Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Kevin Sheekey: The African Explorer

Well it looks as if the mayor's majordomo, one Kevin Sheekey, is about to skulk away from the whole Caroline Kennedy boomlet that he did so much to set off; or, in the words of the immortal Captain Spalding: "Hello, I must be going." As the NY Post reports: "Mayor Bloomberg's top political aide is pulling back on his lobbying campaign to propel Caroline Kennedy into the US Senate because "it wasn't working," according to sources. "Everything was backfiring," said one source of the intense behind-the-scenes effort by Deputy Mayor Kevin Sheekey. "He's not out front anymore."

What we had was a behind the scenes bum rush, orchestrated by the entitled crowd of Bloombergistas, whose only real interest-a special one indeed-is in self perpetuation. And for once, they over reached: "They tried to take everybody else out," said the source. "It didn't work. They were out there way, way too early."

But what really tickles us in all of this is Mike Bloomberg's "um-brage" at the media's harsh critique of Kennedy's weak performance: "Bloomberg's defense of Kennedy yesterday also extended to the criticizing the press corps, which he accused of subjecting her to intense scrutiny not visited on her rivals. "Nobody seems to be asking other particular candidates, 'Tell us what you would do in the situation of world chaos or whatever, a Depression, a world war,' " Bloomberg said."

So, let's get this straight. First Bloomberg orchestrates this media unveiling-a real extravaganza of exposure-and now he's critical of the fact that the other candidates aren't being scrutinized? As the Post points out: "Kevin Wardally, of Bill Lynch Associates, who is representing Rep. Carolyn Maloney in the Senate contest, said Kennedy has "sucked the air out of the room," and his client would welcome scrutiny from the press. "We're barely included," said Wardally. "We are the last sentence in most articles in a list with the other candidates." Wardally said he's spending most of his time "just getting out the fact [Maloney is] delivering for New York."

So now that the whole thing's becoming a fiasco, Bloomberg's looking to avoid being stigmatized as the rich puppet master of the entire charade. As the NY Daily News tells us: "There had been huge missteps in the way [City Hall] constructed this," said a source involved in the Kennedy effort to muzzle Bloomberg operative Kevin Sheekey. "It's just a dialing down of anything that would be harmful to her," the source said. "Anything like very public meetings with people in City Hall or inappropriate calls to labor leaders will no longer take place. He'll still be involved, just not in the same way." Another source said Sheekey was being pushed aside so neither Gov. Paterson nor Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver would think Bloomberg was trying to muscle her into the Senate."

So now it's all a ,"hello I must be going moment," with the front man Sheekey-the real Captain Schnorrer in all this-being relegated to the bullpen. Let no one, and certainly not the governor, be fooled by this maneuver. Caroline's candidacy has no substance, and is only propped up by the hot air pumped in by the self serving mayor and his minions.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Senate Somnambulance

With just a little over a week to go before the first legislative session of the new year, little movement has been seen surrounding the choice of a senate majority leader-but not for lack of effort from the Democratic tail waggers. As Liz B points out: "The key players in the Senate leadership battle may be taking a bit of a holiday breather, but the outside forces aligned with Democrat Malcolm Smith aren't letting up in their campaign to convince the so-called Gang of Three to return home to the fold."

As we have remarked before, these forces might be better deployed at getting Smith to assert a leadership persona; something that has been lacking so far. The reality here is that the three dissident senators aren't likely to be influenced by union bogarting-and are more likely to respond to some outreach from the party leaders, an outreach that has been more characterized by its absence.

But the game of Russian Roulette could easily end up with Smith taking the bullet-unless he becomes more aggressive at courting the senators who he embarrassed when the original leadership deal fell through. After all, even with all of the mud that's been thrown at the rebels, it fails to compare with the accusations against Smith's designated Hispanic Caucus head, the former amigo Hiram Monserrate.

At least no one's calling for the other recalcitrants to be barred from being seated in the upper chamber-as the Times Union did for the accused slasher Monserrate yesterday. Here's the paper's take on Hiram (via Liz): "It goes without saying that Mr. Monserrate is entitled to his day in court, and that he's not guilty of anything unless a jury of says so. But neither should he be sworn in as a state senator until this matter is resolved. The last thing the Legislature needs is another member under even the suspicion of such a serious crime. The Senate shouldn't permit it. And the Democrats shouldn't want it. They're already quite marginalized and compromised on the eve of taking power.

But, hey, apostasy is a more heinous crime than any alleged assault. The end result here, however, is that unless they act, Democrats and their interest groups might well discover that they have another two years in the power vacuum universe.

Reach Impediment

Caroline Kennedy's efforts at justifying her selection for soon to be vacant Senate seat, have been floundering-and now the critics have added her speech style to their panning of her effort. As the NY Daily News reports: "Caroline Kennedy, you know, might need, you know, a speech coach, um, if she, you know, wants, um, to be a senator. Um, you know? Kennedy, who gave a flurry of media interviews on Friday and Saturday, revealed some cringing verbal tics that showed her inexperience as a speaker, experts told the Daily News."

Now if she had anything interesting or unique to say, than it's much less likely that she would be getting this kind of harsh critique of her delivery; which makes her spokesman's rejoinder kind of silly: "Spokesman Stefan Friedman said, "Caroline has acknowledged that she hasn't mastered the art of the political sound bite, but if Gov. Paterson appoints her, she'll fight her heart out to make sure New York families have their voices heard in Washington."

Clearly the bites aren't the problem, rather its the lack of substance in the whole meal. As the NY Post underscores here: "Longtime Democratic consultant Hank Sheinkopf called Kennedy's "second rollout her second bomb. It's two rollouts now and two bombs.
"She didn't answer questions in the interviews."

All of this reminds us of the apocryphal anecdote about he late Hall of Fame pitcher Dizzy Dean. Dean, known for his zaniness, had been beaned by a pitch and taken to the hospital. The headline in the paper the next day read: "Dean Head Ex-Rayed, Nothing Found."

Monday, December 29, 2008

Taxing for Health

We've said it for some time now. Once you accept that it is the legitimate role of government to coerce people into healthier living, there's no end to the ways that you can devise in your pursuit of an unobtainable health utopia. So from Bloomberg's green carts (a total failure and waste of government funds) and menu labeling, we proceed now to the obesity tax and the YouTube efforts of the state health commissioner.

Commissioner Daines is now the governor's point man on this purported health intervention. As Liz B tells us: "State Health Commissioner Richard Daines has become the point man for one of the more controversial of Gov. David Paterson's revenue-generating budget proposals: The so-called "fat tax" - an 18 percent levy on sugary drinks like non-diet soda. Daines, a Spitzer administration holdover who generally keeps a fairly low profile, has recorded a YouTube manifesto in defense of the tax, which the administration insists is really more about health care policy than making money off soda-drinking New Yorkers."

And Daines responds to his critics who question why you would pick on soda when there are so many things that are fattening: "Some have suggested that the state is unfairly picking on the soda industry and asked why, if this is indeed a policy initiative, the governor doesn't push things to their logical conclusion by taxing everything that's fattening - from Twinkies to french fries - or perhaps even adopt Assemblyman Felix Ortiz's proposal of cutting to the chase and taxing overweight people themselves. Daines' response was quite Spitzeresque: Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good."

Of course, Daines has no evidence that an 18% tax on soda will have the desired result-after all, cigarette taxes that supposedly do work, are as close to confiscatory as you can get. That doesn't daunt Daines, however: "The side benefits, according to Daines, include the fact that cutting down on soda saves money for consumers and whittling the state's collective waistline could save money for taxpayers in the form of fewer obesity-related health problems that need to be treated - particularly for Medicaid recipients."

So what we have here is a classic case of misdirection-with Daines pontificating about health, while Paterson takes your money. Sugar, of course, makes for the best slippery slope.

Doddering Dicker

Fred Dicker has now come out with his end of the year list of winners and losers-with one glaring omission in the loser category: himself. The scribe who once got into a fist fight for his renowned journalistic acumen, has apparently lost the ability to count-not to mention the ability to utilize basic deductive reasoning skills.

It seems that Dicker believes, against all evidence, that the Three Amigos are losers and, none other than Malcolm Smith, is one of the year's winners: "The "Gang of Three" renegade Democrats - Sens. Carl Kruger and Ruben Diaz and Senator-elect Pedro Espada - who, seemingly channeling Rod Blagojevich, overplayed their hands by demanding too much power, patronage, perks and pork in exchange for voting for Sen. Malcolm Smith as the new Senate leader."

Well, of course, we're very familiar with historical revisionism, but have never seen it employed before the event in question has even run its course. How else could Dicker, labeling Smith a winner, say the following? "Senate Democratic Minority Leader Malcolm Smith, poised to become the new leader of the Senate despite his heavy-handed and, at times, bumbling approach to fund-raising, a weak and disorganized staff, and continuing trouble from the Gang of Three."

Poised? Poise is the last attribute to be assigned to Smith-the fellow who actually signed off on the "overplay" by the dissidents; and the man who remains three votes short of leadership status. How poised is that, Mr. Dicker? So from our vantage, Dicker becomes one of this year's big journalistic losers-unable to both count, or to exercise sober judgment

No InFatuation With Gov's Tax Plan

More and more it appears as if New Yorkers aren't infatuated with Governor Paterson's tax plan. As the NY Daily News reported last week: "Tax the rich, not the soda! New Yorkers overwhelmingly oppose Gov. Paterson's so-called obesity tax on soda and other non-nutritional drinks, a new poll shows. The Quinnipiac University poll found that 60% of those surveyed oppose the proposed 18% tax, with just 37% supporting it."

What's fascinating about this, is the fact that the tax is opposed by those who aren't even soda drinkers: "Even those who prefer diet soft drinks, which would not be subject to the tax, say it is all wet by a 58% to 39% margin, the poll found. The fierce opposition runs across the political spectrum. "Voters aren't swallowing the proposal to tax non-diet soft drinks," Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, said Wednesday when releasing poll results."

And overall, the plan gets a considerable thumbs down from a great many. As the NY Post pointed out: "New Yorkers are turning thumbs down on Gov. Paterson's tax-and-slash budget plan and they're overwhelmingly opposed to his "fat tax" on non-diet soft drinks, a new poll shows. The Quinnipiac University survey found 46 percent of voters opposed to the governor's proposed $121 billion budget - with 137 new taxes and fees and billions of dollars in spending cuts - and 40 percent in favor."

We should also remember that the Q-Poll also highlighted the fact that New Yorkers preferred service cuts to new taxes. As the News related: "Still, by a 53% to 36% margin, New Yorkers would rather cut services than raise taxes." And we wonder what the response would have been to cutting the size of government and eliminating wasteful programs, versus raising taxes?

That's an approach we need to see the governor propose-before he taxes the earth, the sea and the sky. If he doesn't, we see a serious challenge to Paterson emerging in 2010.

Vexing Vendors

Last week the NY Daily News wrote about the efforts of Councilman David Yassky to clean the street vendors out of Court Street; the article underscores the inequity of allowing peddlers to operate with impunity right in front of tax paying stores: "A local politician has a message for Court St.'s vendors: Get lost. City Councilman David Yassky (D-Brooklyn Heights) has proposed a ban on vending along Court St., and wants cops to confiscate merchandise sold by illegal vendors along the downtown thoroughfare. "It's just gotten to be too much," Yassky said. "On every block there are three tables of vendors blocking the street."

Of course store owners are vexed: "Yet many merchants find it hard to compete with the vendors, who don't pay rent or property taxes. "They're kicking my a--," said Charlene Heyliger, 55, the owner of Gourd-Chips Boutique. "They don't have overhead," she said. "I'm selling this for $5, but they're probably selling everything for a dollar."

With the mayor looking to increase our taxes, and with neighborhood retailers suffering from his inhospitable business climate, it's high time that the Bloomberg administration take corrective action: no competing street vendor should be allowed to sell comparable products directly in front of stores with similar merchandise. Yassky's right: "We're trying to market the Court St. office buildings to law firms and banks," he said. "The street vendors ... definitely create a bad impression." He added the vendors also pose "unfair competition" to area businesses. Yassky's proposal, outlined in a Dec. 11 letter to Mayor Bloomberg, applies to vendors selling goods other than food, books and artwork. Currently, licensed vendors are allowed on Court south of Joralemon St."

We need to bring the mayor's indifference to public awareness-and dramatize just how damaging his economic and regulatory policies have been to small store owners. It's just one more example of how Mike Bloomberg remains disconnected from the concerns of average New Yorkers.

A Palin Imitation

So, as it turns out, even the NY Times comes away from the Caroline phenomenon quite underwhelmed: "After weeks of criticism that she had not opened up to the public or the press, Ms. Kennedy has embarked on a series of interviews. But in an extensive sit-down discussion Saturday morning with The New York Times, she still seemed less like a candidate than an idea of one: forceful but vague, largely undefined and seemingly determined to remain that way."

