the Mayor has promoted, has endorsed, which everyday causes harm and hardship on low-income people of color," which Mr. Gangi described to include the use of false arrests and "bogus summonses" for having engaged in infractions or low-level offenses that are no longer treated as crimes in White communities. "We have a range of specific social and economic and racial justice issues that we're going to raise," Mr. Gangi said, in order to defeat Mayor de Blasio in the primary election and to raise issues and remedies that incumbent politicians avoid addressing because of the "politically-charged" nature of the issues.

Mr. Gangi made proposals to provide subway fare cares to low-income New Yorkers, to support free tuition at the City University of New York, and to offer housing instead of shelters to address the high rate of homelessness in New York City. Mr. Gangi said he would pay for these and other proposals by, in part, refusing to spend the estimated $10 billion it would cost to replace Rikers Island with new jails, by attacking the high amount of settlements that the City of New York pays to resolve lawsuits against the NYPD, and by opposing Mayor de Blasio's $2 billion plan to create a streetcar to connect the Brooklyn and Queens waterfronts. Mr. Gangi was also critical of Mayor de Blasio's affordable housing program, which community groups and press reports have described as not affordable enough for the communities in which new construction is made.

Dan Levitan, a spokesperson for Mayor de Blasio's committee to reëlect, did not answer an email request sent by Progress Queens, seeking a response to Mr. Gangi's campaign announcement.

By focusing on police reform, Mr. Gangi's campaign must cast Mayor de Blasio as the foil. It is not known how effective that will be, since Mayor de Blasio has attracted the support of advocacy groups, whose leadership don't question him on his social policies in exchange for receiving nonprofit budgetary support from the City budget. Mr. Gangi's campaign would have been bolstered, had former NYPD Commissioner William Bratton were still in command of the NYPD. Commissioner Bratton resigned in 2016 after press reports began to increasingly reveal details about a wide-ranging, corruption investigation of the Government of the City of New York, including of the NYPD. According to NYPD Confidential, Commissioner Bratton was briefed on the investigation in 2013 -- before he was sworn in as police commissioner in the de Blasio administration. Commissioner Bratton's resignation immediately followed a grassroots protest action calling for Commissioner Bratton to step down, and the resignation followed by several weeks a refusal by then U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara to issue a statement affirming the integrity in Commissioner Bratton's appointment after it was reported that Jeremy Reichberg, a major campaign supporter of Mayor de Blasio, had bragged that he possessed sufficient political influence to determine who could be selected to serve as commissioner of the NYPD.

Even though Mayor de Blasio escaped the filing of criminal charges against he and some of his senior administration officials following the closure the wide-ranging, corruption investigation, Mr. Gangi said he was not making corruption a central focus of his campaign, even as Mr. Gangi decried what he described to be the "pay-to-play" manner in which Mayor de Blasio has managed the City.

Mr. Gangi's campaign appears to be challenging Mayor de Blasio from the political left. A resident of Manhattan's Upper West Side, Mr. Gangi represents a brand of liberalism in New York politics that has wide appeal and that has boosted the careers of civic leaders. The dean of liberal Upper West Side politics is perhaps Norman Siegel, the civil rights attorney. In the past, Mr. Siegel has been critical of Mayor de Blasio's use of confidentiality agreements to undermine transparency, and, in a recent article published by The Chief, Mr. Siegel said, in part, of Mayor de Blasio, "My observation of the Mayor is that he doesn’t always stand on his principles." However, the Upper West Side brand of liberalism doesn't translate very well in Queens. On the issue of the closure of Rikers Island, District Attorney Richard Brown (D-Queens) testified against the closure of the Municipal jail complex without triggering any apparent consequence from the many groups supporting criminal justice system reform.

Challenging Mayor de Blasio from what may be the center-left is former New York City Councilmember Sal Albanese. Mr. Albanese said he opposes race-based policing and believes that marijuana should be taxed and regulated, just like alcohol, adding that "that alone would result in a lot of kids staying out of the criminal justice system." Mr. Albanese said he believes there are ways the NYPD has made progress, which can be viewed by its "majority minority" change in the demographics of NYPD officers. In an e-mail that answered advance questions submitted by Progress Queens for this report, Mr. Albanese said that the issue of police reform was more complicated than as presented by Mr. Gangi, adding that, "Most police officers are decent, hard-working public servants, and they should not be used as piñatas."

Regarding Mr. Gangi's refusal to make corruption a central campaign issue, Mr. Albanese wrote that, "The most pressing problem we have as a city, state and country is an anti-democratic, corrupt political system. Beating up the cops is pretty popular ; taking on the political class is a lot harder. I plan on making New York City a model of political reform, clean up the corruption, and improve citizen participation," adding that, "I am actually shocked that Gangi would be so cavalier about the legally bankrupt political system and will be spending his time going after $50,000 public servants while the real enablers of ... corruption are across the street from One Police Plaza, in City Hall."

Also declared to be running in the Democratic Party primary in the 2017 New York City's mayor's race is State Sen. Tony Avella (IDC-Bayside).

One of the most pressing issues facing New York City residents is the high cost of rent, which has been described as largely a by-product of gentrification. According to a recent study conducted by the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development, almost 6 out of 10 New Yorkers are one paycheck away from becoming homeless. Separately, the online news Web site, Pro Publica, has published a series of reports, revealing that landlords have refused to register an estimated 50,000 apartments for rent regulation. No elected official has demonstrated the political will to support efforts to claw back apartments that have been illegally deregulated. In response to a question about land use submitted to Mr. Gangi by e-mail by Progress Queens, Mr. Gangi declined to say whether he would support more democratic participation by New Yorkers in determining major land use issues, as was recently seen in a public referendum in Clifton Park to determine the fate of public land that the school board planned to sell. Instead, Mr. Gangi said he would give "primary consideration to non-profit community-based organizations involved in developing and managing housing."

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