Friday, August 29, 2008

A Labor Lament on the City Hall "Waffle House"

We just received the following from Pat Purcell, a key labor figure who works for Local 1500 of the UFCW. Pat is extremely disappointed with Mayor Mike, and his perceived failure to stand up for the supermarket workers of NYC. He reminds us that his comments are his alone, and don't necessarily reflect those of his union:


Is this turn around on term limits any different than the turn around we have begun to see on other issues. Rally support for congestion pricing but then support a Warehouse Club in midtown? Release a report that says we need more Supermarkets but refuse to lift a finger to help the 70 workers who will lose their jobs when Key Food closes because Vornado is squeezing them out with impossible rent demands?

Use eminent domain to remove the businesses at Willet's Point but ridicule it for the purpose of taking the Bruckner Blvd Development to assure the residents access to healthy foods, prevent a dramatic rise in the number of pedestrian accidents that will occur by sending thousands of shoppers across the Blvd to buy food and also save 70 good paying jobs that provide health care to many people?

Encouraging the use of Green Carts but not willing to ensure they end up in front of Burger King instead of businesses that already sell fresh fruit and vegetables? Saying lower income communities need more fresh food and supermarkets but supporting the development of warehouse clubs that charge $50 a year admission and will not take food stamps in these communities?

Too busy to meet with the Key Food workers but found time in his schedule to meet with Brett Favre on one day notice? Those of you that know me could imagine how happy I was to find out City Hall had been turned into my favorite southern restaurant, "The Waffle House." I speak from the horrible experience of having been a supporter of some of the Mayors initiatives and now feeling the shame of having been mislead to think they really wanted to do what was right on healthy food access, congestion pricing, responsible development etc.

After all, what I am I to think when I testify in Staten Island at the request of the Administration in favor of congestion pricing and then have them publicly support a retail model that will bring thousands of cars into mid town? On term limits? As the band "The Who" sang...I wont be fooled again. Elected's who support over turning term limits by way of legislation and not the voters will have the right to do so. However, please do not try to justify to anyone with a fourth grade level of education or higher that your reasoning is anything more than a power grab.

Maybe I am wrong. Maybe they they just don't want to give up the comfortable chair they have in their office? The pens, staples and paperclips they now get for free? By all means, take them with you when you leave. Make it a lifetime supply if necessary. Pass that law. Free office supplies for exiting elected officials. Consider them parting gifts. Please, just leave under the same laws that brought you here. Perish the thought that others may be elected and do what they think is right for electorate and take this City in another direction?

I guess to those who favor extending turning term limits by legislative means and not by the voters this is the equivalent of the inmates taking over the asylum. How could they allow such a thing to happen? Could there actually be someone else out there who could be Mayor? A Council member? I'll throw caution to wind and assume somehow society will go on with elected officials who come to their position under the guidelines prescribed by the voters under a Democratic process.

And we actually wonder why people have such a negative and cynical view of politicians? Unless they have removed all of the mirrors in City Hall, it shouldn't be too difficult to find the reason. Everyday, parents in this City teach their kids that in life you take the high road to happiness and success. What road would those who support extending term limits without the voters consent be taking? Thanks for reading this rant and rave but doesn't this whole idea just piss you off.

Happy Labor Day,

Pat Purcell

Pointless Summit?

It now appears that everyone's trying to get into the act on Willets Point. According to the NY Daily News State Senator Malcom Smith has been pushing for more negotiations with the businesses that have been opposing the redevelopment project: "A new round of talks is shaping up between the city and some of the largest businesses at Willets Point after State Senate Minority Leader Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans) helped kick-start stalled negotiations, the Daily News has learned. Smith arranged a closed-doors summit at his Manhattan office this month that brought together top city officials and a dozen representatives of the Willets Point Industry and Realty Association, a league of 16 of the largest businesses at the so-called Iron Triangle."

Now it's hard for us to see how Smith will be more successful than the city here; just what does he bring to the table that trumps the abilities (or lack thereof) of EDC? As the News tells us: "A spokeswoman for Smith, who is in Denver for the Democratic National Convention, confirmed the meeting about Willets Point took place but would say only that the senator "is a big proponent of economic development across the state."

Well, that describes a lot of folks, but the issues here are a bit more nettlesome-and the use of eminent domain under the gun of a ULURP time clock is certainly not helping things; not to mention the subversive role of Councilman Monseratte: "The City Council is expected to take a critical vote in November. "That puts pressure on both sides," said a source in the business group. "We are all watching that clock carefully."

Indeed it does, and while anything's possible here, our bet is that the whole thing falls apart under its own weight-and it will be left to the next administration to decide the fate of the Iron Triangle. Given the way this project has proceeded, this is only just.

Con-Testing the Schools

In what comes closest to emulating Diogenes as you can get in the current crop of commentators, the NY Sun's Andrew Wolf underscores in today's paper all of the hypocritical hyperbole surrounding the discussions of Bloomberg'e educational achievements. "Fools Gold" indeed-especially when it comes to a test regimen that needs a disinfectant: "It is now just 10 months before the expensive experiment that is mayoral control of Gotham's public schools is set to expire. And as parents ready their children for the start of classes Tuesday, the news has been released that the average S.A.T. scores have declined here once again. There was no press extravaganza. No Power Point presentations, no top officials, union leaders at their side, beaming as the results were outlined. No, troubling test results turn out to be an orphan."

What Wolf finds-and would we see more critical commentary from the rest of the press corps on this-is that whenever our kids take New York spawned tests they seem to do much better than when the tests are national in scope. Perhaps our state attorney general should focus some attention here rather than all on the malfeasance of Wall Street speculators. As Wolf points out: "If there is a trend to be found here it is this. Whenever someone other than the State of New York administers a test, scores here are flat, or even go down. But when those kind folks from Albany come on the scene, scores on their tests magically increase, a phenomenon that explains the increases in graduation rates as well."

If true, this is a scandal of the highest proportion. But who will have the courage to say that the Emperor has no clothes? Especially when it comes to all of the money spent (squandered?): "This is truly "high stakes" testing. As public revenues shrink, and lawmakers look for new ways to pick the taxpayers' pocket, education funding has been largely maintained this lean year, following six fat years which saw the local school budget grow an astounding 79%. It is more than fair to ask if this really has been a prudent investment."

These are inquiries that need to be made, especially when the self-interested are trying to promote another extra-legal term for our exalted chief executive. We really need to have a full scale review of the mayor's school program-something that needs to be done in Albany where there is less sycophancy among the electeds.

There is a major disconnect here; with students and parents as the victims of a zirconium-like inflation of test results. As Wolf says, and we agree fully: "Until the state tests are aligned with the results of NAEP, all of the "profit" that we are told that the extra nine billion a year we are investing in our schools is bringing us will be, alas, but fool's gold."

Dissension in the Ranks?

According to the NY Times, Mayor Mike's getting some push back on his stealth campaign to alter term limits: "As he weighs a bid to rewrite New York City’s term limits, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is encountering an unlikely group of opponents: his own aides. Three of Mr. Bloomberg’s most trusted advisers at City Hall — Deputy Mayors Edward Skyler, Patricia E. Harris and Kevin Sheekey — have confided to associates that they oppose revising the city’s election laws so that he can seek a third term, according to people familiar with the conversations."

