One Man is Never Enough, We Still Have to Fight

By Rinku Sen Mar 13, 2008

Many people are anxious about the fallout from Governor Spitzer’s problems, wondering what will happen now to the racial justice commitments he has historically supported. Organizations that work on sex traffic are mourning the loss of an important champion for ending the exploitation of women. Immigrant rights groups, although they were disappointed when Spitzer killed his own proposal to provide drivers’ licenses to undocumented immigrants, surely hoped for his support in resisting some of the worst anti-immigrant laws coming out of Washington. Education activists cheered when then Attorney General Spitzer made a campaign promise to allocate $1.8 billion new dollars to the state’s education budget, largely serving kids of color. But the outcome of this last example teaches us that one person’s promises are never enough to guarantee victory. As this year’s budget process revealed a predictable deficit, the legislature made across the board cuts, including a hefty chunk of the education budget. The Governor’s budget proposal scaled back his education funding promises for this year costing New York City schools $100 million. Parents, students and teachers involved in the Alliance for Quality Education and the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, which has been fighting for a new financial formula for over 15 years, immediately hit the streets and the state legislature to win restoration of the education budget. AQE released a report on how the cuts disproportionately affected students of color and English language learners. David Paterson, the incoming Governor, is known as a steadfast progressive, good on issues of health care, education and discrimination. He will be the third Black Governor since Reconstruction, and it is thrilling to see him join Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick in making this new category. As good as Paterson’s record has been, however, the lessons from the Spitzer debacle should remind us that communities can never solely rely on politicians to stand up for us. Anything can happen. Your favorite politician is only human. He can die in a plane crash, she can be caught up in an embezzlement scandal, or he can call Kristin only to find that she is an informant. Our fights don’t end when we get a promise for more money. They don’t even end when the money’s in the bank. They only end when the people who have to live with the consequences of government decisions have the power to shape them, regardless of who is holding the office.