So, absent any resume to recommend her, Kennedy can't even articulate any strong opinions-or how she differs, if she does, from any of the standard Democratic Party talking points: "Ms. Kennedy, 51, has had only a few weeks to think through a platform and a message, and she has already taken positions on issues like same-sex marriage, which she supports, and school vouchers, which she opposes. But in the interview on Saturday, she said she hoped to be a consensus-builder, and declined to describe her positions on some other pressing public issues — even in an area like education, where she has some expertise. Ms. Kennedy would not say, for example, whether she supported proposals to abolish tenure for teachers and offer them merit pay instead."

She's gotta be kidding! And she was apparently unwilling or unable to expand on how her limited experience qualified her for the US Senate-in what would amount to her first real job: "She provided only the broadest of rationales for her candidacy for one of the most storied Senate seats in the country, saying her experience as a mother, author and school fund-raiser, her commitment to public service and her deep political connections had prepared her for the job."

This is really beyond ridiculous-and Paterson should move to shut the silliness down as soon as possible; although to her credit, in her Times interview she actually touted the virtue of running for an office: "At one point, she said that it might have been preferable to seek the seat in an election, noting that “it would give me a chance to explain exactly what I’m doing, why I would want to do this, and, you know, to get people to know me better and to understand exactly what my plans would be, how hard I would work.”

So, what we would advise Kennedy to do, is withdraw; and prepare to challenge the governor's eventual choice by taking her candidacy to the voters in 2010. As Michael Goodwin wrote yesterday, the current farce needs to end: "But a strange thing is happening on the way to the coronation. The wheels of the bandwagon are coming off. Fantasy is giving way to inescapable truth. That truth is that Kennedy is not ready for the job and doesn't deserve it. Somebody who loves her should tell her."

And, in the same vein, Jennifer Rubin eviscerates Kennedy in her "Princess Diaries" commentary: "But these individual missteps stem from a central problem: she is an unserious candidate running at a serious time for a real office. New York, perhaps more acutely and immediately than the rest of the country, is feeling the impact of the financial
meltdown...Governor Paterson has every reason to spare his party and state from the mockery that is sure to follow should he elevate Caroline to the Senate. I’m sure he or President-elect Obama could come up with some suitably untaxing position in which she can fulfill her lifelong dream (a sort of repressed memory which recently surfaced) to serve in political office. Or, she could spend some time learning about her state and the nation’s issues, supporting other politicians and learning how to campaign for office.

What New York doesn't need for the vacant senate is an unaccomplished and platitude-spouting cipher who can seek occasional refuge in a $50 million Martha's Vineyard mansion. More and more, we're leaning to the Hammond Doctrine: the governor should appoint a placeholder and leave the ultimate choice here to the voters in two years.

Sweet Caroline?

It appears that Governor Paterson may be tiring of the attempt by the Carolinites-bolstered by the ever coy mayor-to elevate Caroline Kennedy and the Peter Principle to the US Senate simultaneously. Here's how Wikepedia describes the process: "Peter's Corollary states that "in time, every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out his duties" and adds that "work is accomplished by those employees who have not yet reached their level of incompetence".

So, of course, if Kennedy is elevated, we can be buoyed by the fact that she will have a great staff of competents to carry out her senatorial duties. None of this is apparently making Paterson more amenable to her choice for the vacant seat, As he told the NY Post: "He bristled when a reporter described Kennedy - who has never been elected to office and whose qualifications have been criticized - as the "front-runner." "How is she a front-runner?" the Democratic governor, who has sole power to choose Clinton's successor, interrupted tartly."

And, as the governor commented to the NY Times: "Gov. David A. Paterson stressed on Wednesday that there was no front-runner among the contenders who want to fill the Senate seat being vacated by Hillary Rodham Clinton, and he said the intense focus on Caroline Kennedy is the result of media hype."

God old reliable Joe Conason is front and center in the aforementioned hype. Conason, one of the harshest critics of Sarah Palin (“Suddenly all anyone needs to qualify as a potential commander in chief is to be a religious ideologue with female gender characteristics?”), fails to hold Kennedy to any of the same standards-he should really keep his banal hypocritical observations to those of his immediate family; they serve as very little additions to the public debate, aside from underscoring how fatuous all of the Kennedy euphoria really is.

But nothing could underscore the fatuousness of this all as much as Kennedy herself-who deigned to appear for an interview with Dominic Carter on NY1. As the NY Post reported: "Caroline Kennedy broke her silence with the start of a media blitz yesterday, defending her qualifications to replace Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and confidently saying she's up to the job...The 51-year-old daughter of John F. Kennedy told NY1 last night, "There are many ways to serve. I think I have been serving my community up until now, and I think I'm ready to take the next step."

