Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren has got a plan. And state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi is here for it.
Warren held a rally in Washington Square Park on Sept. 16 that drew some 20,000 people — her largest rally yet. The former Harvard law professor this week is even edging out former vice president Joe Biden in some nationwide polls.
Warren’s support of universal health care, the Green New Deal, taxing the wealthiest people and companies, campaign finance reform, and banning assault weapons has resulted in surging popularity among younger voters and progressives ready to back a candidate who’s seemingly developed a plan for every problem the country faces.
Count Biaggi among her fans. Before Warren’s speech, the state senator joined Manhattan Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou onstage to share their endorsement of Warren’s bid for the White House.
“One of the reasons why I have looked up to and adored her for a very long time is because she is a person of integrity,” Biaggi told The Riverdale Press. “She is not afraid to speak up about the issues in a way that is honest and that moves people towards doing good.”
Biaggi sees Warren as just the right balance of progressive-minded Democrat and bipartisan dealmaker — two qualities she says are sorely missing from the current political landscape. Where liberals and conservatives are pitted against each other in all levels of government, someone needs to be the unifying voice.
The same day as her rally, Warren’s campaign released her plan to end corruption in Washington. It calls for ending the special interest money allegedly pumped into the federal legislative process. While the Trump administration was her main target, Warren said many problems existed for years before he took office.
But corruption is not limited to the federal government. A president who’s intolerant of government corruption could also cause state governments to flush out what Biaggi calls “bad actors” and “bullying” that have an increasing presence in all levels of politics.
“I think Albany, especially, has been considered one of the most corrupt state governments in the country,” Biaggi said. “I do think that that is changing now. But even though we’ve done a lot this year with a new (senate) majority, it’s better but it’s not good.”
Although People for Bernie Sanders endorsed Biaggi during her state senate campaign last year in part because of her stance on income equality and universal health care, she said Sanders’ platform might be too radical of a change.
“I think that Bernie is so far to the left that it creates almost like a pendulum swinging in the completely opposite direction of where we are with Trump,” Biaggi said.
To fix everything that’s wrong with American politics, it requires representing everyone, Biaggi said, not just those with the same ideologies.
Taxing wealthier people and huge corporations is a big topic in Warren’s campaign. Biaggi’s district is a diverse patchwork of incomes. A Warren administration could mean higher taxes for some of her constituents — something Biaggi said she’s OK with if it means more people have the basics to build a productive life.
“If you are in a leadership role where you can actually influence the distribution of wealth in a way that makes it fair for everyone, where everyone has enough to live, you should do that,” she said. “And if that is the way that we can be able to have Medicare for All, or clean air and water, or an education so they have an opportunity to succeed, we should do that.”
Immigration reform would impact many Bronx residents, and Warren has pledged to cut back on raids rounding up and detaining anyone — even American citizens — suspected of being in the country illegally. While she’s not in favor of open borders, Biaggi is in favor of Warren’s plan to make entry into the country more welcoming.
“I think we need a policy that is humanized to address the concerns of people coming here, whether it’s for asylum or refugee status,” Biaggi said. “The idea that we would send people back to their countries that they fled from in danger of death is outrageous.”
Other planks in the platform are free college for everyone and canceling some student debt. The state’s touted free college program has many requirements for students to reach. If their grades fall below a threshold, or they take too few credit hours, students are charged the entire college tuition. That’s not legitimately free college for all, Biaggi said.
“There’s all different socio-economic levels in the Bronx, but the reality is the median household income is quite low,” she said. “Having free college tuition for all and giving people that opportunity will be a game changer because you can’t apply for a job today without going to college.”
And even if a young person earns a college degree, wages haven’t increased at the same rate as tuition, she said. Graduates trying to pay off $200,000 in student debt will find it challenging if they make only $40,000 a year.
“That’s going to reduce homeownership, stop people starting businesses, stop people saving for retirement,” Biaggi said. “And the economy suffers.”
Plans are great, and so is the idea of healing the country’s social, economic, racial and income divides. But Warren’s statements echo those of many other progressives whose plans were thwarted by political gridlock.
Her Democratic rivals are critical of her plans. Biden and Pete Buttigieg claim Warren is being evasive about a middle class tax increase they said is likely necessary to begin universal health care coverage. Some of the other candidates have publicly doubted Warren’s progressive record, pointing out she was a registered Republican until the 1990s.
And if she becomes the Democratic nominee, she faces an incumbent who has antagonized her for years and isn’t afraid to play dirty. Trump has often called Warren “Pocahontas” for the senator’s Native American heritage. She’s been criticized for claiming to be a minority but not caucusing or speaking up for Native American causes.
But Biaggi believes those are all distractions, and that Democrats and progressives need to back a candidate who isn’t afraid to think big.
“She’s just not afraid, and right now — and in this climate — having someone who’s even a little bit afraid or is worried about looking good or looking bad is not what we need,” Biaggi said. “We need someone who’s very, very bold.”