The equity that never sleeps

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The equity that never sleeps

Many New Yorkers had a nasty surprise this Election Day. I don’t mean on election night, after the votes were counted — I mean in the voting booth itself. Most voters in the city knew that they’d be shaping the outcome of a closely fought gubernatorial race. How many knew that they’d also be voting on the very purpose of municipal government in the world’s most important city, or helping to affirm the open-ended appointment of New York’s very own campus-style diversity commissar?

City ballot Question 1, once passed, would add a preamble to the city charter stating that “the City must strive to remedy ‘past and continuing harms and to reconstruct, revise, and reimagine our foundations, structures, institutions, and laws to promote justice and equity for all New Yorkers.'” With our old foundations ground into dust — the ones that turned New York into an infamous cauldron of intolerance and backwardness — Question 2 will then alter the city charter such that New York’s government is now required to issue “citywide and agency-specific Racial Equity Plans every two years,” which are supposedly meant to “improve racial equity and to reduce or eliminate racial disparities.” To help this process along, the city will “establish an Office of Racial Equity and appoint a Chief Equity Officer to advance racial equity and coordinate the City’s racial equity planning process.” This office will be an entity with the mandate to “improv[e] access to City services and programs for those people and communities who have been negatively affected by previous policies or actions, and collect and report data related to equity.”

These ballot questions are redundantly worded, but aside from the headache that’s induced by reading them, they’re probably no big deal, right? We’ll just be changing the city government’s entire mission and creating an office with a nebulous set of responsibilities and legal authorities that can only be abolished through, once again, altering the city charter by popular vote. It’s nothing to worry about. It’s all for justice and equity, things that no humane or enlightened person could ever question, much less oppose.

The text of these initiatives is euphemistic enough to sound good without being specific enough to make people ask inconvenient questions about what they might actually entail in practical terms. During a few solitary minutes on an otherwise busy Tuesday, few voters can be expected to run a detailed inner analysis of how likely the government is to succeed at getting large classes of human beings invented by demographers to have the same amount of stuff on average, or to think deeply about what ideologically motivated bureaucrats are likely to do in the trying. People know enough to vote against an Office for the Enforcement of Utopia, or some such, because it sounds ludicrous. But “justice” and “equity” talk serves as a warmer bath of abstraction. You can slip in and turn off your mind. Just a few years ago, “equity” was a word for money, as in private equity. Justice is something everybody has his own sense of. As used in New York’s ballot questions, they are bywords for a political program.

Certainly, local media didn’t think these ballot questions were anything worth discussing. The New York Times published almost nothing about them. The measures made it into the Patch voter guide, 24-hour cable news channel NY1 couldn’t completely ignore them, and local political website Gotham Gazette ran a helpful overview of the pros and cons. That’s about it. Still, the media weren’t alone in their obliviousness to the fact that voters would soon be weighing in, probably in the affirmative, on fundamental questions of how the government is supposed to approach such inexhaustible concepts as “justice” and “equity,” as well as on whether the city should have a constitutionally mandated bureaucratic apparatus for attaining them. Both Republican and Democratic candidates in the state treated the ballot questions as an afterthought.

Which is appropriate. The measures were shrugged into existence by a governmental board that received no real public scrutiny or even public attention. They were the main accomplishment of the city’s Racial Justice Commission, founded in 2021. The commission, per its website, is “a charter revision commission tasked with examining structural racism within NYC.” A “charter revision commission” is, in turn, “a temporarily appointed government body charged with reviewing the entire City Charter,” which, in this case, is a wonderfully passive-voice construction meaning, “This was a project of the widely hated former Mayor Bill de Blasio.” In fairness, the ballot questions aren’t entirely de Blasio’s doing. Mayor Eric Adams ensured that the commission received a $5 million grant for “voter outreach” — in essence, a public sector entity received heaps of taxpayer money to promote the passage of ballot initiatives that it wrote itself.

Who picked the commissioners, and how? The website doesn’t say, although it does provide a long definition of “structural racism,” the metaphysical root of all social evil that is said to be “the reason why we continue to see racial inequities in our city,” and notes that the purpose of the body’s work isn’t within the comparatively dry realm of civil rights or legal quality but “to guide city government toward ending racial disparities.”

A group of heroic nonprofit and labor movement executives will lead New Yorkers to this utopia of nondisparity. The chair is the executive director of the Federation for Protestant Welfare Agencies; the vice chair runs New York’s largest municipal employees union. Naturally, the founding director of the Institute on Race, Power and Political Economy at The New School gets a spot, as does the former national Latino outreach strategist for Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign.

It goes without saying that the 11 professional activists and social justice-focused senior municipal officials on the commission are wildly unrepresentative of the city as a whole: From the looks of it, there are no small business owners or immigrants from the former Soviet Union, nor any Orthodox Jews, though Jews make up 13% of the population of the five boroughs. There don’t even seem to be any non-Hispanic white people, who still make up 42% of New York City’s population.

A like-minded group hailing from the same elite ideological wing of the city’s progressive spoils system, thrown together by a wildly unpopular former mayor, is using city money to secure the electorate’s rubber stamp on a series of sweeping changes to the relationship between state and citizen that they themselves dreamed up, and which have barely been discussed by anyone. By Wednesday of this week, New York will have “equity” as one of its constitutional lodestars, with the help of a brand-new equity overlord. Only the future hypothetical creation of a mayoral Racial Justice Commission Revision Commission can reverse the whole thing, which would have to be just as absurdist and self-dealing an enterprise as the body whose work they’d be appointed to correct. None of that is ever happening.

But maybe that’s for the best. Democracy, as we all know, is when, with the guidance of a group of their moral and intellectual superiors whose existence they probably never even learn about, the people make the correct decision exactly one time, such that it can never be unmade and never has to be reexamined. It’s important they do this with no real public debate or even much public awareness. This is equity. This is justice.

Armin Rosen is a New York-based reporter at large for Tablet.

© 2022 Washington Examiner

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