Dianne Morales briefly seemed to have a real shot at capturing the progressive vote in New York’s mayoral race but her campaign eventually imploded. Her own team attempted to unionize during the race, casting her in the role of management, i.e. a boss that pushed people to work long hours for low pay. This week New York Magazine published a detailed post-mortem on Morales campaign and its descent into self-parody.
From afar, the Morales implosion could almost seem like a parody of the young left. Overeager Zoomers join a mayoral campaign of an opportunistic nonprofit executive who seeks to reinvent herself as the warrior of the Woke. With no history in the movement, she becomes their champion through a few rhetorical flourishes, chanting about intersectionality and defunding the police.
“If somebody can really master the rhetoric of the identity left, they can be very effective,” said Matthew Thomas, a socialist writer and researcher active in New York politics. “People are afraid to push back.”
The ability to speak woke was really Morales main strength in the race. She campaigned on defunding the police and for a time polls showed she was about even in the race with Maya Wiley, the candidate who would eventually get AOC’s endorsement.
Morales proudly stated she wanted to slash the NYPD’s operating budget in half, gaining many fans on the left. Everywhere she went, from Zoom forums to block parties, Morales assailed “racist policing” and promised dramatic reform. Activists cheered when she announced she would, as mayor, create a new agency of nonviolent first responders to answer distress calls. She was the Instagram social-justice candidate and something of a social-media phenomenon; at one point, Broad City’s Ilana Glazer was sliding into her DMs. Her Twitter following ballooned, and endorsements from progressive organizations and political clubs began to pour in. It didn’t hurt that she was a naturally compelling and forceful speaker, charismatic where others were lawyerly.
But inside the campaign things were not going so well. Staffers started to complain publicly and eventually those complaints seemed to overwhelm everything else. But according to an ex-staffer the problem wasn’t just lack of organization, it was Morales herself:
A 15-year-old volunteer field captain Amira Ismail, posted a lengthy statement on Twitter about the alleged exploitation of young people on the campaign. She said she worked 40-hour weeks, unpaid, and was assigned late-evening shifts that would “jeopardize my safety.” Ismail claimed she faced unspecified “overwhelming abuse” from Morales staffers…
There were two sides to Morales, staffers said. She could be compassionate, the kind of candidate who did seem to genuinely tear up when complaints were brought to her. But she was also easily angered. Staffers recalled hearing Morales berate her bodyman loudly enough to be heard through a closed door in the Manhattan office, and one said shewas known for sending voice notes to staff, lacerating them for mistakes.
“She had a hell of a temper,” an ex-Morales staffer said. “She got frustrated with people easily.”
Then in May, with the election only weeks away, staffer attempted to form a union. Morales recognized the union but then the next day she did something that really upset a lot of people:
On Wednesday, May 26, Morales called for a staff meeting, and the next day, shortly before the meeting was set to begin, she fired the four women who had been chosen by the new union to represent them. They were all dismissed over email. This, even for staffers who had been more wary of the union, was a breaking point. On group chats and Zoom, there were sudden talks of walk-outs and work-stoppages, unheard of in a campaign context. (A Morales spokesman said that “no one had been identified as union representatives” and that the “women in question” were fired “in relation to their performance in their roles.”)
Whether those four women were union reps or not, people inside the campaign acted as if that were the case. By the next day there were people out picketing the campaign office and claiming Morales was a union buster.
Morales herself didn’t take kindly to this recitation of her campaign’s downfall. When author Ross Barkan posted some tweets about his piece Monday she responded. Those tweets were gathered here but I’m going to use the originals since they haven’t been deleted:
the irony here is the "hell of a temper" line was a quote from a person who worked directly with her and experienced this. and yes, being a nonprofit exec for 10 years and voting for Cuomo and backing charters are not qualifiers for existing in left movement spaces
— Ross Barkan (@RossBarkan) July 13, 2021
Enter Dianne Morales with some woke jargon about white men trying to define her:
Charter schools are quite literally neoliberalism and the privatization of education, an argument that public services have failed and only education beyond a unionized workforce can succeed, with underperforming students driven out of the system. Tolerate whatever you want.
— Ross Barkan (@RossBarkan) July 13, 2021
Are you going to answer why you differ from the leftwing base on these issues or just say he “won’t define you”?
— justin. (@justinjoboyle) July 13, 2021
Here’s Morales final response in the thread followed by someone pointing out that she may have proved Barkan’s point about her temperament:
if you scroll back the point of this thread was to argue against you having a temper. how do you think you did
— 🦁🐒 (@Lowenaffchen) July 13, 2021
Of course no one likes to be criticized in print for the whole world to see but politicians are usually smart enough to keep their complaints private or simply let it go as part of the tough business of politics. What they don’t usually do is try to out-woke the author of a critical piece in public. In any case, Morales wasn’t what Democratic New Yorkers were looking for this time. They went with the former police officer who was against all the things Morales was campaigning for.
I’ll wrap this up with this debate segment where mayoral candidates got into an argument over the worst ideas they’d heard during the campaign. Morales got into an argument with Ray McGuire (who said defunding would be a disaster) on the issue: