Hey, Does That Seidman Guy Actually Have Any Ideas Other Than Decentralizing Power?

By Ira Seidman — part three of twelve in the series decentralize

I’ve made the case for decentralizing power and how representatives should lead in a direct democracy, but now what? Do we just hang out in our own virtue for creating the biggest direct democracy in history? Or what would it look like to move forward and actually start solving problems which is why we decentralized the power in the first place, right? Here is my vision for New York’s next steps post-decentralization.

The first step would be to start analyzing. That’s my term for any sort of reflection and investigation. That’s when we decide if a proposal holds up to the weight of inspection and logic, and figure out if it truly makes our neighbors safer and our city better. It’s how the best ideas rise up, and how we avoid the bad ideas before they happen. I would view my job as mayor to be the master of ceremonies for analyses across the city. A Speakers’ Corner on every corner is the dream, but in reality it would look more like town meetings in every borough. Whether I was there in person or delegated to a trusted colleague, I would make sure we were analyzing. Analyzing each other’s proposals from our online voting system Athena. These town meetings would give us a chance to present ideas to neighbors, hear from experts, testify, and flesh out details. Here are just a few ideas I would like us to analyze as a mayoral candidate and as a New Yorker.

Police reform is one of the biggest social issues, if not the biggest social issue, of our time. It is impossible to start this discussion without saying unequivocally that the number one priority of police reform is to ensure the safety of the public and police officers first. Period. There is nothing more important than safety and anyone who proposes changes that compromise on officer or public safety alike is a threat to everything else we are trying to accomplish.

How then can we make sure the public is safe without letting the police get corrupted by the power we need to give them to do their job? How can we fight violent crime without the weapons we entrust to our officers going off unjustifiably? The answer is simple, we can’t. We can’t guarantee that there will never be another corrupt police officer or bad shooting. In fact, we can guarantee that there will be more corrupt police officers simply because they have so much authority in so many contexts. However, we have to centralize power to some extent in every profession — teachers have centralized power in their classroom, doctors have centralized power in their operating rooms, and captains have centralized power on their aircrafts. Society would fail without the efficiency that comes from entrusting trained and competent professionals with more power in their area of expertise. Even politicians in direct democracies will have the power to steer the ship through their speeches and leadership despite no longer having outsized voting power. With this understanding, what can we do to make sure the police operate with as few accidents and abuses of power as possible?

My first proposal is to offer 911 callers an option to dispatch social workers and armed officers when there is no violent actor. Many other cities have started doing this and New York should be no exception. Even having trained psychologists and community leaders respond to 911 calls makes sense. Then we need to make sure that every officer’s previous work experience is perfectly transparent in the hiring process so we can avoid hiring as many abusive officers as possible. I would even recommend a full review of officers already on the force to avoid anything we might have previously missed, most notably looking for cops who have repeated complaints of excessive force and abuse of power. Finally, I would propose a 5–10% increase in salaries for officers who live in the communities that they serve to weave the fabric of police and communities closer than it has ever been. I know it’s possible to make great strides in repairing trust between the police and the public while keeping officers and communities safe, it starts with mutual respect and a true desire to bring us all together.

Let’s talk about prison. In all things corrections-related, the focus must be on restorative justice first — all high ranking officials in New York City incarceration need to be well-versed in how justice can be designed so that history never repeats itself. Then let’s realign incentives so that prisons are not in charge of rehabilitation to remove all conflicts of interest. I would rebrand the Department to Corrections as the Department of Incarceration and then actually create a Department of Corrections which is distinct and responsible for rehabilitation. This could look like working with local schools and colleges to offer classes to inmates or instituting programs to help ex-convicts land on their feet. So long as the money being allocated for rehabilitation is not going to the same department that is in charge of incarceration, we’re moving in the right direction. For neighbors who commit crimes that justify prison, sentences should be assigned based off of mutual association — both prisons and inmates have to choose each other with periodic chances to reevaluate. This will create a dynamic built more on mutual respect and should mitigate many of the abuses riddled in our prisons like rape, beatings, and solitary confinement. Finally, white-collar crime should be punished as violent crime in cases like Bernie Madoff.

