2:40 pm Oct. 6, 2011
Public Advocate Bill de Blasio would, at some point, like to visit the protesters at Occupy Wall Street, in part so he can talk to them about their strategy.
“I think it’s too amorphous now,” said de Blasio. “I think the impulses are good. I think people are well-meaning and expressing some passion about what’s going on, but I think to have an impact on life in this country there has to be an actual program, an actual set of ideas that they’re trying to pursue.”
It was, for example, an actual set of ideas that brought de Blasio today to the foot of the Federal Building, at the corner of Worth Street and Broadway, 13 blocks north of Zuccotti Park. He was holding a press conference calling on the Department of Justice to investigate allegations of prisoner abuse at privately run immigrant detention centers, including the Queens Detention Facility, run by GEO Group in Jamaica, Queens. According to de Blasio, two guards there were convicted of covering up the abuse of an inmate in 2009. In 2004, inmates held a hunger strike to protest the use of solitary confinement and deportation threats.
Council members Melissa Mark-Viverito, Jumaane Williams and Daniel Dromm, as well as representatives from the immigrant-rights group Make the Road New York, joined de Blasio at the conference and issued a series of demands, including the Department of Justice investigation, termination of all contracts with GEO, and increased oversight of private contractors.
De Blasio does know something about organizing. He’s the son of labor leader, and back in his activist days, he mobilized against American policy in Latin America, even traveling to Nicaragua to distribute medical supplies as a member of of Quest for Peace. He also marched against nuclear power on Three Mile Island.
Yet de Blasio has also become a canny operative, one who learned the ins and outs of the more transactional side of politics working under Andrew Cuomo, when he was head of HUD, and under Hillary Clinton, whose campaign for senate he managed. De Blasio ended up serving in the City Council and then winning citywide office as public advocate with substantial help from the Working Families Party.
Yesterday, the Working Families Party joined in the labor march from Foley Square to Zuccotti Park. De Blasio, who is expected to run for mayor in 2013, did not.
“I’m certainly going to talk to them,” said de Blasio, of the protesters. “I want to understand what they’re feeling and what direction they’re taking.”
De Blasio has yet to figure out precisely when that will happen.
“I hope it will take more of a meaningful shape,” said de Blasio of Occupy Wall Street. “My concern is that it’s not particularly organized, there’s not a particularly clear set of demands, and I hope for the benefit of the public debate that that will happen.”