And Sarah Palin was ridiculed? Are we looking at that ultimate biography-From the PTA to the Presidency? And when asked for specifics, she tells the NY Times: "She said that if appointed senator next year by Gov. David A. Paterson, she would focus on securing economic aid for the state, overhauling the nation’s health care system, and school issues." It's as if the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression hasn't happened; all we get from Kennedy are hackneyed liberal bromides and non sequitors.

Bloomberg, for his part, simply can't resist satire. Here's his piquant observation to the Times last week; launched behind the barricades of his own stealth offensive: "I do think the governor, as I said the other day, should make a decision, because this is just distracting and we don't need to have another sideshow." This from the sideshow impresario himself!

What the state doesn't need is an entitled novice; and the rumor about her dalliance with Pinch Sulzberger, if true, is another major strike against her. And let's not forget Clyde Haberman's admonition that selecting Kennedy would foist the Neil Diamond song, "Sweet Caroline," on us ad nauseam; all of which makes this decision a significant test of Governor Paterson's Independence and leadership.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Bloomberg and Wolfson: Perfect Together

John Riley's take on the Wolfson hire for the Bloomberg coronation bid is spot on: "Mayor Bloomberg, who once lied and promised not to overturn term limits and run for a third term, picks the perfect spokesman for his campaign for a third term: Howard Wolfson, Mr. Credibility himself, who did such a great job persuading everyone that Hillary actually won the popular vote, that she told something resembling the truth about those snipers at Tuzla, that she wasn't really for the war in Iraq even though she voted to authorize it, and that she was absolutely entitled to the benefit of a double standard on having debates and disclosing her taxes."

Spin Cycle takes on Spin Doctor We can't wait for the iron cage rematch; and we love how Howard responded to the reminder about all of the unflattering things he once said about Mike Bloomberg-out of touch billionaire was our favorite: "And, of course, he thinks Bloomberg is just marvelous. He's asked about having once called Bloomberg an "out of touch billionaire," and says, "That was my evil twin." The one who tells the truth?"

But the real story here just might be that Bloomberg is looking to reapply for membership in the Democratic primary. As the NY Daily News reports this morning: "The Wolfson addition also fuels speculation that Bloomberg, who is an independent, will run as a Democrat. "It would not surprise me if Bloomberg is polling at the moment to see if he could win a Democratic primary," said political consultant George Arzt, who described Wolfson as a "no-nonsense, brass-knuckles guy."

We can't wait to see how he tries to pull that one off-and who among the Democratic county leaders would allow him to pull this Wilson/Pakula gambit. Which is another reason why the governor should shy away from appointing Caroline-another faux Democrat who could join the mayor and run as a tandem on the Patrician Party banner.

Fat Chance

It now appears that New Yorkers are less then enthused about the Paterson soda tax-let's call it sugar shock. As Liz points out this morning, the Q-Poll reports: "..New Yorkers could stomach a host of tax increases on everything from alcohol to cigarettes, but don't support Gov. David Paterson's proposal to tax sugary drinks. Poll respondents opposed the so-called "fat tax" 60-37 percent, and even diet soda drinkers rejected the measure, 58-39."

In addition, most folks recognize the seriousness of the crisis, but shy away from supporting higher taxes: "Eighty-eight percent of voters agree with the governor that the state is facing a massive budget crisis, but they much prefer (53-36) cutting services to raising taxes. Sixty-five percent said cutting economic development aid is fine with them. There wasn't nearly as much support for slashing either health care or education spending (10 percent in both cases)."

There is, however, support for higher sin taxes: "Voters opposed raising taxes on gas (79-19), but were fine with the idea of so-called "sin taxes" including boosting the current tariff on cigarettes (73-26) and alcohol (67-32)." Soda apparently isn't as sinful as the Nutrition Nazis allege.

What we now need from the governor and the legislature is a carefully crafted approach to cutting government waste-even if its in the health care or education areas. What we don't need is for the Democratic tail to start wagging the party dog; and for a giant Bronx cheer to be given to all of the state's hapless tax payers and small businesses.

Divine Right

It appears that our view of the Bloomberg/Kennedy affair is catching on-with Speaker Shelly Silver saying yesterday that the governor should be careful about choosing Caroline because she would be more beholden to Mike Bloomberg than to the man who chose her for the senate seat. As Fred Dicker writes: "Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver yesterday strongly suggested that Gov. Paterson reject Caroline Kennedy as Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's replacement - because she might be more loyal to Mayor Bloomberg than to the governor. "If I were the governor, I would look and question whether this is the appointment I'd want to make, where her first obligation might be to the mayor of the City of New York, rather than to the governor who would be appointing her," Silver said."