If true, good for them-and it appears from the Times story that they're opposing the idea for the right reasons: "The deputy mayors have told associates that any campaign to change term limits, which restrict citywide elected offices to two consecutive four-year terms, could be viewed as an undemocratic end-run around voters, who approved the current laws twice, in 1993 and 1996. They fear that a third term could produce unexpected crises that might tarnish Mr. Bloomberg’s strong record, the fate of Mayor Edward I. Koch’s administration."

It would, as they say undermine the mayor's legacy as someone who is not a typical politician: "Even so, his flirtation with making the change has left his closest advisers unsettled. Their biggest fear is that a mayor who built a reputation as an anti-politician and common-sense problem-solver will appear self-serving and power-hungry." And it would, especially if the effort was thwarted by a legal challenge that would leave the mayor diminished.

This doesn't, of course, stop the toadies from pursuing their dream of continuing an administration that has been real good to the city's power elites: "On the one hand, there are business leaders, like the financier Steven Rattner and the developer Jerry I. Speyer, who are encouraging him to consider running again, arguing that he towers over the potential rivals." What they're really saying is that the city might get a chief executive with more concern for the businesses and people in the neighborhoods that Bloomberg had no idea existed before he was elected mayor.

In any case, the city council action on all of this remains somewhat problematic (and the lost war chests may also factor in)-and we await the return of the conventioneers so that a full public vetting of the issue can be attained. Those of us who, unlike the irritatingly loquacious Ed Koch, believe that the mayoral exit wouldn't be the end of the world by any means, are ready to make the case; and council members with much less cachet than the mayor need to be careful about self aggrandizement.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

East Harlem Showdown

The NY Sun is reporting that the City Planning Commission, in what can't be described as a shocker, has passed the East Harlem re-zoning plan that currently lacks a designated developer: "The City Planning Commission voted in favor of rezoning the eastern portion of 125th Street, setting the stage for a final City Council vote on the 1.7 million-square-foot mixed-use complex.
The commission approved the project, which will include a mix of retail, restaurants, offices, and housing, by a vote of eight to one. The proposed area extends between East 125th and 127th streets, between Second and Third Avenues. The city has not yet selected a developer for the project, eliciting concern from local resident groups and the office of the president of Manhattan, Scott Stringer."

This one may be headed for a council denial, since the plan and the developer remain uncertain and murky-and the fact that the city will, in effect, name a developer at the eleventh hour doesn't bode well for the success of the application; a fact that is exacerbated by the community's (and the council person's) relative lack of enthusiasm for the three developers said to be finalists.

Thor Gives BJs to Brooklyn

It now appears as if Joe Sitt is looking to have BJs Warehouse Clubs proliferate all over Brooklyn-with the NY Post reporting that his company, Thor Equities, is looking at a second location in Red Hook for the giant box store: "The Red Hook waterfront that some residents complain is already starting to resemble a strip mall - with Ikea and Fairway now firmly rooted - is gonna get another big-box retail tenant. Sources said today that they expect developer Joe Sitt to convert the former Revere Sugar Factory site he owns into a big national chain store."

This would be the third potential Brooklyn site for BJs-the first being off of Shore Parkway, and the second on the site of the old Key Food Warehouse. It won't be easy to attain this, however, not with the existing traffic issues that are already impacting Red Hook's waterfront. This isn't sitting well with the community: "John McGettrick, co-chair of the Red Hook Civic Alliance, said the neighborhood just can't handle more traffic. He said that besides lacking subway service, Red Hook doesn't have adequate roads and parking to handle IKEA – let alone another big retail chain next to it. "It's just another inappropriate use of waterfront property," he said."

The store would need to obtain a zoning permit in order to occupy the proposed site: "Sitt would need to get a zoning change through the city's land use review process because the retail business he plans to bring would take up more than 10,000 square feet in space." This will not be an easy task-particularly because of not only the traffic issue, but the fact that the store doesn't accept food stamps and Red Hook is a poor community.

There's more on this from the Brooklyn Paper: "More warehouse-sized retail stores like BJ’s could be tough to swallow for Red Hook residents, many of whom bitterly opposed the Ikea, though its impact has not caused the apocalypse some predicted. There’s more traffic, especially on weekends, but there have been few complaints." Wait, as we have pointed out, till they see just what kind of traffic a BJs generates.

Here's what we have found from other similar BJs stores: The BJ’s traffic analysis reports average weekday volumes of 6,223 and average Saturday volumes of 7,608 vehicles per day (parked vehicles only, no trucks, no-dropoffs). Which leads us to Marty Markowitz's comments in the Post: ""Red Hook - and Brooklyn - are open for business, but while welcoming major retailers to our borough could bring economic vitality and much-needed jobs to previously under-served and underutilized areas, we must also be sure to 'grow smart' and preserve a neighborhood's character," Borough President Marty Markowitz said."

This would include, we assume, the preservation of the local supermarkets that Marty has championed. Something will have to give in all of this-proliferating BJs and supermarket preservation is a contradiction in terms.

Survey Says...

In what will unlikely come as a shock to most people, the NY Times survey of city council members finds-that they are in favor of altering term limits so that they can remain in office for another four years: "A majority of New York City Council members support — or are open to — overturning the term limit laws that will force most of them and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg from office in 16 months, according to a telephone survey conducted by The New York Times.
With Mr. Bloomberg considering a bid to change the term limits to 12 years from the current 8, the results of the survey suggest that the mayor would find ample support for such a proposal in the Council..."

What the Times goes on to point out may be more problematic, however, since the paper proclaims that the city council, "...has the authority to rewrite the law with or without voter ratification." Therein lies the rub on all of this-any council effort to self perpetuate would undoubtedly be subjected to a legal challenge, one whose outcome belies the Times' supposition here (And why does the Tines speak so peremptorily when the legal experts are far from unanimous here?).

Still, the story is of the dog bites man variety, with council members surveyed coming up with a whole host of reasons (some of which we agree with) as to why they shouldn't be cast aside at the end of their current term: "Besides eliminating the difficulties of looking for a new job, members of the Council said that extending term limits would give voters a chance to re-elect battle-tested leaders, allow members to complete unfinished work and bring stability to city government as New York enters a financial downturn."

The one thing we really agree on here, though, is that it's that mayor is driving all of this-no one on the council would have the nerve to publicly push this without the sense that Big Brother is behind it: "But members said that the decision to alter term limits — and allow them to seek a third term — would largely rest with the mayor. If he signals his support, many said in interviews, the Council will quickly change the law."

Some council folks do express the right amount of concern about the potential for chaos that the effort to over turn the will of the people could generate: "Such a change could carry a steep political price tag. Mr. Bloomberg and Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker, who is likely to run for mayor next year and who has the power to block the legislation from reaching a floor vote, have long supported the current term limits, and could face withering criticism for shifting course and undermining the will of voters. “The day we change the term limits is the day we take a step toward dictatorship,” said Tony Avella, a Democrat from Queens who opposes changing the law and is running for mayor. “We seem to have someone in the mayor’s office and speaker’s office who think they can change the law to stay in office.”

Clearly, this is an issue that will continue to be debated by the the political class once everyone comes back from Denver: "The prospect of overturning term limits has captivated the city’s political class. It has even dominated discussion among New York officials — including a dozen or so council members — who are attending the Democratic National Convention this week." Much will hinge on the kind of response that we see from the good government groups, labor, and the ordinary folks.

