An exclusive profile of Mike Tolkin, the 32-year-old NYC mayoral candidate aiming to bring revolutionary change to America's biggest city.
An intersectional human rights council. A mass transit ridesharing app. A private-public economic system. A driverless city by 2030.
It sounds like the stuff of science fiction – an idealistic vision of the future from a perhaps overly imaginative mind. But it’s actually the very real, very inspired platform of New York City mayoral candidate Mike Tolkin.
The 32-year-old New York native never expected to run for office. But after witnessing politicians fail to deliver on their grand promises for his whole life, he felt compelled to take action. “Our government has lost its way. It is not functioning at all, let alone well.”
Mike points to low millennial voter turnout as a clear sign of disengagement and disappointment. While overall voter turnout in 2016 was at 61.4%, according to the Pew Research Center, millennial turnout was below 45%, according to the United States Election Project. And in New York City’s previous mayoral election, millennials made up only 11% of voters in an election with 24% turnout.
Though it had not been his plan, Mike knew that he had to do more than just vote in elections that not even half of his peers cast a ballot in. “I’m doing this not because it was my lifelong aspiration, but because we truly face big challenges and the millennial generation is completely disenchanted with the leadership that’s in place today.”
Mike has spent the last ten years working in the private sector, with a focus on technology and innovation. Serving as CEO and Founder of Merchant Exchange, IMAX Labs, and Rooms.com, Mike has gained the leadership skills and creativity necessary to serve as mayor of the largest city in the United States.
“My skill set is in developing a vision, solving problems, crafting a long-term strategic plan, building out an organization, hiring and recruiting the best and brightest people, and empowering people to drive towards the execution of our long-term vision. That is the job of mayor, to set the vision and strategic agenda of the city.”
While there are certainly some incredibly progressive New York politicians, there is no one quite as visionary as Mike Tolkin. His long-term strategic plan for the city covers five areas – the economy, sustainability, social justice, quality of life, and governance. He calls it the “New Deal for New York.”
This entails your normal populist progressive policies, such as single-payer healthcare and free education, but it doesn’t stop there. Mike has proposed a wide array of revolutionary initiatives such as “NYC Rides,” a mass transit ride sharing program. “We believe that the future of urban transit is point-to-point transit. Wherever you are, wherever you want to go, you should be able to go on an app that can help take you where you want to go.”
Unlike many top Democrats, Mike understands that economic and social justice are inherently intertwined. He sees no need to shove away civil rights for the sake of winning over red voters. Rather, he aims to mobilize marginalized voters, who often stay home for midterm elections or are unable to cast a ballot due to voter suppression, with an aggressive outreach campaign highlighting the long-term solutions to systemic discrimination and inequity. One of his marquee social justice initiatives is called the League of Love, which would be an intersectional human rights council for New York City that could put a “comprehensive civil rights movement under one roof.” The League of Love would have a direct line of communication with the mayor’s office. This is important, Mike says, because it would establish the right tone for the city, showing top-down that New York is a sanctuary for all.
But how will the city pay for all of this? Don’t worry, Mike has it covered. In his characteristic visionary fashion, he has proposed “NYC Enterprises,” a public-private economic system that would shift the burden of these ambitious reforms off of the taxpayers. It’s certainly unlike anything you’ve ever heard before, but Mike says that this radical change is necessary.
“The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, and not just because of technology, but because of capitalism more broadly. We need to take a step back and reframe our economy.”
Mike is particularly concerned about how automation will affect the economy. “Fifty percent of jobs in New York City will go away in next 10 years,” he said. “We cannot afford to wait even one more year for the automation revolution where jobs are literally going to fall away and we’re not going to have any recourse.”
He hopes to combat this unstoppable issue by redesigning schools to focus more on skill-based jobs, which Mike says will be the primary jobs of the future. But, of course, this won’t save everyone. That’s why the “New Deal for New York” aims to expand the social safety net so that nobody gets left behind. Mike believes that if this does not happen, there will be disastrous consequences.
“There is no choice. If we don’t start addressing the problems that we face from an economic perspective, we are going to face an unbelievable economic crisis that will translate to a social revolution. There’s no way that half the population is going to starve to death and not do anything about it. If we don’t address the economic inequity that exists in the city, we will have a violent revolution.”
While he sees a remarkably bleak future ahead if there is no change, he truly believes that millennials will build a better tomorrow. It’s easy, he says, for our current politicians to tear down the social safety net and ignore climate change since “they’re not planning 20, 30 years out, because, frankly, many of them will be long gone.” With the average of members of the House being 57.8 years and of Senators 61.8 years, there is definitely some truth to that. “It’s about time we stop outsourcing our future to people who truly don’t have a vested interest in it.”
Mike hopes that his campaign will inspire other millennials to stand up and become more civically engaged. Since Donald Trump’s shocking Electoral College victory, we have already seen a historic number of young candidates running for public office, and Mike doesn’t want to see that momentum stop.
“For anyone who feels like they want to make a difference and has the right objectives – meaning it’s not about them or having a certain title or level of fame; it’s purely because they want to help the people – they should throw themselves into it and go through the process. Because as we’ve learned with so many political figures, you never know what’s going to happen, but you do know that if you put out big ideas and ambitious proposals and you’re trying to help people, people will respond to that. There’s a generational shift that we’re going through right now. It’s important that more and more young people step up, grab the torch, and take the issues into their own hands.”
You can learn more about Mike from his website. You can also follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Jordan is the Head Writer at Millennial Politics. She is also an activist, cinephile, and proud queer woman of color.
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