Show Me a Hero, Part 2

This week on Show Me a Hero, the new mayor isn’t very popular, which is pretty much what I predicted. I’m relatively unspoiled about the real life events upon which the show is based, but I know this battle lasts up until 1994. Part 2 of Show Me a Hero begins in January 1988, which means we’re about a year on from the beginning of the miniseries, and the Yonkers City Council hasn’t made any progress with low-income housing. Judge Sand is becoming impatient and is willing to bankrupt the local government to ensure that they comply with his decision. Meanwhile, the people who elected their councilmen are irate that they have complied with the Judge Sand – my favourite protest sign was “Sand is Dirt”, which isn’t quite true, but it was clever. We’re still getting glimpses of the lives of people who would benefit from low-income housing, which reminds us just how far removed they are from this process.

In one of the Council meetings, a Yonkers resident accuses the ‘elite’ council of forcing their will on the ‘hard working people of Yonkers’. This is a fascinating argument for so many reasons. Yes, in the majority of cases, people who get elected to any kind of public office are middle class. But the hard working people of Yonkers are still more privileged than the kind of people they want to keep out. One of the biggest barriers to eliminating global poverty is that the rich people (in this case corporations) like being rich too much, and are able to spend millions of dollars to lobby politicians to reduce aid and such. So it exists with any form of inequality. Annabel Crabb wrote a brilliant column last weekend about quotas – why do men feel so threatened by quotas? So it is with race, even if the public housing debate isn’t a ‘race issue’.

The Yonkers City Council are doing their best to spread out the 200 units of housing across 8 different sites so that no one’s district is affected more than others. Here’s what I want to know: who is the Councilperson for the district where the current low-income housing is? Who voted for them? The constituents attending these Council meetings are white. Obviously the lower class in Yonkers have more immediate concerns than voting, and why would you bother voting in an election if the people you’re voting for don’t care about you? A federal election is one thing, but local politics is so fierce in the US that it seems like people would care more than they do. At the same time, all of the people who need this housing are more or less oblivious to the debate that’s going on, because they’re pregnant, or going blind before the age of 50 due to unaffordable healthcare. They don’t have time to go to meetings about public housing because they have to deal with more important things while people on the other side of town are deciding their fate.

One of the main arguments for continued segregation is the creation of ghettos. Ghettos are a problem which can be solved by spreading out such communities. There are going to be eight different sites! The proposed church site is only supposed to have 16 units, which will probably mean less than 100 people (I’m guessing), and if those kids are going to better schools after having been moved to public housing and their parents don’t have to spend as much on the rent, bills and groceries, that’s going to reduce the likelihood that ghettos will emerge. I never knew how much I wanted a show about urban planning until now, even though this is right in the middle of my wheelhouse.

It’s no surprise that Judge Bob Babalan is getting frustrated with the Yonkers City Council. At this stage of the show, the Federal Court is waiting for the Council to act on a ruling it made four years previously. The segregation of Yonkers is against the law because it’s unconstitutional, but we have elected local officials having to abide by the law as set by the federal court, which makes it an interesting issue that is in the grey area of separation of powers (arguably – I think the case is fairly clear cut, but whatever). Everyone on the Council campaigned on this issue, and that’s why they were elected. To do otherwise would have been political suicide, but at the same time, Yonkers had been dealing with this issue for three years prior to the election. As much as I can’t stand Aaron Sorkin shows because my brother has watched The West Wing eleventy-million times, I have this idealism of government; yes, Councilpeople make election promises, but they aren’t just bound to the constituents who voted for them, but everyone in their district. The fact that approving the housing plan is the right thing to do doesn’t matter, they’re trying to keep their jobs. There’s a great article in Vox’s first person section written by a Congressman (anonymously), in which he explains why it’s so difficult to get things done. I can understand why things are so difficult at the federal level, but look how hard it is to get things done in a local government. Do you uphold the law or act according to the wishes of a vocal section of constituents? What about the people who need public housing? They’re always at work and don’t have time to go to the Council meetings. Governing is messy.

Other thoughts:

  • Vox’s first person column is one of my favourite things on the internet right now, so you should just check it out.
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