John Liu's perspective, however, is a good one: "“The issue at hand is not term limits, it’s who decides,” said John C. Liu, a Democrat from Queens who is considering running for comptroller. “Is it 52 people — 51 council members and the mayor — or is it 8 million people? Voting to legislate this could be a kiss of death for decades to come,” Mr. Liu added, “because it becomes an issue that every future campaign opponent can use: unilaterally overturning what the people have very clearly stated is their intent.”

As we have said before, the danger lies with the possibility that, after the council votes, the courts nullify the results, and leave those who have voted to self perpetuate in a dicey position of having to face the voters that they have dissed. Stay tuned on this-more drama is certainly ahead.

Update from Azi: "I got inside the CNN Grill last night (no easy task!), where I ran into Obama delegate and uber-operative Corey Johnson of Manhattan, who said that over at the Sheraton, where the New York delegation is staying, there's barely any talk about presidential politics.
“Term limits. Term Limits. Term Limits. That’s all anybody is talking about,” he said. Later he added, “All politics is local, I guess.”

Seward Park Redevelopment

In a piece that we had missed in the Village Voice, Tom Robbins examines the failure to develop the Seward Park urban renewal site and finds fault with Shelly Silver's role: "Just south of Delancey Street on the Lower East Side, near the bustling entrance to the Williamsburg Bridge, lies that rarest Manhattan commodity: vacant land. This is not just a few buildable lots, but a huge swath of property, some five acres in all, every square inch of it owned by the City of New York. It is a fabulous parcel, the kind that developers—like those building the swanky new towers rising on the other side of Delancey Street—only dream about."

According to Robbins Silver has his thumb on the scale: "Who else but that wily old pol, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. This strip—carried on zoning maps as the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area—is the northern edge of Silver's lower Manhattan district. And while he rarely leaves fingerprints, nothing moves here without his approval. In Albany, where he is the state's second-most-powerful figure, Silver is notorious for his often-obstructionist ways. On Seward Park, he has outdone himself. Under his watch, this territory has remained desolate and empty for more than 30 years, held hostage to stubborn prejudice and fear of change."

Well, we don't know if Silver is the one to blame on this failure, but we do know that this area would be ripe for a mixed-use development that includes a neighborhood supermarket-and we also know that Touro College had been interested in developing the site, but there's more obstructions than the Speaker in this shameful lack of development. The neighborhood remains fractious; so much so that any plan is doomed almost before it starts.

So, it appears to us, that the Bloombergistas could have been more engaged here; and that engagement might have been enough to overcome all of the nettlesome obstacles. Given the lame duck status of the mayor, however, it's unlikely to occur on his watch.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


The backlash against the legislative overt turning of term limits is beginning. As the City Room Blog reports, there are scores of potential candidates who are gearing up to run-and they're not happy about losing their opportunities: “I have a team of folks who have been working with me to plan our campaign,” said JoAnne Simon, a lawyer and Democratic district leader in Brooklyn who is running for the seat being vacated by Councilman David Yassky. She added: “I’ve been raising money and I’ve stepped up my activities in certain respects. It would be nice to have a better sense of what the rules of the road and that the rules aren’t going to change precipitously. It’s a little disappointing to think that all this work might be for naught.”

What this means is that there is a cohort of politically savvy folks who can easily convert into the leaders of a grass roots effort to thwart the legislative initiative. As the City Room points out: "Hector Ramirez, a Democratic district leader and candidate for the City Council seat being vacated by Maria Baez in the Bronx, offered a similar point of view. “I would be very unhappy,” he said, when asked who he might react if Councilwoman Baez were allowed to run for a third term. “I’ve started to raise money. I’ve started to work on my political future. I’m preparing to dedicate my life to this Council race. I don’t think changing the law is a good idea at all. Oh, no.”

In spite of all this, however, the mayor continues to coyly roil the waters. As the NY Daily News points out today, Bloomberg, who voted on both of the city wide referendums, now claims that he can't recall how he voted. Right: "I don't remember at all," he said when asked how he'd voted on the issue. "I just don't remember in either case." Without those two citywide referendums, Bloomberg may never have become mayor because he would likely have had to unseat incumbent Rudy Giuliani. City election records show Bloomberg - a Democrat at the time - did cast a ballot in both 1993 and 1996 but those records, as for all voters, don't reveal which lever he pulled."

And in the NY Sun he tells us that the lemgth of the limited terms should be a matter for debate: "I think you can debate how many years it should be," Mr. Bloomberg said at a press conference in Manhattan. He repeated the opinion a second time at the event, saying that while he believed term limits are democratic, "whether they should have been put in at two terms or three terms, that's something you could debate."

But we'll give the last word on this to Eric Gioia, the Public Advocate candidate. As Gioia told the Times: "When asked whether the Council should take up the issue of whether to expand the term limits of city officials, Mr. Gioia said, “I think we have to be very cautious allowing people to decide the terms of their employment unilaterally.” Indeed.


Clyde Haberman gets it just right in his column in the NY Times yesterday. Claiming that Mayor Mike was inflicted with a case of "Giulianiosis," he chided the mayor for his stealth campaign to alter term limits: "In the end, the theory of the indispensable man failed. Mr. Giuliani left office on schedule at the end of 2001. Both the city and the republic survived. Now Mr. Bloomberg is making noises that sound suspiciously like an echo of that theory. After years of speaking unswervingly in favor of term limits, he has wavered. He now seems open at least to the concept of a voter-dodging maneuver by the City Council to give him and other city officials a third term beyond 2009."

Haberman then goes on to debunk the, "indispensable man" theory, that underlies the mayor's less than candid effort: "But it just could be that Mr. Bloomberg, like Mr. Giuliani, has never fully absorbed Charles de Gaulle’s admonition about indispensable men. The graveyards, de Gaulle said, are full of them. Not bad advice for would-be presidents, too, come to think of it."

But will this admonition deter someone whose wealth seems to place him-at least in his own mind-above the strictures that deter more mortal men? Will being the mayor's cat's paw, deter Speaker Quinn, someone whose vulnerability in this is somewhat more pronounced than the mayor's?

Remember this. If the city council passes a law rescinding the results of two referendums it will be open to a strong legal challenge. If the challenge succeeds, than all those council members who voted for term extension will be very vulnerable indeed-particularly as they seek other offices when their terms end. A cautionary tale indeed.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

More Markowitz Musings

The City Room Blog reinforces our point about the Markowitz endorsement of the term limits extension. In Marty's own words-seconding Mayor Mike's efforts in this self promotional campaign: "The Brooklyn Borough president, Marty Markowitz, said on Monday that he applauds any effort Mr. Bloomberg might undertake to extend the limit that an elected official could remain in municipal office, to three terms from two. “I support him – very selfishly, I might add,” said Mr. Markowitz, a Democrat, in an interview following a press conference..."

Couldn't have said it better-or more honestly-ourselves. Which is in refreshing contrast to the mayor's own slithering. As City Room points out: "In recent weeks, Mr. Bloomberg has had confidential conversations with newspaper publishers in New York to inquire about their views on extending term limits. In the past, Mr. Bloomberg has voiced intense opposition to making any changes in the city’s term limit laws, which restrict citywide elected officials and members of the City Council to two consecutive terms in office."

So, when faced with his own political demise, Mayor Mike metamorphasizes into just another pol looking to hang on to power. It underscores what we've said before; Bloomberg has been, and continues to be, a real champion of one major special interest-self-aggrandizement.

