Harnessing Familiar Hands to Chart Progressive Course
BY DUNCAN OSBORNE | When introducing Lilliam Barrios-Paoli, his pick for deputy mayor for health and human services, Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio noted she had been a nun for five years and a proponent of liberation theology, a political movement in the Roman Catholic Church that found support for economic equality in scripture. Proponents of that theology were eventually silenced by the Vatican.
“I’ve spent the bulk of my career trying to work on behalf of the poor,” Barrios-Paoli said at the December 12 announcement. “I’m elated to be part of an administration that makes that a central theme.”
In early appointments, de Blasio pulls from bench that served mayors dating back to Koch
As de Blasio has rolled out the senior members of his incoming administration, he has emphasized their progressive credentials and commitment to reform. But the most common term applied to them in the press has been “veteran.”
Barrios-Paoli worked in the Koch, Giuliani, and Bloomberg administrations. Anthony Shorris, the incoming first deputy mayor, served in the city’s Department of Education under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, led the Department of Finance under Ed Koch, and was named executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in 2007 by Eliot Spitzer, then the Democratic governor. Shorris currently heads the NYU Langone Medical Center and sits on the board of the Healthcare Association of New York State, a group that lobbies for hospitals and healthcare networks.
Dean Fuleihan, de Blasio’s budget director, spent 33 years working for the State Assembly. Gladys Carrión, who will head the Administration for Children’s Services, has served in city and state government positions.
For some community members, the incoming City Hall looks less progressive and more status quo.
Allen Roskoff, president of the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, praised one pick — Emma Wolfe, an out lesbian who will be de Blasio’s director of intergovernmental affairs, as “a total lefty” and having “absolutely terrific politics,” but was less effusive about the other choices.
“The others are all establishment,” Roskoff said. “There are going to be a lot more positions, and hopefully he’ll be picking people who aren’t that traditional.”
Pauline Park, the acting executive director of the Queens Pride House, was less charitable.
“Most of the people who’ve been announced are essentially retreads,” she said.
Both Roskoff and Park, however, emphasized that policy would come from de Blasio and his appointees are less important.
“The proof is in the pudding, and de Blasio, as with any elected official, should be and I think will be judged on how he actually governs,” Park said.
Roskoff said that finding people who have the experience to run the city’s large bureaucracies is not easy.
“He has to hire capable people, but they are who they work for and [de Blasio] sets the policy,” he said.
De Blasio offered a similar rationale when asked about his choices at the December 18 press conference announcing the Fuleihan appointment.
“Veteran and progressive are not diametrically opposed concepts” he said. “It’s very easy to preserve the status quo… If you’re going to make change, you need the most talented people and you need people with an extraordinary amount of experience who understand how to achieve that change.”
Progressives, including some in the queer community, were dismayed when de Blasio selected William Bratton to be his police commissioner, though that choice probably reassured other voters.
Bratton implemented the use of statistics, the mapping of crime, and the application of performance measures, such as arrests made or summonses issued, to assess police performance. While Bratton did not use stop and frisk when he ran the city’s police department from 1994 to 1996 under Rudy Giuliani, he embraced it when he ran the Los Angeles police department from 2002 to 2009.
Barrios-Paoli won praise from some advocates who saw their agencies or issues attended to or funded during her tenure as the commissioner at the city’s Department for the Aging under Bloomberg.
“Lilliam Barrios-Paoli has been an outstanding ally for LGBT older people,” wrote Michael Adams, the executive director of Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Elders (SAGE). “Under her leadership, the city’s Department for the Aging funded the first-ever LGBT senior center.”
Daniel Tietz, the executive director of ACRIA, an AIDS services group, said that Barrios-Paoli was “really smart and capable” and well versed in city government.
“She knows city government well,” he said. “She knows HIV well… She certainly gets our community’s concerns.”
For William Dobbs, a gay civil libertarian, concerns over the early de Blasio appointments highlight the need for the community to get more engaged in pressing City Hall.
“De Blasio talked a good game,” Dobbs said. “Let’s see if his administration walks the walk… Too many in our communities are concerned with elections and more of us need to strengthen organizing around issues. De Blasio will deliver a lot more progress if there’s a lot more pressure on him.”