Community Power in a Postreform City: Politics in New York City

By Robert F. Pecorella | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE
Postreform Politics: The Reemergence
of Community

Postreform politics is the "open recognition that we are a society of diverse interests, that these interests should be represented, and that politics, the activity through which this representation is obtained, is an inescapable part of modern life" ( Stone, Whelan, and Murin 1986, 134). Postreform, termed "new reform" by some, "accepts and embraces the political nature of big city government" ( Benjamin and Mauro, 1989, 12).

In cities, postreform politics is a reaction against the diminution of community power by reform governance; it is a rejection of reform's claims to ethical and administrative superiority; and it is a repudiation of the reform ideal that professional, central-city governments are best suited to formulate and implement policies to address urban problems. Postreform politics is not an attempt to reinstitute the geographic decentralization inherent in machine politics; it is, however, an effort to reassert community values and interests in the urban policy process. "The movement represents an effort by powerless groups to become part of the system and, at the same time, to make the system responsive to their needs" ( Fantini and Gittell 1973, 7; emphasis added).

The emergence of community-based organizations in American cities in the 1960s was the clearest manifestation of postreform politics. Janice Perlman ( 1976, 6) notes that these organizations took many forms and pursued diverse political strategies. Direct-action groups employed confrontational tactics, such as protests, sit-ins, and demonstrations, to draw official attention to community concerns; grass-roots electoral groups sought to develop intra- and intercommunity coalitions in an attempt to "enlarge the base committed to policies for a restructuring of American society from below"; and alternative institutions, such as community development corporations, involved themselves in helping to generate economic development, housing reconstruction, political organizing, and service-delivery reform. These organizations, focused on the problems of specific urban communities, represented the vanguard of the postreform reaction against reform governance.

Although community activism dates as far back as the social settlement movement of the 1880s, the evidence suggests that during the 1960s community

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