Terms of Endearment

It comes as no surprise for us that Brooklyn BP Marty Markowitz endorsed an extension of term limits yesterday. In fact, Marty's endorsement underscores perfectly just why the extension, as currently contemplated, is such a bad idea. Let's hear it in Markowitz's own words from today's NY Sun: ""If Brooklynites would have me again, I would love to serve as their borough president," Mr. Markowitz said."

Of course he would; as would all (or a great proportion) of the city council members who would be asked to vote on the altering under the currently envisioned scenario. Which is why it is such an unworthy idea-especially in the context of the fact that two recent referendums have established where the public stands on the issue.

The self serving nature of the effort is highlighted in the way in which political rationales are spun. Listen to MM again: "According to Mr. Markowitz, keeping experienced politicians in office prevents a "faceless, nameless bureaucracy" from making key decisions by outmaneuvering politicians who are learning the ropes of government. He added that politicians' second terms are often less effective under the current two-term system, as they must devote much of their time to planning their next campaign rather than governing."

Now that statement is worthy of deconstruction. It goes without saying that elected officials are an important counter balance to bureaucratic abuse-that goes to the essence of democratic governance. The idea that planning a re-election campaign makes a politician, "less effective," is, however sheer nonsense. Campaigns themselves are part of a democratic process that should, if conducted properly, increase public awareness at the same time that they enhance the effectiveness of political leadership. There's a synergy here that Marty is underplaying in his effort to sell his self perpetuation.

Which doesn't mean that the idea of term limits is unworthy of a serious challenge-it isn't. We should have a healthy debate, and that debate should be made part of a referendum process. We've already made it clear that a third term for council members makes a great deal of sense in the context of NYC's mayoral predominance. But the public needs to be educated as to why that is so; not so easy when seen against a backdrop of the recent slush fund scandals.

And Charles Barron gets it right when it comes to NYC and term limits in general: "A lot of people give that old line about term limits, 'It's called Election Day,' but it's almost impossible to get incumbents out," he said in an interview. "There are too many people in office who have really rendered themselves ineffective and need to go. We need new blood and new leadership."

Finding the right balance is important in all of this; and it's almost impossible to do so in the cauldron of political self-interest. Which is precisely why we need to bring this entire issue before the voters. If the mayor wants to make the case publicly that two terms for the city's chief executive is not enough, let him do so in an above board fashion. But to promote the idea in a self serving stealth campaign is unworthy of someone who has the resources-if not the integrity-to democratically sell the idea in a public forum.

Monday, August 25, 2008

More Joining Term Limits Fight

As we have anticipated, the attempt to alter the term limits law is beginning to generate a coterie of opponents; and the coalition of the upset and aggrieved is bound to grow if this stealth campaign surfaces for real. In this morning's NY Daily News, Liz Benjamin highlights this burgeoning opposition, and it's none other than Mark Green leading the charge: "If Mayor Bloomberg thinks he will be able to overturn term limits without raising the ire of Democrats, he hasn't spoken yet to Mark Green. Green, who ran against Bloomberg in 2001, said the mayor would "cross the line" if he attempts to change the rules midstream to allow both himself and two-thirds of City Council members to run again in 2009. "It is unethical and impermissible to change the rules in the middle of an election to benefit the mayor and the Council, who are the ones drafting and enacting the legislation to overturn the votes - twice - of the people," Green said after picking up his Democratic National Convention credentials here in Denver."

And he's absolutely right. Any attempt to change the rules of the game needs to be applied to the next set of office holders, and shouldn't be done by those whose vote would be self perpetuating. In our view, only the voters should decide. As the NY Post points out, both Anthony Weiner and Bill Thompson-potential candidates for mayor in 2009, feel that it's up to the voters: "City Comptroller Bill Thompson and Rep. Anthony Weiner, both Democrats, said any such proposal should be put before the voters, and not enacted by lawmakers... "I've said publicly before, the council should have three terms," Thompson told The Post from Denver, where he's attending the Democratic National Convention. "[But] I think any change in term limits should go before the voters again." Weiner (Brooklyn/Queens) said he wants to change mayoral term limits, but agrees that it should be done only at the ballot box. "Anthony has favored ending term limits, but believes the right way to do it is by public vote," said his spokesman, John Collins. "New Yorkers voted it in and they deserve the right to vote it out, if they so choose."

Mike Bloomberg needs to be held to account for his two-faced attitude. We have a mayoralty not a royalty in New York City. Mayor Mike has purchased power before, and now he apparently believes that he can effect a leveraged buy out of term limits. The people need to disabuse him of his regal arrogance.

Fighting Unlimited Gall

In today's NY Sun, the paper focuses on the concern being generated by the stealth campaign to alter term limits: "With speculation heating up that the City Council will attempt to vote to extend term limits, a 1961 Buffalo court case is on its way to the center of the fight.
After years of scant mention, the case — in which the state Court of Appeals ruled that Buffalo's council could repeal a term limits law passed by referendum — is again being talked about around City Hall, where it is cited as evidence that New York's council has the authority to extend its term limits, even though New Yorkers twice voted in favor of a two-term limit."

There is considerable speculation that the Buffalo case is a poor precedent for the current effort. According to NYPIRG's Gene Russianoff: "While the Buffalo council voted to amend a term limits law that had been approved by referendum decades earlier, the New York City Council would be attempting to override a decision made by city voters in 1993 and again in 1996. "I think there's a big difference between a 35-year-old referendum from an earlier generation and something that has been approved by the voters" more recently, Mr. Russianoff said."

Our good friend, and peerless election lawyer, Gerry Goldfeder, disagrees: "An election lawyer at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, Jerry Goldfeder, said that if the council did extend term limits, it would be difficult to mount a strong legal argument against the vote..."It would obviously change the political landscape dramatically, but no candidate would be prohibited from running for an office for which they had been raising money," he said. "There would just be additional candidates, including, perhaps, incumbents."

All of this, of course, will lead to a huge political battle that will take on the city council and its incumbent protecting actions like no other in our memory. We agree with Norm Siegel here: "If the mayor and the speaker engage in an unholy alliance to undo the people's will, I think there will be people throughout the city who will be angry about that," he said. "There would be a political backlash for people who went and did it."

If a battle is to begin on this issue, it better begin soon-before the swells at the NYC Partnership get get a head wind on their effort to insure the perpetuation of their agenda and their mayor for life who has been dedicated to the aggrandizement of the city's permanent government. Russianoff gets the last word here: "A senior attorney for the New York Public Interest Research Group, Gene Russianoff, said it would be "undemocratic" for the council to overturn a ballot initiative approved by city voters, and said there was a "good chance" his group would join a fight against such a vote in court."


In last Friday's Buffalo News there was some disappointing-although unsurprising-news. It appears that Governor Paterson may be about to do what most of his recent successors have tried to do-and failed: negotiate with the tribes on their failure to collect the taxes on cigarette tax sales: "Gov. David A. Paterson insists the state has a legal right to collect taxes on Indian retailer cigarette sales but says he wants to negotiate with the tribes to end the years-long stalemate instead of trying to force an immediate halt to the tax-free sales."

And why, if he admittedly has the legal right to do so, is Paterson going this route? One answer: fear. AS the News points out: "In his most extensive remarks on a subject that has stymied a long line of governors before him, Paterson on Wednesday suggested that fear of violence by Native American protesters is driving part of his decision to take a slower route than the State Legislature is demanding."

