Ben Platt ’23

Williams College, Department of Political Science, Williamstown, MA

This summer I was fortunate enough to work as a research assistant with Professor Mason Williams of the Political Science Department. I helped him conduct book research for an upcoming book he is writing on the political history of New York City from the mid-1970s to the present day. I had never engaged in academic research like this before and it was eye-opening to see how arduous the process is to write a well-researched data-based book. This is especially true because Professor Williams was doing some of the first scholarship of Michael Bloomberg’s and Bill de Blasio’s political legacy. The book focuses on the key areas of housing, police, and education, with much attention also given to how public space is used and the role corporations play in contributing to a city’s urban environment.

My first project was finding all the newspaper and magazine profiles on Bill de Blasio and sorting them into ones that painted him in a positive light and those that portrayed him in a negative perspective. I found, unsurprisingly, that the articles depicting him positively tended to come from the beginning of his tenure as mayor, and towards the end of his tenure, the profiles started to become more critical of his legacy as mayor. As one of the most reviled political figures in New York City today, de Blasio’s legacy will be written by people such as Professor Williams and it was amazing to be a part of that first draft of history.

Next, I researched Mayor de Blasio’s affordable housing policies, which was one of the main issues he ran on in 2013. I found that Mayor de Blasio’s affordable housing legacy was one of mixed results, as he set out with an ambitious plan, but largely did not deliver on it. Housing is one of the most pressing public policy issues in both the tristate area and the entire country so it was interesting to see how he approached it.

Throughout my internship I also maintained a database of relevant archives and library collections for Professor Williams to reference. It’s actually impressive how many different institutions hold information that one would need to write a comprehensive urban history including public and private collections, small archives and vast stacks, and an able researcher must navigate all of these resources.

Reflecting on my time working for Professor Williams, I don’t necessarily think I’ll go into a career of academia, but as someone deeply interested in urban politics and the modern politics of New York City, this was a deeply fulfilling experience. I am extraordinarily grateful for the generosity of the Estate of George Mead. Supporting young people who wish to enter public service is incredibly important when there seems to be a crisis of leadership in our government at all levels. I also want to give my sincere gratitude to the ’68 Center for Career Exploration for administering the ASIP Program.