Ossé’s duties as a councilmember have him considering his activist past, his belief in the need for structural change, the pressing current needs of his community and his relationship with the rest of the Council, upon which all of the rest is predicated.
In June, Ossé was one of only six Council members to vote against Mayor Eric Adams’ 2022 budget. He explained on the floor of the council:
“This budget remains too similar to those that have defined New York City government for years… This is now the largest police budget in our city’s history, while remaining among our least efficient guarantors of public safety. The activist in me stands with that 100 percent.”
He recognizes, though, that he is no longer just shouting from the sidelines. He’s in these negotiations. “As a legislator with a say in this budget, I know that we are depriving ourselves of billions of dollars that could be invested in our schools, parks, and housing, areas in which increased government spending has a proven correlation to public safety,” Ossé continued. “I cast this vote as a reminder of why we ran for office, how much more we can do for our people, and what I owe my own constituent neighbors who have been failed by incremental change for too long.”
By voting no, Ossé also fulfilled a pledge that he made during his campaign, that he would not vote for any budget that didn’t reallocate at least $1.5 billion from the police department. About half of the council members who signed that pledge leading up to the 2021 elections did not fulfill it.
Ossé’s “no” vote, though, came with a hefty price. According to data analysis done by City and State, Council Members who voted no received less money for projects they sponsored in their districts than those who voted yes, by a tune of $105,000/project to $210,344/project. And none of the Council members who voted no received any named credit for the projects that they supported.
“The names were not there because the vote to permit this funding was not there. So that’s the way that I reasoned,” Council Speaker Adrienne Adams said. But Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has pledged support to the six “no” voters, accused Adams of “movie villain type decision making” in an Instagram video.
“I don’t know what my relationship is with the speaker,” Ossé says. “But we’re fighting for voting rights nationwide, even here in New York State. Yet there’s implications in the City Council, a democratic body, that it’s bad to vote ‘no’ on something you don’t believe in… I wish it wasn’t sacrilegious. But I guess that’s politics.”
After the budget vote, other ostensibly progressive Council members got a lot of flak from their more politically involved constituents, in particular for voting for a budget that reduces funding for education. Some are now basically trying to back track, attacking the city for these cuts. Many progressive Council members likely thought it would be in the best interests of their districts and their own political relationships to vote for the imperfect budget and avoid the ire of the speaker.
Ossé was one of the few who made a different calculation, holding tighter to his principles. Still, the “no” vote wasn’t just for show. He’s convinced that, had fellow progressives stuck together, they could have found some more budgetary progress.
“I don’t think the left is organized, I don’t think progressives are organized at all, and that’s not groundbreaking,” Ossé says. “I think there are things we could have won if we were a lot more organized.”
He demonstrated in 2020 that he knows how to organize a movement. In 2021, a winning campaign. The next few years in the Council will determine whether he’s up to what looks like a Sisyphean task — organizing progressive politicians.
And for Ossé, the fight is existential.
“I don’t think the city is going to survive much longer if things stay the same.”
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