So all it takes now not to pay your taxes is the threat of violence? Where's a good old fashion, "Make My Day," when you need it? This is all so sad-and the tax payers and small store owners are the victims here. A growing coalition of groups is gearing up to fight. Here's a portion of an ad that the coalition ran in the Albany Times Union:

Using National demographics of cigarette consumption and New York tax rates, New York consumers are estimated to smoke 100
million cartons. By Government ‘biting the bullet’ and collecting the taxes on Native American sales to non tribal members as prescribed
by law and increasing our enforcement of tax collection, we will tax 90 million of the 100 million cartons this year.

The New Math
State Excise Tax: (90 million cartons x $27.50) = $2,475,000,000
City Excise Tax: (30 million cartons x $15.00) = $450,000,000
Average Sales Tax: (90 million cartons x $5.00) = $450,000,000
• $1,605,000,000 will be added to our tax rolls.
• Criminal and Terrorist cigarette funding will be decimated.
• Our State Laws will be enforced as intended.
• New York Business and our economy will be uplifted.
• Fairness and a level playing field will be restored.
• Valued State and City Services will be permitted to continue.

This Solution is a ‘no-brainer’!

Nothing could be clearer to us; and if the governor doesn't come to his senses this grass roots effort will metastasize to his great detriment. Not under the threat of violence! It's no wonder that the tribes are smiling. As the News points out: "Native American leaders, who have been hearing a growing number of legislators and others pressing Paterson to collect the tax to help raise revenues to reduce the state’s budget deficit, sounded relieved Tuesday evening." Indeed they are; it's the rest of us New Yorkers that are not. As the old Country and Western song goes: "The tribes got the gold mine; tax payers got the shaft."

We're Back! (and so are they)

We took a week off to rest and recuperate; but we're back with a renewed vengeance today-what with Mayor Mike looking as if it will take the FBI HRT team to remove him from City Hall in 2009. There is nothing more tenacious in this world than a politician trying to cling to power, even when the clock has struck midnight-and Mike Bloomberg, stripped of the non-political spinning-is certainly no different.

The NY Post captures all of this subterfuge; talk about two faced: "In an abrupt reversal, Mayor Bloomberg yesterday left the door open to supporting a change to the term-limits law through legislation. "My job is if the City Council comes to us with a piece of legislation, we will look at it, we will consider it, and we'll make what I hope is an informed judgment into what is in the best interest in the city," the mayor said. "The City Council has the right to change term limits if they want to."

Oh, please! This is all about as subtle as a Paris Hilton sex tape. Bloomberg simply doesn't want to leave, and will do anything to avoid becoming an ex-mayor before he's really ready to leave. So what does he do? He works his business acolytes up to create an astro turf groundswell; all the while we nudges Speaker Quinn to reconsider her firmly stated opposition to the term limits overhaul.

As the NY Daily News reported yesterday: "City Council Speaker Christine Quinn froze any talk of changing term limits last year, but people who have spoken with her see signs of a thaw.
"I sense movement on both the speaker's side and the mayor's side," said Councilman Peter Vallone (D-Queens). "I sense movement that I hadn't sensed before." If Quinn joins Mayor Bloomberg in tacitly supporting an extension so they can run for another four-year term, it will set up the choice of her political life."

Indeed it will. But you can see the handwriting on the wall here, can't you? As the News points out: "The thawing, however, has begun. One insider who spoke with her said Quinn is already speculating about how to round up enough Council votes to extend term limits with a simple resolution." The only thing standing in the way of these two partners in crime may be the people of the city who have made their position on term limits rather clear, don't you think?

And the twin about face will put both Bloomberg and Quinn in a rather unpopular public spotlight. After all, here's what Quinn said last year on this topic: "I will not support the repeal or change of term limits through any mechanism, and I will oppose aggressively any attempt by anyone to make any changes in the term limits law," she said in December." As the Post highlights as well: "That would be a tough hurdle for Quinn, who announced last year it wouldn't be fair to overturn term limits through legislation. "I believe that overruling the will of New Yorkers . . . would be anti-democratic and anti-reform," she said then."

And now the mayor is weaseling on all of this as well/ It is time for the folks to be heard on this. We're ready to join forces with any and all to insure that self-serving pols don't try to maintain themselves against the wishes of the vast majority of New Yorkers.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Texas Fold-Um?

Governor Paterson looks like he's going to do the same Indian tribal dance that his predecessors did with the tribes over the collection of cigarette tax revenues. As the NY Sun reports this morning: " Days before the New York Legislature will try to stem growing budget deficits, leaders of the Seneca Nation pressed Governor Paterson's office to veto a bill that would require collecting millions of dollars in taxes on cigarettes now sold tax-free by tribes. Nothing was resolved yesterday, spokesmen for the tribe and Mr. Paterson said."

Brother, here we go again! Will we have another gubernatorial failure of will-and at a time when Governor Paterson clams that our fiscal situation is reaching Depression levels? The Sun's recapitulation of this issue misses the mark: "Although Indians may sell goods to other Indians free of sales taxes, most Indian sales are to non-Indians. Tribes argue that treaties dating to the 19th century allow them to avoid state government sales taxes. But state officials going back to the 1980s have argued sales to non-Indians are taxable and the money should be collected."

The fact is that the tribes don't have a legal leg to stand on; and the US Supreme Court has denied their sovereignty claims on this issue. The only reason there's been no enforcement lies with the pusillanimous nature of our state's chief executives: their fear of a repeat of tribal violence that closed the Thruway in the Nineties. Not a very good reason, is it? Do we now have the terrorist veto in New York?

The Indian arguments here are tragically farcical : "We continue to ask New York state to honor its treaties," the chairman of the Seneca Nation's Legislative Council, Richard Nephew, said. He said the taxes would cut into sales, which in turn would hurt the tribe's employment of 5,000 people and other economic benefits it spins off in western New York. "The state still comes out ahead," Seneca Counsel Robert Odawi Porter said. "It just doesn't go into the Albany trough."

This does, of course, overlook one important fact. The so-called economic benefits are those that are siphoned off from the tax paying store owners-who have lost sales and employment to the scofflaws. The jobs will still be there if the taxes are collected; just not at non tax paying tribal retailers.

So let's collect the $400-$500 million in taxes so that the state doesn't have to increase the tax burden on its already overburdened citizens. The governor has put $1billion worth of cuts on the table. The collection of the cigarette tax revenue would be a welcome relief if Paterson can make the strong stand that is necessary.

Food for Thought

The NY Times' City Room Blog is reporting on the role that rising food prices are playing in driving up the inflation rate in NYC: "Driven by rising prices of milk, bread and other groceries, the inflation rate in the New York metropolitan area rose in the last year at its second-fastest pace in more than 17 years, according to the federal Department of Labor."

What this means is that the phenomenon of disappearing supermarkets takes on an additional urgency. The loss of a neighborhood supermarket means that the local are forced to shop for food at more expensive delis, bodegas or drug stores. Or, travel longer distances to find a reasonably priced supermarket.

