By Carol Tannenhauser
David Gold is not your average City Council candidate. “That’s the truth,” he confirmed, in a recent phone interview with WSR. Gold, 54, is the third of six candidates who we are profiling (alphabetically), in preparation for the June 22nd Democratic primary for the District 6 seat. A lifelong Upper West Sider, he is currently executive director and president of Democratism, a nonprofit organization that “seeks to make our federal election system more democratic,” he explained. Previously, he ran a community arts and education organization, founded and led a software company, practiced plaintiff-side complex litigation, and served as a law clerk to Judge Stephen Reinhardt of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. He holds a JD from Columbia Law School, a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania, and a BA from Brown University.
Why is he running for City Council?
“My goals, ultimately, are very much in line with what you would expect from most City Council candidates who have a chance in this neighborhood,” he said, “but what I really want to do — what sets me apart is that I believe we can achieve those goals by making big changes.”
Like eliminating the Electoral College.
West Side Rag: Is that a local issue?
David Gold: It is absolutely a local issue. Every issue we are talking about in this campaign is profoundly affected by our failed politics in Washington. We can’t achieve any of the most important goals that many of us share without removing the right-wing bias from the federal election system. I’m not proposing some radical new idea of democracy. It’s the basic principle that prevails in almost all democracies in the world, which is that the executive, in this case the president, should be chosen by the people, and there should be proportional representation in Congress. As it stands now, the system is rigged in favor of the Republicans, which has a negative effect in many ways on New York City.
WSR: Who rigged it?
DG: It’s a very old democratic system, the first of its kind. It was formed out of a group of states that were still largely independent of one another. It was a compromise system. The reason it’s so bad now is that our politics nationally are polarized mostly along urban-rural lines. It would benefit New York City and New Yorkers to make the system democratic, because it’s now anti-city. It’s also white supremacist. You can’t really claim to be fighting white supremacy if you don’t take seriously the problem that our system not only undercounts city people, it undercounts black people and over-counts white people.
WSR: But why is this an Upper West Side issue from the point of view of fixing it?
DG: Because the federal government doesn’t have a way to fix itself, but we can solve that if we start locally. Democratism, offers a method for changing the election system of the federal government to make it truly democratic. We propose doing this by a vote of the people, which can be triggered by local governments. We would propose something called the Democracy Decree, which could be adopted in the New York City Council. If it were adopted in enough local legislatures around the country, it would trigger a vote of the American people, which could bring about the popular election of the president and proportional representation in Congress. So far, no other city council members seem very much aware of it, but what I’m saying is, if you’re not talking about this issue, you’re not talking about the most important issue to the future of New York City, and, furthermore, an issue that can only be addressed in the first instance locally.
WSR: So, that’s why you’re running?
DG: I’m doing it because I think it’s a very rare moment, when the crises of the last year have opened up an opportunity for really substantial change. We need to seize the moment. I got into the race because I believe I have proposals that could change the whole city for the better — the whole nation if we pursue them. Even from a conventional standpoint, I think I’d be a really great member of the City Council. I don’t know what kind of politician I’ll turn out to be, but I think I have the qualities to be a good legislator, especially for the Upper West Side. I share the values of Upper West Siders; I have good judgement; I have a lot of skill at analyzing laws and regulations; I’ve run a business; I know how to do numbers and budgets; and I like to learn stuff, to listen to my neighbors and consider both sides of issues and discuss and analyze them and come to good conclusions together. The main reason I’m doing it though, is because I think it’s really possible to do something transformative.
WSR: Tell me about your connection to the neighborhood.
DG: I grew up on the Upper West Side. So did my wife, six blocks away from me. We’ve raised our two sons here. My wife’s parents and mine, who are good friends with each other, all still live here, too. We also have other relatives in the neighborhood, and a lifetime of close friends and acquaintances who live or work here. I’ve seen all the neighborhood’s changes and challenges since the 1970s. Through my own experience and those of close friends and relatives, I know what it’s like to grow up here, grow old here, play here, learn here, be sick here, and recover here. If this were an ordinary time, I would leave this to the people who have made a career out of politics or hope to. I’m running because right now, we’re at a rare moment when there’s not only a need for real change, but also a hunger for real change, and we need to think big and creatively about it. That’s what I’m offering.
WSR: Can you beat Gale Brewer?
DG: Well, um, so…I think she’s beatable or I wouldn’t be doing this. Clearly, she has name recognition. I’m hoping that people will learn about what I’m trying to do, and they will see that a vote for me could be really important.
The Democratic primary is on June 22, 2021. It will utilize ranked-choice voting, which you can read about here. The above interview was condensed and edited for clarity.
Next: Sara Lind.