Bill de Blasio has been called many things: an “opportunist,” “an “asshole,” an alleged groundhog murderer, a perpetrator of rodent genocide, and according to my colleague Nick Martin, a “real person running for the real office of president of the United States,” which is the closest thing to a compliment de Blasio has gotten in years.
Perhaps one thing de Blasio hasn’t been called, however, is an “innovator.” But it seems that even this deeply unpopular presidential candidate has at least one good idea up his sleeve. On Monday, after power outages hit Brooklyn on Sunday night in the middle of a heat wave, de Blasio suggested that, hey: maybe private industry isn’t an all-knowing god, and maybe—just maybe—the government can be a better steward of energy services than private industry.
“We don’t depend on a private company for water or for policing or for fire protection,” de Blasio said on Monday. “If they can’t handle the job, it’s time to look at new alternatives.”
De Blasio is absolutely right, but what’s depressing is how utterly rare it is, outside of the debate about health insurance, that you hear a politician suggest that the government could run a service better than a private company, albeit one which has a monopoly in New York City. It was something Bernie Sanders suggested as a political novice, but eventually removed from his rhetoric as he began to focus more on issues like healthcare and education.
It might come as a surprise to you that this socialist innovation already exists in one U.S. state, Nebraska, which otherwise leans politically conservative. But since the New Deal, Nebraska has had publicly owned energy, with local democratically elected boards deciding rates and the utility’s general direction; in the last election in Omaha, for example, a key issue was how aggressively the utility should transition to renewable energy sources. And what has all of this government intervention done to prices and service? Nebraska has one of the lowest electricity rates in the country; New York, on the other hand, has one of the highest.
The problem, of course, is that this idea is coming from literally the most-disliked presidential candidate in the whole race now, and the guy who’s unfairly blamed for the sorry state of the city’s subways. And so I beg of 2020 candidates, in local and state and federal races around the country: please, pick up this mantle from the Tall Doofus and run with it. Please help make this popular, and maybe one day you’ll never have to deal with ConEd or Duke Energy or any of these bad companies again.