The rising box store situation that we remarked on yesterday, only exacerbates a crisis situation-as neighborhoods are being slowly abandoned by local markets. If the Bloomberg Administration is really serious about stemming the erosion, than it will need to step up in a major way and demonstrate a commitment to supermarket retention and promotion that goes beyond rhetoric.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Pointedly Clueless

The rubber stamp had its first hearing on the Willets Point redevelopment plan yesterday, and opponents and proponents had dueling press conferences that were marked by emotional outbursts and some spirited byplay. As the NY Times reports today: "Supporters and foes of the Bloomberg administration’s plan to turn gritty Willets Point in Queens into a $3 billion development of stores, offices and apartments faced off Wednesday in a confrontation that grew emotional and raucous at times. The City Council must decide this fall whether to approve the rezoning plan, which would require the removal of more than 200 small businesses, including auto-body shops and industrial outlets."

Perhaps the funniest comments came from the mayor, who told the NY Sun the following: "And I might point out that there's almost nobody that signed that letter, almost nobody, from Queens. They were from other places where perhaps they are getting support from real estate interests who just want to be able to be in a position to hold up the city," Mr. Bloomberg said." As the Times points out, however: "The mayor said that of the council members who signed the letter, “there was nobody or almost nobody from Queens.” In fact, 8 of the 14 members from Queens signed it."

So, the nefarious real estate interests, you know the ones that Mayor Mike has been aggrandizing for almost seven years, have all of a sudden been transformed into anti-development obstructionists in the mayor's mind. Quite droll, don't you think? And what's up with Bloomberg's counting problem?

Now maybe the project will be approved; the mayor does still have one important ally at the council. But things are by no means certain in this regard-and the defeat of the Willets Point plan would put Monseratte up in the pantheon of giant killers. The West Side Stadium and congestion pricing were, after all, killed by the powerful speaker of the assembly. Hiram only has his good looks and charm, and he's on the brink of joining Shelly.

The New Polit-Burro?

In this week's NY Observer, Eliot Brown focuses in on what he sees as a change of direction in the development agenda of the Bloomber Administration: "Though Mr. Bloomberg is no laissez faire diehard by any means, the three projects—the revitalization of Coney Island; the redevelopment of the industry-heavy Willets Point area by Shea Stadium; and the creation of up to 5,000 units of mostly middle-income housing at Hunter’s Point South by Long Island City—seem to have far more city involvement and restrictions than those typical of the economic development agenda of the self-described fiscally conservative mayor."

We're not sure we see the alteration; or whether the change has significance-Bloomberg still has the same giant edifice complex and has no problem running roughshod over small businesses and communities wherever he points his development finger.

So it's no wonder that all of the permanent government types laud his approach, whatever direction it takes. And we think that Steve Malanga's observation is basically correct about all this: "We’ve moved beyond the low-hanging fruit, and these involve I guess what I would call a more aggressive government position because these are really harder, more involved projects,” said Steve Malanga, a senior fellow at the conservative-leaning Manhattan Institute."

In the other cases, all that was required was rezoning-and if we look at Columbia we could say that there was no need for the government to do anything but adopt the university's plan and get out of the way-which they did. The results, however, are all the same: large development bulldozing local interests.

Moreover, it is our expectation that at least two of these last three mega-deals will fall flat-as Willets appears to be on a respirator, and Coney Island parkland is simply a pipe dream. So we might say that, where more Bloomberg meddling is needed, more is less.

Clubbing the Supermarkets

The prospect of two new BJs Warehouse Club stores in Brooklyn has the NY Daily News' Albor Ruiz expressing concern: "Battered by rising rents and taxes, one-third of the city's supermarkets - about 500 - have vanished in the last 10 years. Big-box stores and drugstore chains are fast replacing traditional supermarkets, which in too many cases can no longer afford to stay in business."

The threat is very real, as local store owner Joe Verderosso tells Ruiz: "I have lived here all my life, and I know that many people are on tight budgets. They - especially the elderly - need a supermarket in their neighborhood," said the Brooklyn-born Verderosso, who has three children. "These club stores put everybody out of business. When they are no longer profitable, they close, leaving behind an empty building and a neighborhood in decay." As Verderosso goes on to say: ""I would have to close at least one of the stores," said Verderosso, who has been in business since 1984. "As it is, things are already tight with the high cost of electricity and rent."
Verderosso said his business has suffered since a BJ's opened at Starrett City. The new stores would be even more damaging."

And, of course, the box store not only has its labor problems but a food stamp one as well: "The BJ's Wholesale Discount Club's anti-union policies and the $45 membership fee it charges - an astronomical figure for many residents of these areas - are troublesome enough. Even worse is that as a matter of policy, BJ's stores do not accept food stamps or subsidies under the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program. This makes it all but impossible for the community to benefit from their discounted prices."

This policy is castigated by the NYC Coalition Against Hunger: "People need to have access to affordable food," said Alexandra Yannias of the New York Coalition Against Hunger. "Not accepting food stamps goes against the community needs." And what happens is that the local markets are left with the subsidized shoppers, while the higher income folks are culled away by the box stores.

This is not a recipe for survival, as the UFCW's Pat Purcell tells the News this is easily becoming a zero-sum game: "One of our issues with the warehouse club stores is also an issue with the mayor," said Grocery Workers Union organizer Pat Purcell. "The city did a study and determined that we need at least 100 supermarkets in the city, not more BJ's." But, as we told Ruiz, it's not possible to promote both box stores and local markets. The box stores suck out millions from the neighborhoods: "According to the Neighborhood Retail Alliance, BJ's stores gross more than a million dollars a week in sales and attract around 7,000 cars a day. Their impact on the existing supermarkets would be nothing short of devastating."

And there are twenty six mostly minority owned stores within a two mile radius of the BJs site on Avenue D. Bloomberg simply can't have it both ways: "Most of them are minority-owned independent Key Foods, Associateds, Pioneers and C-Towns. They came into these neighborhoods in the 1970s when the national chains fled and helped bring back the local economies. The Bloomberg administration has taken an interest in promoting and preserving the city's supermarkets, a worthy goal that the proliferation of discount club stores makes almost impossible to achieve."

The Alliance will be working with the local store owners, labor and the impacted communities. The Bloombergistas have to live up to their proclamations about supermarket retention. There aren't enough veggie peddlers to make up for the loss of our local food markets.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Bloomberg's Triangulation

As the Willets Point rezoning heads towards the City Planning Commission today, it's looking less and less likely that the plan will be able to successfully navigate the city council. As the NY Sun reports: "With more than half of the City Council in "absolute opposition" to the Bloomberg administration's $3 billion plan to redevelop Willets Point in Queens, the two sides will square off today at a city Planning Commission public hearing at New York University."

The leader of the pack at the council is Hiram Monseratte, and the council member now has 31 opponents with him against the development scheme: "Opposition will center on a letter written by a local council member, Hiram Monserrate, and signed by 31 other council members, which was sent to the planning commissioner, Amanda Burden.
"We are deeply disappointed that the process thus far has, in effect, negated previous efforts to create a standard for community engagement in city development projects," the letter reads. "Simply put, we will not allow the Willets Point model to become a precedent for future development projects in the city. Before this project proceeds to a doomed fate in the City Council, we strongly urge the Administration to come to the table and work with us to address and resolve the issues of the Willets Point community."

And the NY Daily News also weighs in this morning: "Mayor Bloomberg's plan to redevelop gritty Willets Point in Queens is "doomed" unless the city guarantees it will not use eminent domain to take people's land, a majority of the City Council said in a letter Tuesday. The letter - signed by 31 of 52 Council members - was sent to City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden a day before the City Planning Commission holds a hearing on the controversial plan."

