Breaking: NYC Ballot Initiatives Would Create Massive Racial-Equity Infrastructure in City Government

New York City voters heading to the polls on Tuesday to cast a ballot in the surprisingly competitive governor's race will also be asked to vote on three less-discussed ballot measures that, if approved, would mandate the creation of a massive new racial-equity infrastructure in the city and further infuse left-wing racial-justice ideology into every city agency.

The three initiatives would: add a preamble to the city charter that includes a statement of values and acknowledges a history of "grave injustices and atrocities" in the city and the country; amend the charter to establish a new racial-equity office and to mandate agency-specific racial-equity plans every two years; and require the city to establish a new cost-of-living measure that would "provide a clearer picture of the racial wealth gap."

The three initiatives were proposed by leaders of the NYC Racial Justice Commission, who were appointed last year by then-mayor Bill de Blasio. The initiatives are intended to "put equity at the heart of our government" and to broadly and "fundamentally change the NYC Charter," according to a commission report released in December. "We offer these final proposals to the New York City electorate knowing it will take their votes to uproot hundreds of years of built-up inequity," the commission's vice chairman, Henry Garrido, wrote in the report.

Mayor Eric Adams committed $5 million of taxpayers’ money to promote the proposals, which have received little attention from national media outlets. Voters’ views on the three measures are not particularly clear, but most New York City ballot measures have been approved over the last few decades.

Critics of the proposals warn that they will further embed left-wing racial ideology in the city's fabric; pit residents against one another based on their race, ethnicity, and sex; and become a magnet for progressive interest groups and racial-justice grifters. Critics also note that the proposal to build out the city's racial-equity infrastructure is vague, and it doesn't include an estimated budget impact or spell out how many new racial-justice bureaucrats would be hired.

The city leaders and commission members behind the proposals are "preparing the ground for what they see as a revolutionary transition toward this new kind of racial socialism," said Seth Barron, managing editor of the Claremont Institute's The American Mind website and a writer who regularly covers New York City politics.

"These horrible ballot questions come as a parting gift of the city's worst mayor in history, Bill de Blasio," Councilman Robert Holden, a centrist Democrat from Queens, told the New York Post.

The commission behind the three proposals was announced by de Blasio in March 2021, during the Covid-19 pandemic and in the wake of the racial-justice riots that roiled the nation after George Floyd's killing in Minnesota. Last December, the commission released a 154-page report announcing its recommendations to "identify and root out structural racism." The three proposed ballot initiatives were designed to "form a seed whose roots will grow over time and knit together a new soil for an equitable society," the report states.

The first ballot proposal would add an introductory statement to the city's charter with an aspirational vision of a "just and equitable city for all," and a declaration that "diversity is our strength." It notes that the city is on the traditional territory of the native Lenape people and acknowledges "grave injustices and atrocities that form part of our country's history." It also claims that "violence and systemic inequity . . . continue to be experienced by marginalized groups, including, but not limited to, Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, Pacific Islander, Middle Eastern, and other People of Color, women, religious minorities, immigrants, people who are LGBTQ+, and people with disabilities."

John Ketcham, a New York City–based policy fellow at the Manhattan Institute, and a critic of the initiatives, said the goal for the preamble appears to be making race consciousness the city's lodestar. "I question whether it would be a good idea to establish race consciousness as an official position of the New York City government when the country is not completely sold on that concept as being the most productive avenue forward in dealing with race matters," he said. "There's an ongoing debate about the role of race in contemporary American society, and this ballot measure takes one side of the argument. There are others."

The second proposal would amend the city charter to establish an Office of Racial Equity that would be led by a chief equity officer, establish a racial-equity commission to identify priorities, and require that every city agency produce a racial-equity plan every two years.

"Equity work would no longer be siloed, but rather developed out holistically across all agencies," according to the Racial Justice Commission's report. "The proposal further addresses this inequity by requiring racial equity to be baked into much of City decision-making."

New Yorkers and "national thought leaders" told the commission there is a need for a centralized governmental body to ensure that the city "intentionally works towards undoing the legacy of structural racism" in New York, according to the report. They claimed that "seemingly 'race neutral' decisions and policies can have the unintended consequence of making racial disparities worse," the report states.

Ketcham suspects that if approved, the new racial-equity bureaucracy would serve as a magnet for progressive interest groups. "Anytime you have a centralized city office that deals with one thing, you will attract interest groups that are also in that same space," he said.

Barron believes it would lead to the creation of a large number of patronage jobs, new work options for people on the professional social-service and racial-justice merry-go-round.

The third proposal would amend the charter to create a new measure of the "true cost of living" in the city. The federal baseline for income and poverty is outdated and does not take into account regional cost differences, the report states.

Unlike the federal definition of income, the "true cost of living" proposal would not take into account public assistance — rental assistance, unemployment benefits, Social Security — and "would provide a clearer picture of the racial wealth gap, pay inequity, and would guide the City's decisions as it develops and administers programs and services," the report states. It would also refocus "the conversation away from poverty, or the poorest of life's conditions, towards an emphasis on dignity," the report states.

Ketcham has argued that by excluding public-assistance payments from the equation, the proposal appears to be intended to engineer an artificially high cost-of-living figure. "It seems like it would be used to keep increasing government spending on social assistance programs and the like, even though New York State already leads the country in welfare spending, and New York City . . . has the largest municipal hospital system in the country," he said.

Barron described the proposals as technically toothless — the preamble would just add words to the charter, the racial-equity bureaucracy would mostly add a new layer of government and create more paperwork, and the "true cost of living" measure would "not create a direct or indirect right of action," meaning it couldn't be used as the basis for expanding public-assistance payments. But, he argues, the proposals are not meaningless.

"It does institutionalize a fairly pernicious ideology into the fabric of the city's law and its constitution," he said. It's clearly significant, he said. "Otherwise, they wouldn't do it."

The commission's report asserts the existence of systemic inequity in New York City, and it lays out a litany of historical wrongs dating back to the city's founding — displacement of the Lenape people, the Wall Street slave-trade marketplace, the razing of minority communities to build Central Park, redlining policies, the Stonewall Riots of 1969, "tragic events in which Black Americans have been killed in or brutalized by encounters with members of law enforcement." Remedying these injustices "requires an intersectional lens," the report states. "Eliminating patterns of inequity caused by sexism, transphobia, ableism, homophobia, xenophobia, colorism, and more is necessary to, and strengthened by, advancing racial justice and equity."

But Ketcham notes that minorities today have immense political power and influence in the city. New York City government is led by a black mayor, has a black police commissioner, and has a majority-minority city council and police force. He believes the commission is underplaying the progress that has been made, noting that for generations New York City has been a place where people from all over have flocked to improve their lives.

"New York City is just the beacon for so many, from all around the world, from all different backgrounds, to improve their lot," he said. "That certainly includes black and Hispanic New Yorkers. And the idea that there's an ongoing effort to oppress minority communities might not resonate with many people."

In addition to the racial-equity initiatives, New York City voters — and voters across the state — will be voting Tuesday on a proposal to increase state spending on environmental projects.

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NYC Ballot Initiatives Would Create Massive Racial-Equity Infrastructure in City Government

If passed, the three initiatives would further infuse left-wing racial-justice ideology into every city ... READ MORE

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