Bill De Blasio Establishes ‘Racial Justice’ Commission Stocked With Aides And Allies
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 03: New York Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks to the media during a press conference at City Hall on January 3, 2020 in New York City. The NYPD will take actions to protect the city and residents against any possible retaliation after the deadly US airstrike in Iraq, Mayor Bill de Blasio said during a press conference.
Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio this week announced a new racial justice commission which will make policy recommendations to “dismantle structural racism for all New Yorkers,” but not until he is a lame duck mayor after the city’s November mayoral election.

The 11-member commission comprised of policy experts, nonprofit leaders, activists, and academics will have the “power to put forth permanent, transformative ideas for our government and our city,” the mayor said at a Tuesday press conference announcing the initiative, calling it “the first commission of its kind” in the country.

The commission will perform its stated mission by proposing policies and recommending changes to the City Charter, which acts as the city’s constitution. Among the specific policy recommendations which have been floated are a jobs guarantee for all New Yorkers, reparation payments for black New Yorkers, and a public apology from the city for past actions now deemed racist. In addition to proposing the cancellation of student debt, at least one member of the commission has also supported “baby bonds,” which are government-funded savings accounts for all children.

The budget of the commission is not clear.

Critics have wondered aloud why de Blasio chose to wait until his eighth and final year in office to create the commission, which he has touted many times over the past year.

The mayor gave the commission a deadline of this December to produce a report and policy recommendations, with some proposals potentially being presented for approval by New Yorkers as ballot measures next year, when de Blasio’s successor will be in office.

The commission’s work bleeding into the next administration could potentially hamper the city’s next mayor, depending on whether they oppose the policy proposals the commission puts forth.

Betsy Gotbaum, executive director of the good-government group, Citizens Union, called the timing of the mayor’s decision to announce the racial justice commission “very bizarre.”

Meanwhile, de Blasio has filled the commission with current members of his administration, as well as others who he’s worked closely with.

Commission member Phillip Thompson was appointed by de Blasio in 2018 as deputy mayor for strategic policy initiatives. Thompson and de Blasio’s relationship stretches back decades — the two previously worked together in former New York City Mayor David Dinkins’s administration, Thompson as deputy general manager for operations and development.

De Blasio also tapped the city’s Department of Probation commissioner, Ana Bermúdez, whom he appointed to her post in 2014, to serve on the commission.

Chairing the racial justice commission is Jennifer Jones Austin, whom de Blasio appointed as chair of Board of Correction in March of last year. The commission’s vice chair will be Henry Garrido, who heads District Council 37, New York City’s largest government employees union with 125,000 members.

The formation of the new commission comes after confusion last year following de Blasio’s announcement of a similar commission, dubbed the Racial Justice and Reconciliation Commission in honor of Juneteenth. That commission never appeared.

De Blasio’s wife, First Lady Chirlane McCray, who is black, also issued a statement hailing the commission, saying that “racism has infected every facet of our lives in New York City for generations” and that in order for the city to heal, the commission must “pull the bandages off the ugly truths, using the full powers of government to make right the deeply rooted policies of inequity.”

“Only then will we be able to move forward together,” she said.

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