As we have said before, the council would be silly to grant the development the green light prior to the designation of a developer with a specific plan-and the opponents agree: "The Council members want the city to name a developer before they make an all-important vote on the project in the fall. They also want the proposal to include more affordable housing, a community benefits package and a "comprehensive" plan to relocate the roughly 260 businesses in Willets Point."

In all likelihood-unless something dramatic is done-the Iron Triangle will be another major defeat for the mayor. And it would be a good example of how effective local leadership can make a big difference in land use battles.

Fruity Competition

In this morning's NY Daily News there's a story on the failed efforts of a local neighborhood group to remove a veggie vendor from its local streets: "It looks like the fruit and vegetable cart on the historic Brooklyn Heights streetcorner is here to stay, even after the Brooklyn Heights Association filed a complaint with the city. "I'm going to be here forever," one of the cart's owners, Onur Benirbaz, told the Daily News. "Of course I do have a permit." The cart's sudden appearance on the corner of Henry and Clark Sts. two weeks ago spurred a small controversy in the tony neighborhood. "He's parked near a deli and a store that sells fruit," said Judy Stanton, head of the Brooklyn Heights Association."

Doesn't matter to the city it seems; and the Heights isn't one of those nabes that lacks access to fruits and vegetables. It's another example of how callous and indifferent the Bloombergistas are to the plight of local businesses-thwarting all efforts to regulate these non rent paying competitors,

And here's the kicker from a local bargain hunter: "Meanwhile, local resident Nicole Knox, who was stocking up on berries for her kids, said the cart was a godsend, with cheap prices such as watermelon for $3, grapes for $2 a pound and two tubs of blueberries for $4. "It's a great place," Knox said. "Everything else around here is so expensive, I can't believe anybody would want it gone."

Of course it's expensive-and guess who's struggling to pay those high rents and taxes? So keep allowing these peddlers carte blanche, and watch for the continued erosion of local food stores from all of the city's neighborhoods.

Lounges for Illegal Laborers

In the,what can we do to make business more onerous category, the LA City Council-last seen imposing restrictions on fast food outlets-now wants one business to build shelters for day laborers. Predictably, the NY Times thinks this is a swell idea: "It’s rare, in the parched landscape of the immigration debate, to come across policies that are simple, realistic and humane. But here is one: The Los Angeles City Council is expected to vote on Wednesday on an ordinance requiring big-box home-improvement stores to protect order and safety when day laborers gather in their parking lots looking for work."

Now, aside for a second the wisdom of the idea in the first place, why is it the store's responsibility and not the city's? It seems to us that if the city doesn't want to take the responsibility for providing shelter for these folks than a single business shouldn't be, well, singled out. And than there's the status of the workers themselves.

As the Times points out, in its usual invidious way when it comes to illegal immigrants: "Opposition has erupted from the usual camps. Not all day laborers are undocumented immigrants or even immigrants, but a lot of them are, and the thought of doing anything that would make their lives easier makes some restrictionists howl and clutch their chests. “Lounges for Laborers?” one headline read." Heaven for fend!

And then the paper cites this as a safety ordinance: "Like any land-use law governing things like parking-lot lighting, curbs and sidewalks, the ordinance treats milling crowds of laborers and idling trucks as an integral fact of Home Depot’s business that should be managed before it becomes chaotic and hazardous. The solution is basic prevention, and could be as simple as setting up an area somewhere on store property with shade, toilets, drinking water and trash cans." Will cots and showers be next.

Now we know that the Times doesn't want to enforce the country's immigration laws, but we can see where this is going. Instead of a serious law enforcement effort to insure that the folks in this country are here legally, the paper wants us to roll out the red carpet for folks who didn't feel it was necessary to wait on line like millions of others have done.

And let's not forget the fact that in New City New York it was an illegal immigrant day laborer who raped and killed Mary Nagle in her home. There's a public safety consequence for the refusal to enforce the immigration laws. The NY Times doesn't care; and now it wants the citizens of Los Angeles to provide the illegals with towels and soap as the LA City Council washes their backs.

The Choke's on the Stores

In yesterday's NY Sun, the paper reports on the proposed city council legislation to try to prevent young children from choking: "Popcorn, pistachios, Tic Tacs, and Skittles are the latest threat to local children that the City Council is moving to neutralize. Council Member Domenic Recchia, who represents parts of Brooklyn, has introduced a bill that would require store owners across the city to put up signs or labels warning that certain bite-size foods could endanger the lives of children under the age of 5."

Now we apparently are way out of the loop on this crucial threat to our young because we didn't realize that, absent this kind of a warning, children would be choking to death in epidemic proportions. Our concerns are along the "road to hell and good intentions" line. As we told the Sun: "A lobbyist for the Neighborhood Retail Alliance, Richard Lipsky, called the bill "overly burdensome...In an economic climate where food stores, bodegas, and supermarkets are going out of business, it is not the time to add regulatory burdens that make it more difficult for these neighborhood stores to survive and service their community," Mr. Lipsky said in an interview."

Which doesn't mean that some kind of early warning system can't be devised that doesn't make the local store owner, once again, a regulatory target. We have heard that State Senator Carl Kruger has a bill that would require manufacturers to put warning labels on their packaging-a measure that would be more equitable than the current city council initiative. And the Sunadds this late addendum on the matter: "Correction: State Senator Carl Kruger introduced a bill in 2007 that would require labels on foods which present a choking hazard to children under four years of age and fine vendors $100 for every day they failed to comply. An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified the sponsor of this bill."

Still, we wonder where all of this interference with local commerce will end; and when legislators will determine that it's the responsibility of parents to protect their kids from the danger of bubble gum. The infantilization of the public should stop before there's nothing that escapes the regulatory regimen.


The NY post weighs in on this measure today on its editorial page: "Just consider a measure recently introduced by Brooklyn's Domenic Recchia taking aim at what's apparently New York's next great health menace:


And peanuts.

No joke: Recchia's bill, if passed, would slap up to a $250 fine on merchants who fail to warn customers that certain products are a choking hazard for children under the age of 5. Which is about as close to a literal infantilization of ordinary New Yorkers as one's likely to see."

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

"Hey, What's Up Doctoroff?"

So, has Dan Doctoroff actually left government? Apparently not, since Eliot Brown's FOIL request to get info on the Deput'y communications with the city was turned down-and get the reasons why: "Back in May, we did a Freedom of Information request that normally allows the public access to e-mails and other correspondence between public officials and outside parties. But now the city's counsel has denied our FOIL request, saying that every e-mail we requested (between Mr. Doctoroff and Mayor Bloomberg, Deputy Mayor Robert Lieber, Deputy Mayor Ed Skyler, and a set of other city officials) has been withheld under one of two exemptions: the e-mails represent an invasion of privacy, or are "inter-agency and intra-agency materials."

This is just one additional example of the way in which Deputy Dan, clearly the most self-serving and crony accommodating deputy mayor in recent memory, is treated with a different set of rules than most others. Isn't it time for the rest of the press to, well, press this issue?

