Written by Michael Weldon
A political insider for decades, Dr. Hank Sheinkopf’s master class, New York City and Dynamic Change, focused on a central question: What is power? Simply defined, power is the ability for A to get B to do something; or alternatively, to do nothing, to force a non-decision. Power does what power wants and does not ask permission.
Dr. Scheinkopf provided fascinating insight to the historical factors, which brought such dramatic change to the city over the course of the 20th century. From systemic corruption at the highest levels of government down through the ranks of the police force, to organized crime and labor unions, to entanglements between bankers and developers, the story of New York City is of epic proportion. A historian of New York City, Dr. Scheinkopf extemporaneously delved into the city’s main players of the previous century, from Frank Costello and the political machine of Tammany Hall, to the Irish dominated police force, the Italian mafia, as well as the powerful Catholic Church.
Dr. Scheinkopf explained as the GI’s returned home from the war in ’44-’45 to a housing shortage, new homes were built with guaranteed mortgages and guaranteed profit. New York’s “master builder”, public official Robert Moses, favored projects like expressways out to the suburbs, over public transit, and with that, great change followed. The automobile would transform the city as white families fled for a suburban life. Jobs changed, manufacturing changed, and the city was left with empty spaces, fewer jobs, and a decline of social welfare. The population that would fill the vacuum were blacks migrating from the south, and Puerto Ricans from the Caribbean. Racially biased policies against the city’s new residents resulted in the deterioration of once flourishing city neighborhoods as the process of ‘ghettoization’ ushered in the era of ‘war on crime’ and mass incarceration. Through myriad examples of politics at work, Dr. Sheinkopf drove home his point that power has no political affiliation, yet all societal conditions are political.
Originally planned for three-days, the two-day master class included guest speakers Gregory Floyd, President of the Local 237 Teamsters Union, and Justice George Grasso of the Bronx County Court. Mr. Floyd spoke of a variety of examples to weaken the trade and labor unions through the concentration of private and corporate capital. Judge Grasso shared his interesting life’s trajectory from a NYC ‘beat’ cop who moved up the ranks to become a Bronx County Court Justice.
This class was an intriguing whirlwind of New York City history and the political forces, which shaped it. Supplemented by compelling reading selections and two eminent guest speakers, Dr. Scheinkopf’s lectures made plain that the course of history which New York City took was not guided by the invisible hand, but rather determined by fierce, if not ruthless, competition for its resources. The take away is simple: examine issues from every angle, and participate in the struggle for equitable change.