What does a 14-story building proposed in Brooklyn have to do with New York’s quest for billions of dollars in federal aid?
More than you might think.
The mixed-income, mixed-use project at 737 Fourth Avenue has drawn the ire of Protect Sunset Park, a group that helped kill Industry City’s rezoning three months ago. This much smaller proposal is in Greenwood Heights, but the activists see market-rate development marching Sunset Park’s way from Park Slope and intend to stop it.
How? By seizing the land.
To “protect” Sunset Park, activists don’t merely want the site to remain a Dunkin’ Donuts. They want it taken from its owners and reserved exclusively for low-income people, rather than about 30 percent of units in the proposed 108,000-square-foot building being set aside for households earning 30 percent to 60 percent of area median income. That’s even more affordable than the city’s affordable housing policy requires, earning the project approval from Community Board 7.
Yet Jorge Muniz-Reyes, a member of Protect Sunset Park, said in a press release, “It’s time to start seizing the space the working class needs to address our housing crisis.”
Any evidence-based analysis would conclude that 30 percent affordable housing is a benefit, not a threat. The actual threat to New York right now is Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, blocking tens of billions of dollars in federal aid to the city, state and Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Unless Republicans lose both Senate run-offs in Georgia, McConnell could keep denying New York for years.
McConnell couldn’t find Sunset Park on a map, but he knows how to win Senate races: by tarring Democratic candidates as socialists.
That might seem absurd. After all, socialism is government ownership of the means of production, and no Democrats running for U.S. Senate favor that. Certainly the two in Georgia don’t. There is no chance that Washington will nationalize industries the way Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea and the Soviet Union did, crippling their economies in the process.
But all it takes is a crumb of truth for a political campaign to feast. When an incoming member of the New York state Assembly says in an op-ed, “We need to socialize land and housing,” and Muniz-Reyes fantasizes about seizing property, the GOP and its media allies can carry that message to Georgia, Florida, the heartland and pretty much anywhere in a matter of hours.
Protect Sunset Park’s release added that the group marched past an “inessential” hotel that “New York’s leaders could seize tomorrow to address the housing crisis in Sunset Park.” Americans care about income inequality, but the idea of the government snatching private property it deems “inessential” would frighten the vast majority of them, for good reason.
The socialism tag hurts Democrats in key races, despite claims to the contrary by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The Trump campaign used it to great effect in Florida, but immigrants who fled socialist countries are not the only Americans moved by this messaging. On an October visit to central Pennsylvania, I stayed with a college buddy who was disgusted by Donald Trump but said he planned to vote for him to ensure what happened in Venezuela does not happen here.
This is a college professor and Ivy League graduate who builds houses as a side business. From his view, the Democratic Party has become extreme. (He was surprised when I told him that Democrats have for years said the same thing of Republicans.)
The reality is, few socialists have won any elections. Ocasio-Cortez and her squad are four of the House’s 435 members, and not full-blown socialists. Five socialists have won seats in the 213-member New York state legislature — Jabari Brisport, Phara Souffrant Forrest, Marcela Mitaynes, Zohran Mamdani and Julia Salazar — and a few in Chicago. Expressing socialists’ share of elected offices nationwide requires a decimal point and a whole bunch of zeroes.
It also takes a bunch of zeroes to express how much money Washington could send New York if Democrats control the Senate. The House bill passed last month would send $436,000,000,000 to state and local governments. “If I were majority leader and Biden were president … I think we’d get this bill done quickly,” Sen. Charles Schumer said this month during a Crain’s virtual event.
Schumer also complained that Republicans in Georgia are twisting his words about wanting to “change America.”
“They’re [turning] that into things I have never said, things the Democratic Party isn’t for,” he said. “They came up with these straw men.”
But that’s politics, as Schumer well knows. You do what it takes to win. It just so happens that what wins for socialists in deep-blue New York districts loses for Democrats in swing districts and states across the country.
And if the Democrats come up short in Georgia and New York gets bubkes in the next federal aid package, there won’t be money to seize land, subsidize housing, keep the trains running or do much of anything else.