We know that Ray Rivera at the Times has looked into the Doctoroff phenomenon; but the depth of the manner in which the Deputy serves needs further exploration. We already know the extent to which Big Dan has made EDC into a wholly owned subsidiary of the Related Company. What else is he still up to? Inquiring minds want to know.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Crying in Our Beer

We've already posted on legislation that's being advanced to protect the independent beer wholesalers of New York State (our client); especially so in the wake of the rash of mergers that have left few large brewers in the hands of American companies. This is the subject of an interesting Op-Ed by Jeff Nussbaum in this morning's NY Daily News: "When InBev completes its takeover of Anheuser-Bush, the Boston Beer Co., makers of Samuel Adams, will be the biggest brewer in America. Once the contract is finalized - when all of the "i"s are dotted and, given that this is Dutch, the "o"s are crossed - Anheuser-Busch will be Belgian and MillerCoors will be both Canadian (MolsonCoors) and South African (SABMiller). Pabst, the beer that time forgot and our country's fourth-largest beer maker by volume, might be considered American, but they contract to have their beer made in Miller breweries."

And yet, in the State of New York we still allow the anointed franchisees of these foreign conglomerates to monopolize distribution at the expense of local independent beer wholesalers and, even more importantly, the state's consumers. The current situation, already unfair, has now become un American as well: "I don't think any Budweiser-drinking Joe Sixpack wants to become a Stella Artois-drinking Joep Zespak, nor do I think his loyalties will translate into Dutch that easily either."

Nussbaum suggests that we tap into this void and create a new uniquely American beer company: "A truly American mass-market beer company could tap into - pun fully intended - the national pride we would feel from seeing American workers actually producing something other than a PowerPoint slide deck. Homer Simpson once called beer the cause of and solution to all of life's problems. Just as I believe that the sale of Anheuser-Busch is an indication of all that is wrong with our economy, perhaps the innovation, national pride and jobs that would come with the creation of a true American macrobrew can demonstrate what's right."

We certainly agree with Nussbaum here; but while we're at it our first priority in NY State should be to protect the 400 independent beer distributors who do so much to nurture our local neighborhood economies. Let's hope that the sponsor of the bill (S-6752), the new majority leader Dean Skelos, will move this as soon as possible.

Senate Moves on Indians

As the NY Times reported on Saturday, the State Senate passed legislation that would require cigarette tax stampers to make sure that all of their cigarette sales would be taxed when sold to the public: "The other notable legislation passed Friday would bar tobacco manufacturers from selling cigarettes without assurances that they will be taxed when they are sold to consumers. The legislation requires stamping agents — middlemen between manufacturers and retailers — to provide certifications that the cigarettes will be taxed when they are sold. The measure was previously passed by the Assembly, but it is not clear whether the governor will sign it. Such a tax could bring in hundreds of millions of dollars, but governors have held off collecting the taxes in the past because such moves have led to violent protests."

The passage of the legislation was praised by Mayor Bloomberg, a recent convert to the cause of proper enforcement: "“For too long, the New York State tax on tobacco products has applied to some but not all, with businesses on Indian reservations openly flouting a Supreme Court ruling and existing state law,” the mayor said in a statement. “The State Senate today joined the Assembly in shining a light on unmistakably unfair tax practices that cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars and keep tens of thousands of people smoking when they might otherwise quit.”

What will happen here is unclear since the governor has not indicated what his intentions on this will be: "Such a tax could bring in hundreds of millions of dollars, but governors have held off collecting the taxes in the past because such moves have led to violent protests. “We will review the bill and seek input from interested parties when it is sent to the governor,” said Risa B. Heller, the governor’s communications director."

Typically, the Seneca Nation is not on board with this latest attempt to prevent the continuing hosing of New York's tax payers: "When Governor Spitzer pondered collecting the taxes last year, Maurice A. John, the president of the Seneca Nation, told The Buffalo News, "we are not going to be tax collectors for New York State." We'll see about that.

In a related piece of news, a district court refused to throw out the Catsimatidis (Gristedes) lawsuit against the Long Island Unkechauge tribe for their flouting of the state's tax laws. This should now open the door to bringing in at least 20 more smoke shops and smoke shop owners into the case whose outcome could positively impact the political debate.

In its pleading against the charge that the tribe was falsely advertising its cigarettes as "tax free," the Unkechauge attorneys had this revealing, ultimately unsuccessful, defense: "Finally, defendants argue that Gristede’s Lanham Act claim must be dismissed because the alleged advertisements are not false in view of New York State’s policy of forbearance on the collection of taxes on cigarette sales made to Native American retailers for re-sale to the public..."

So we see clearly just how damaging the state's "forbearance" on enforcing duly passed laws has come to be: the law breakers are trying to use this nonfeasance by our elected officials in defense of their flouting of the statutes. We need this to be remedied right away-and the governor needs to both sign the legislation, and move swiftly to enforce it.

Bored of Ed

According to the NY Daily News' Adam Lisberg, the mayor's daughter may be enlisted in the effort to keep mayoral control of city schools: "Mayor Bloomberg faces one final battle with Albany to define his political legacy - and his older daughter is preparing for the front lines.
Emma Bloomberg, 29, who worked on her father's first campaign and was later a $1-a-year employee on his staff, is part of the effort to keep control of city schools in the mayor's hands when the law authorizing it expires next summer. Along with her colleagues at the Robin Hood Foundation, the anti-poverty charity where she works, she is trying to figure out how to persuade Albany lawmakers to approve it."

Good luck on this gambit. But, as Lisberg points out, anything Bloomberg isn't likely to be playing all that well in Albany: "The question is, how much should Emma Bloomberg be part of Mayor Bloomberg's thinking on this? She is smart, plugged in, passionate and experienced in being part of a coalition to tackle an improbable task - like getting a novice billionaire elected mayor. She is also a Bloomberg, facing Albany lawmakers who think her father still has no idea how to listen to other people. Under Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), they have been happy to swat down other big mayoral ideas, like a West Side stadium and congestion pricing. "I'm not sure how he's going to get this through," said Assemblyman Micah Kellner (D-Manhattan). "The best people to lobby for this are probably [mayoral contenders] Anthony Weiner, Bill Thompson and Christine Quinn."

Than there's the merits to consider. The Robin Hood folks believe that this continuation of control as one of the single best anti-poverty measure: "We see mayoral accountability as one of the best poverty-fighting mechanisms in Robin Hood's two decades of existence," said Robin Hood head David Saltzman, pointing to better schools and higher graduation rates under Mayor Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein."

Can we at least get a second opinion on this incestuous back patting? And, by the way, continued control doesn't have to mean that the current parameters should be considered sacrosanct. And just to underscore the point we have this from yesterday's NY Post: "The city Department of Education paid nearly $10 million to a nonprofit group to train Big Apple teachers to "demystify" their students - but the group trained less than one-fifth of the teachers planned, The Post has learned."

Yet another example of the way in which mayoral control, sans effective oversight, can cause considerable chaos. And the slew of no bid contracts doesn't inspire great confidence in imperial mayoral stewardship: "The organization, All Kinds of Minds, was co-founded by famed Harvard pediatrician Dr. Melvin Levine, who is facing new allegations that he sexually abused young, male patients. The group scored a no-bid contract worth up to $12.5 million in 2004 - one of hundreds of no-bid contracts issued by the DOE since mayoral control of the school system began in fiscal year 2003. According to city-comptroller statistics, the surge of no-bid contracts since then totals $342 million. "We don't know what we're getting for our money," said Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, who sparked an ongoing state-comptroller audit of no-bid contracts."

And this is on top of the questions that have been raised about the accuracy of the test regimen at the DOE. Let's not get all twittery over results and performances that may not be as good as they appear from the spin butlers over at the Tweed. We need a proper legislative review of the entire body of work-free from the disinformation and self-serving palaver that the DOE's army of flacks and its chorus of eager Bloomberg sycophants.