Current Issue: Volume 129, Number 21 February 18, 2009


Film shows underdog politics

Posted 03-18-2009 at 3:40AM

Arleen Thukral
Senior Reviewer

The promise of New York is a fulfillment of possibility and opportunity, which idealist Raul Barcelona ’01, an award-winning filmmaker based in New York City, transformed into a documentary, The Promise of New York. Within, a blogger, a confrontational politico, and a high school math teacher with a strong vision for education contend against incumbent Michael Bloomberg and each other for the post of New York City Mayor. The small steps that these ordinary citizens take to define democracy and change politics can be marveled at, while simultaneously being ridiculed for the apparent insignificance of the process of campaigning for mayorship.

The first candidate introduced is Christopher Brodeur, a musician, cartoonist, journalist, and well-known political gadfly in NYC. He is best known for his heckling of former NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani during the 9/11 Commission hearing held in 2004. He attempted to be the Green Party candidate for mayor in 2001, but was defeated in the primary election. In 2005, he ran again, but this time as a Democratic candidate. This was so that he couldn’t be rejected from debates for being a minor party candidate.

Seth Blum, another candidate, has been a NYC high school teacher of mathematics for nine years at Manhattan International High School. His agenda was to improve education by including alternative forms of assessment and using engaging, interesting curriculum such as projects and hands-on activities. He has used these strategies first-hand in his classroom by removing the use of textbooks. Since the mayor is now in control of the schools, and his appointed chancellor is not an educator, Glum decided he needed to step up and run.

Final candidate Andy Horwitz is a writer, performer, and producer in NYC. He is also the founder and editor of In 2005, after reading an article in The New York Daily News about the upcoming mayoral election, he decided to run for mayor.

In post-September 11 New York, these three unlikely characters, all seemingly dissatisfied with Mayor Bloomberg’s job at City Hall run in the 2005 mayor election, yet they soon discover that running for office is no joke. They must accumulate votes while faced with mass media indifference to their cause and an electoral system that caters only to rich, established parties. The underdogs who run as independents—or a separate party altogether—find it a struggle just to get on the ballot, let alone win. It is deeply depressing to learn that even dire passion for one’s cause is not enough to bring about change; the bureaucratic red tape must be understood, otherwise it significantly delays even rational progress.

Barcelona is able to successfully deliver an outsider’s perspective to the electoral process; this is in part because he was born in Spain and moved to Italy as a teenager. He then landed in Texas close to high school graduation, and, finally, obtained his electrical engineering degree from RPI. Interestingly, Barcelona did a complete changeover upon graduation, turning down a job offer from a robotics contractor for NASA to pursue his artistic aspirations. He spoke during the Q-and-A session after the film screening about his love-hate relationship with NYC. Clearly depicted in his documentary, this covers everything from the personality of the city’s innumerable individuals to its incessant noise.

The documentary was especially ingenious because it was very unpredictable, as life usually is. Still, Barcelona was very comprehensive in his coverage of the process of running for mayor, which took him a year and 200 hours of film to shoot. From the laissez-faire attitude of Chris Riggs (the punk who also ran for the 2008 presidential election) to Blum’s putting together a campaign with no funds, to the notoriety of Brodeur for his numerous confrontations—all were seamlessly captured on film. Ultimately, this documentary shows the public all the aspects of the electoral process that the American citizens are not generally exposed to by the media.

Posted 03-18-2009 at 3:40AM
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