A New Deal for New York

This well-attended day-long conference addressed the original New Deal, its rollbacks and revivals in the second half of the twentieth century, and its potential as a model for the future. The gathering built upon Mike Wallace's new book, A New Deal for New York, which urges us to think boldly about rebuilding the entire city, not just Lower Manhattan, and to do so in tandem with other recession-wounded cities and states around the country.

Mike Wallace

The Old New Deal
The first session reminded people of what the New Deal was, explained that it was largely created in NYC, suggested the massive transformations wrought in the cityscape by programs such as the WPA, and assessed downsides of the New Deal as well as its positive legacy.

  • Nelson Lichtenstein, author, State of the Union

  • Thomas Kessner, author, Fiorello H. Laguardia and the Making of Modern New York

  • Francis Fox-Piven, author, Why Americans Still Don't Vote

Efforts to Revive the New Deal
A second group talked about the suppression of the New Deal as a national phenomenon in the 1930s and 40s, efforts to revive it in the 60s, and the assault by the Republican right in the 70s and 80s on what remained of it.

  • Alan Brinkley, author, The End of Reform: New Deal Liberalism in Recession and War

  • Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., author, A Life in the Twentieth Century: Innocent Beginnings, 1917-1950

  • Joshua Freeman, author, Working Class New York: Life and Labor Since World War II

Lunchtime Address
U.S. Representative Dennis Kucinich, (D, OH)
Representative Kucinich is Chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus — the largest congressional caucus. He spoke about the national viability of a new New Deal program. Kucinich first came to national attention during his feisty tenure as Mayor of Cleveland, when he fought to preserve the city's public energy system.

What Might a New New Deal Look Like?
The third panel considered the New Deal as a possible model for future action, here and nationally, not in the sense of some slavish revival but as an inspiration for the kind of government involvement in developing social capital (schools, housing, infrastructure, jobs) that it once stood for. Mike Wallace (Director, Gotham Center for New York City History) started the conversation by detailing what he finds useful in the New Deal legacy: social and physical infrastructure development, financial regulation, and social security. Then, drawing upon twenty-first century ideas and technologies, he explored what a modern day version of the New Deal might look like. Others then responded with their own perspectives on the current and future scene, locally and nationally.

  • Kathryn Wylde, President and CEO, New York City Partnership

  • Bruce Raynor, President, UNITE

  • Gerald Nadler, U.S. House of Representatives

How to Make a New New Deal Happen
The final panel turned to the issue of how to make something like a new New Deal happen — the politics of what's possible. Ruy Teixeira (author, An Emerging Democratic Majority) discussed the kinds of electoral coalitions that might support this project nationally; and John Mollenkopf (author, Rethinking the Urban Agenda: Reinvigorating the Liberal Tradition in New York City and Urban America) will do the same locally.

The conversation will also include spokespeople from key constituencies that might be part of such a coalition: Bob Master (Communications Workers of America and the Working Families Party), Roberto Ramirez (former NY State Assemblyman from the Bronx), and Margie McHugh (Executive Director, New York Immigration Coalition) Bill Perkins (Deputy Majority Leader New York City Council).

Media Presentations (continuous)
1930s segments from Ric Burns's acclaimed New York: A Documentary Film
"New Deal for New York: A Photographic Document," presented by Tom Thurston of the New Deal Network