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OpinionColumnistsMark Chiusano

Bob Gangi ran for mayor to make a point about police reform. Did it work?

Bob Gangi tried to take on Mayor Bill

Bob Gangi tried to take on Mayor Bill de Blasio in the Democratic mayoral primary. He didn't win, but did he shift the conversation about police reform? Photo Credit: amNY / Mark Chiusano

The sound was off in mayoral candidate Bob Gangi’s apartment when NY1 called the Democratic primary for Mayor Bill de Blasio. Gangi stayed in his seat, cracked a joke about his district clearly not having come in yet.

With precincts reporting, de Blasio won the low-turnout primary with close to three quarters of the vote.

Gangi had said multiple times Tuesday that he never seriously thought he would become mayor. Doing some last-minute campaigning at 72nd Street and Broadway hours earlier, he said he was running to “send a message” about what was wrong with policing in New York City, among other issues connected by “racism,” a word he often uses.

Had he succeeded, despite being excluded from the debates and heading towards a single digit percentage of the vote?

As he began to answer, he was interrupted by a man in an American flag hat asking for money. Gangi handed him a dollar. “Thank you papa,” the man said.

The homeless man walked onwards and Gangi returned to the question, pondering how well his message had been sent and whether anything had changed.

Running to make a statement

It had always been a longshot bid, starting from the first meetings when he worked around the schedules of college-aged interns who helped put together a website and campaign literature. He started a Twitter account. He paid three employees, including the then-college students, for much of the campaign, and only began reaching out to professional consultants when his competitor, former City Council member Sal Albanese, gave him a suggestion in early summer, Gangi says.

On the plus side, he had a rationale for a campaign that none of his other eventual opponents could claim. His years heading the advocacy groups Correctional Association of New York and the Police Reform Organizing Project kept him fluent in criminal justice issues.

Yet, there were obstacles to being heard. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s endorsements and union support didn’t leave much room to campaign, and the mayor raised close to $5 million and qualified for millions more in public money. Gangi’s contributions totaled $13,635 by the end of August, not enough to afford advertisements.

His only endorsements came from Third Party Media, a “video and multimedia think tank,” and Randi Credico, the comedian/former candidate. He did not get endorsements or even much support from police reform groups. He wasn’t able to form the coalitions that activists today use to amplify their issues, and as a 73-year-old white male candidate he didn’t provide a demographic contrast to de Blasio either.

Where do people who care about these issues go from here?

It’s unlikely that Republican contender Assemb. Nicole Malliotakis will force de Blasio to revisit any of Gangi’s criminal justice positions. You will likely hear a lot about reduction in the policing tactic stop-and-frisk, warrant and summons reform, and neighborhood policing. De Blasio has victories in those areas, but plenty of critics on the left urge him to go further. Summons reform was blunted and slowed by de Blasio’s former NYPD commissioner. Neighborhood policing is a decades-old rehash. Stop-and-frisk was the issue of the last election.

De Blasio has not walked back his stances on quality-of-life policing or on a slow shutdown to Rikers Island.

When asked whether de Blasio was forced to adapt on criminal justice issues because of his campaign, Gangi says, “no.”

There were voices of criticism around the city on these and a few other issues. The advocacy campaign Close Rikers, for example, protested outside Gracie Mansion and de Blasio’s voting site on Tuesday. But it was only against, which is the way it’s been since such activists began complaining about de Blasio. That conversation remains stalemated.

The right candidate to mount a challenge from the left never arose, or systemic realities ushered de Blasio onward, or enough voters were happy enough to stay home or vote for the mayor again.

Forty minutes before polls closed, Gangi cooked dinner for his family and staffers: spaghetti and sausage.

After the race was called, Gangi’s son asked him what he was looking for in the vote count. “What would make you happy?”

He didn’t quote a figure, but expounded a little on the race; how getting into a debate may have let him press de Blasio about policing, for example. He said if de Blasio called him that night, he’d congratulate him but say he hoped the mayor might be freer in his second term to make larger reforms.

De Blasio has “superficial popularity,” Gangi said. “But you know, he did win.”


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