Bill Lynch: Don't Wait for the Stimulus, Work For It!

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The saying is “All politics is local” and that goes for the politics of the much-heralded stimulus package as well.  When folks on the ground hear numbers like several billion dollars here, a couple of hundred million there, the question arises, “how do we get our share?”
We thought one of the best ways to answer that was to ask someone who knows how the system works and the person who knows better than most is Mr. Bill Lynch, president of Bill Lynch Associates, Deputy Mayor in the Dinkins Administration, campaign manager and political consultant/lobbyist extraordinaire.
What can community groups do to access the stimulus dollars we keep hearing about?  “You can’t assume it’s automatic, the operative word is “shovel-ready.”  By “shovel-ready,” Mr. Lynch is not just speaking about construction jobs, he is speaking of programs and proposals that address many different areas.   “We have to be sure the programs are there and we have to be diligent in how that money is spent by the state and local government.  That it doesn’t get chewed up in the traditional places, like police and fire.  Not that those things are not important, but things that are important to local communities.”
How do we agree on what has to be done and then how do we translate that into programs that are fundable?   Suggesting there is no need to reinvent the wheel, Mr. Lynch said of existing nonprofits, “Most community programs have always been what I call ‘shovel-ready.’  That might be a misnomer as we talk here, there are plenty of community programs that have been written and are on the shelf and never get funded.  It’s time to pull it down, shake the dust off of it, and get it ready to be funded.  And then go advocate for it to City Hall or the State office.  Or the governor’s office.”
Speaking regarding how to advocate effectively, Lynch said to always keep in mind, “It’s the squeaky wheel that gets the grease.”  It was reported in the past that Mr. Lynch has said he wasn’t a salesman, but from his advice on advocacy, he knows how to direct them.  He said of the nonprofits, “They have to be down at City Hall, making their argument.  Or up at the State building right now, making their argument.  Or talk to their local legislators again making their argument, about where that money will go, once it comes into the state.”
Since all politics is local, work has to be done to ensure the stimulus package is local as well.  “I say talk to your Councilmember or State representative.  Write to the governor or the governor’s people.  Write to the mayor.  It’s the squeaky wheel.”
But there are times when an individual sees a situation that needs to be addressed, where action needs to be taken.  At those times, working alone is not the answer, says Lynch.   “The first thing to do is organize.  Find others who would be or are affected by it.  Bring them all together.  An example would be people in a housing project all being affected by the same problem.  I’d try to get them all together to advocate with me to deal with the problem. Go to the Assembly or the Senate at the State level and also they should coalesce with others.  For example, say a number of people in your area are union members.   You would say, “Let’s go see if they will join with us.”  I’ve seen that happen a number of times.  They might be transit workers, so you get the Transit Workers Union involved.  They might be members of 1199, so you get 1199 involved.  All of that forces attention.”
Is it better to approach elected officials as partners in your concern, rather than as antagonists?  “Absolutely.  If you go to an elected official with a couple of hundred neighbors and friends, the official is going to say, “How can I help you?  How can I join this?”
Why is it with so many Black-elected officials, there has not been a similar advancement of the masses of Black people?  “Just because there is an African-American in office, it doesn’t mean political power has shifted automatically.  I say when you see an African-American in those offices, they’re more sensitive to the problems of Black communities.  But at the same time, they’re being pressured by other parts of the community.”  It’s not that white political power has diminished, “it’s that ours has increased,” says Lynch.   “So it is not as easy as you think to make things happen.  And I think a lot of times what happens, people in the African-American community say, ‘Well we’ve got our person there, so we don’t have to do anything.’  No, you still have to be diligent, and keep the pressure on.  Even though they are from your community, you still have to keep the pressure on.”
You mean even with Barack Obama as President, we can’t just sit back and wait?  “No you can’t. When he talks about everybody having to be involved, he’s talking about us too.”
How can we ensure that African-Americans get the jobs that are coming into the communities?  “Again, be diligent. You have to insist that it happen, it’s not going to happen automatically.   If you’re not there watching, if you’re not standing in line to see what’s going on, when the dust settles you’ll be there scratching your head and wondering what happened.  If you make the assumption you’re going to be taken care of, that’s a bad assumption. There is no guarantee just because someone of color has been elected that they’ll take care of you.  The potential is better that way, but they do for those who keep the pressure on them.”
How has the Obama election affected the thinking of politicians?  “I think it’s still too early to tell.  A lot of people are taking a look at what he put together.  What the outcome will be is still up in the air, he’s only been in office two months.  Still trying to figure out how he raised that much money.” Last words regarding the stimulus package, “The community has to be diligent about insuring that the stimulus money gets down to the grassroots level.  If they’re not diligent, it’ll slide away and they’ll wonder what happened.  It’s like everything else.  If you take your eye off, it’ll go someplace else.”

Bill Lynch: Power Broker
Bill Lynch Associates is consultant to Councilman John Liu in his bid to become Comptroller and the first Asian to be elected citywide and also for Cy Vance, running for Manhattan District Attorney, now that Robert Morgenthau has given up the ghost before he became one.  Lynch said the Liu race was “very important for the kind of coalition I’ve worked for all my life.”  This race has an historical significance as well for Lynch.  “I was involved with David Dinkins as the first citywide African-American candidate, Freddie Ferrer, although he didn’t win, as first citywide Latino candidate.  And now we’re with John Liu as the first citywide Asian candidate.”
Over the years, Lynch said the work of bringing a nonwhite candidate to citywide office does not get easier, “but I think now people are more accepting of candidates of color.”
In the mayor’s race, Lynch says, “ We’re supporting Bill Thompson, he’s not our primary client,” such as Liu or Vance, for whom Lynch Associates act as general consultants and run the show, recommending strategy, pollsters and personnel.  “For Thompson, we’re just one of the consultants.”
During the interview, a call came in.  Apparently, Patrick Gaspard, political director at the White House, had asked Lynch for recommendations for a position, “and your name came up,” Lynch told the caller, who was returning his call.  “Are you interested in working for Obama?  Good. Send me your resume and I’ll forward it.”    Later, we asked Mr. Lynch about Gaspard, and he said, “I consider him one of my protégés.  I recruited him in 1988 to work with Jesse Jackson, he worked with us in City Hall, and we’ve stayed in touch ever since.”

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