Councilwoman Mercedes Narcisse (46th District) chose not to stay in the City Council’s Progressive Caucus in early February in response to a strict pledge that caucus leadership expected all members to sign.
“I consider myself to be a progressive person,” she said in an interview. “I don’t need to sign a pledge to say I’m a progressive.”
The Progressive Caucus is a group of council members who are aligned with progressive legislation, such as sick time for gig workers, banning solitary confinement in prisons and requiring reports on complaints of police use of force.
Narcisse — who represents Canarsie, Bergen Beach, Mill Basin, Flatlands, Georgetown, Marine Park, Gerritsen Beach and Sheepshead Bay — was originally a member of the caucus for the beginning of her first two-year term in office, which is ending on December 31st. She is now running for a second two-year term, which will begin on January 1, 2024.
Thirty-four of the City Council’s 51 members were a part of the Progressive Caucus at the start of the year. Council Speaker Adrienne Adams is also an ex-officio member of all caucuses but doesn’t take part in meetings.
Once the caucus’s new Statement of Principles was released, though, 15 of the members left the caucus, including Narcisse.
The Statement of Principles is a list of ideals that caucus leadership feels all members should share. It included several goals for caucus members on a range of governmental issues.
“The Progressive Caucus of the New York City Council is dedicated to creating a more just and equitable New York City, and advancing public policies that prioritize working New Yorkers over corporate interests; fighting economic, racial and social inequities; and advancing civil liberties,” the statement’s introduction reads in part.
One subject listed is the economy. Goals associated with this topic include increasing unionization rates in the city and creating new jobs with higher wages and better benefits. Another topic listed is education, for which some of the goals are to reduce class sizes, create free or low-cost universal early childhood education and establish universal after-school programs.
The part of the statement that caused members to leave the caucus was about public safety. This goal read in part as, “We will do everything we can to reduce the size and scope of the NYPD and the Department of Correction.”
Council members and constituents alike took this statement as “defund the police” sentiment, prompting the exodus from the caucus.
In a community like the 46th District, which is home to many police families and conservatives despite leaning Democrat in elections, anti-police language does not please many people. As a result, Narcisse said leaving the caucus would be accurately representing her constituent’s feelings on the subject.
“In my community right now, if the word [progressive] is meaning something for the community, I need to listen,” she said. “I have a lot of retirees in my community that are police officers and folks that don’t want to deal with crime.”
Constituents largely seem to agree with Narcisse’s decision to leave the caucus, for the very reasons she said.
“She did right by removing herself,” Marine Park resident Stella Panzarino said. “Politicians and the justice system sympathize with criminals. Crime is rampant. We don’t need less police; we need more protection.”
Panzarino was not the only constituent to share this sentiment.
“I am in agreement with Councilwoman Narcisse getting out of the so-called ‘Progressive Caucus,’” Canarsie resident Anthony Williams said. “Why? Because of their crime-friendly policies. The laws nowadays are protecting the criminals. The Progressive Caucus needs to be voted out.”
However, not all residents feel this way.
“I am a progressive in general. I don’t know why she is leaving, but I would like to know her reasons,” Sheepshead Bay resident Georgina Sculco said. “Unfortunately, many people these days are moving to the right. I realize she must represent the majority.”
Overall, Narcisse said that she still holds a lot of progressive values but could not stand by the Statement of Principles while still representing her constituents.
“Do I need to sign a page for me to be progressive? I don’t think so,” she said. “Do I need to amplify the people’s voices that I represent? No doubt. I’m here to represent them.”