Education is one of the best opportunities we can give underprivileged New Yorkers to climb the social ladder. While we cannot put all of our hopes for a more equitable future on the backs of New York Public School teachers, it is a system that must work as effectively as possible to have a shot at a just city. Educators advocate for many reasonable measures like smaller class sizes, programs for learning-disabled students, and more teachers who look like the students in their classroom. While a Student Bill of Rights that guarantees proposals like this to all students would be a great place to start, not every class needs less students, or programs for the learning-disabled, or a more diverse teaching staff (as they may already have it and any regulation might have unintended consequences). For example, during my four incredible years at LaGuardia High School there were 34 students in almost every class, but this was rarely an issue, at least for me. The classes were big, but a uniform and widespread requirement to make class size smaller would not necessarily have benefited me, while in other schools it would be a tremendous help. I was locked out of math junior year because there just weren’t enough seats — rather than smaller classes, we needed more classes.

To help ensure that every school has the resources to do what will uniquely make that school better, we should decentralize the education budget just like we will decentralize political power. This will give principals more control over how the money allocated for their students is spent. Before covid, New York City had an annual education budget of roughly $34 billion dollars with about a million students, but every school did not receive $34,000 in funding per pupil each year. I can only assume the difference is being squandered as we have the highest per-pupil spending in the nation with little to show for it in the way of graduation rates and test scores. I think decentralizing education spending and allowing principals to spend the money as they see fit is the next best step for allowing great principals to build strong schools and strong schools to educate brilliant students.

These are the three issues New York needs to tackle as they have the most impact on the issues of today like racial justice and the economy. In addition, there are many other issues that can be legislated for at a local level and are important to consider — affordable housing, homelessness, public health, sanitation, and environmental impact/resilience (and others!). I will briefly touch on each of these to make my ideas plain, but I do believe these all deserve far more analysis:

Affordable Housing: The best way to bring down housing costs in New York City is to increase supply. I would work with developers to remove the biggest hurdles for building, starting with overly restrictive and arbitrary zoning laws.

Homelessness: I believe the market should be as free as can be expected, but for any niche that is not adequately covered the government has a responsibility to act. Homelessness in 2021 is unacceptable, and I think the city should build enough public housing to make sure no one is left in the cold. While not all of this housing will be free, it will be available to all New Yorkers in hopes to help those who find themselves rent-burned. Access to public housing will never be pegged to income to ensure there is never an incentive to stop working.

Public Health: I believe that any emergency in the city limits should be covered by the city government — be that police, fire, or medical. I do not believe that we should be looking to insurance to pay for our emergency medical care, this is something we as New Yorkers should own the burden of (just like we own the burden of paying for firefighters). In the long run this will move our reliance away from the middle-people of insurance companies and towards a promise that every New Yorker has good care, regardless of the insurance their employer provides. In addition, I believe in widespread access to mental healthcare for all New Yorkers on a sliding scale and I would cut every line item on every budget before I let mental health go unfunded for another year. Finally, healthcare is preventive care and should be subsidized for all New Yorkers, it just makes sense.

Sanitation: It is long passed time to get the baking garbage off our streets. I propose incentives for sanitation workers who collect more garbage and collect on time. All garbage should go out in bins rather than bags and every residence/business should have the option for composting. Finally, alternate side parking should happen within a 30 minute window rather than 90 minutes, it’s an incredible burden and waste of time for countless New Yorkers.

Environmental Impact/Resilience: I believe that a carbon/pollution-tax is the most elegant way to disincentivize greenhouse gas emissions and other toxins that are discharged into our air and water. We can use this money to fund environmentally-friendly sequestration measures like more parks and green roofs to actually build our carbon-neutral future.

There are many other issues that we as citizens must consider, even if they make more sense to come from the federal level. I believe in making immigration freer while imposing and enforcing stricter fines for employers who hire undocumented workers. I believe in a local universal basic income starting at $25 a month to replace racist welfare programs. We can raise the monthly amount as the program proves effective and city budget permits. I believe in the right to bear arms with universal background checks, a three day latency after purchase, ongoing mental health screenings for gun owners, and progressively stricter licenses for weapons as they get closer to military-grade. Finally, I believe in access to abortion, but only up until the point where we as a society define life medically. Today we look for pulse and brain activity, and I think we should allow abortions up until the point where fetuses have heartbeats and neurological activity, as determined by two doctors.

I put these ideas before you as a mayoral candidate and a neighbor. I want to propose ideas for a better future, but with an open mind and heart for suggestions and insight. These are not campaign promises. This is not my agenda for the first 100 days. This is to show you that I love this city and what policies I think would make it better. However, I truly believe these discussions can only genuinely happen once we decentralize political power and allow the people to freely propose, discuss, and vote on legislation. This is why I’m running for mayor of New York. This is why I believe in direct democracy. This is why I’m so excited for the future of this city.

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