Silver's statement followed the mayor's earlier comment that Governor Paterson should get off the dime and hurry up already with what he apparently believes should be the inevitable choice of his totally unqualified Upper East Side neighbor for the US Senate. As the NY Times reports: "Resistance is emerging among Democratic officials against Caroline Kennedy as she pursues Hillary Rodham Clinton’s seat in the United States Senate, with Gov. David A. Paterson bristling over suggestions that her selection is inevitable, according to his advisers, and other leading Democrats concerned that she is too beholden to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg."

Now where could anyone have gotten that idea? Maybe it was her equivocation of actually supporting a Democrat in next year's mayoral election? As the Times points out: "But her refusal to say over the weekend whether she would back a Democratic candidate next year, when Mr. Bloomberg will seek re-election as an independent, set off intense reaction among some in the party."

In our view, however, the whole orchestration reminds us of so many of Bloomberg's unstealthy stealth operations-where his monied contacts are used sub rosa in the most public of ways; all the while as Mike is playing coy about his role. Which is why we like the idea of Bill Hammond's that the governor should simply choose a place holder; and allow whoever wants to run for the seat to do so in 2010 when it would become vacant: "Then the unseemly insider politicking and backbiting will stop, and the real campaign will begin. All who want the job - including Kennedy the daughter and Cuomo the son - can compete on a level playing field. In two years. The voters will get their say."

But, as we said, the most unseemly aspect of the attempted Kennedy putsch is the little man behind the curtain. The governor should assert his manhood and inform the mayor that he'll be the one to wear the pants in the New York family.

Smith's Wedgie

As Liz has reported, it appears that the labor coalition targeting Diaz and Espada may be trying to isolate Carl Kruger from the amigos: "Officially speaking, the pro-Smith alliance, which helped the Democrats win 32 seats in November and now wants to be able to push through its policy agenda, is not targeting the Gang of Three ringleader, Sen. Carl Kruger, because his Brooklyn district has a lower concentration of Democrats than either Espada's or Diaz's...The real strategy here, as I understand it, is to try to isolate Kruger, who has a long history of associating with the Senate Republicans."

Perhaps so, but Espada in particular is no shrinking violet-and Diaz has shown that his ideological iconoclasm is no impediment to re-election in his Soundview district: "Diaz has always been a Conservative-leaning black sheep of the Democratic conference and has never had a problem getting re-elected in his district." Of course, if Hiram tubes, all of this strategy will be for naught anyway.

But Kruger tells us that his office is getting calls-from Manhattan tenants. Yikes! Kruger must be pulling up the drawbridge over at Mill Island, and hunkering down in fear in the basement. Nothing frightens the senator so much as tenants from outside of Brooklyn.

The safest path for Smith is to re-visit the original deal; a bit of tweaking is still possible, and a new deal could still be crafted. Bogarting the amigos could also backfire here. Liz, however, nails Kruger's persona in all of this, underscoring the risks in the wedge approach: "Of course, the problem with the wedge strategy is that Smith needs three votes (assuming the GOP isn't successful at blocking the seating of Senator-elect Hiram Monserrate) to reach 32 votes and become leader. If he gets Diaz and Espada, he's still going to need one more. Or maybe he thinks Kruger will crumble once he's all by himself? I'm not so sure about that. Kruger's pretty independent, and the fact that he's a man without a country has never seemed to bother him much."

Tax and Rend

As we would expect, the Drum Major Institute welcomes the governor's apparent shift on raising the personal income tax: "Is Governor Paterson finally coming around? On Saturday, the New York Times reported that Paterson might consider raising taxes on New Yorkers who benefited most from the state's economic growth. But the Governor's economic logic is still askew. He insists a broad-based tax increase on the wealthy is a last resort, because " it automatically kicks in less job creation and leads to people leaving the state.”

Not so, says the DMI's Amy Taub: "I've already noted that Nobel-Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz concludes that public spending cuts will harm job creation and economic growth more than raising taxes on the wealthy. Now the Fiscal Policy Institute has released a letter from more than 100 other economists who agree."

So who's right about this? In our view, it is important to point out that many of the economists who sign on to this world view are those who instinctively support a greater role for government; and who are suspicious of anything that's redolent of laissez faire philosophy. As the FPI letter states: "The reasoning is straightforward: in a recession, you want to raise (or not decrease) the level of total spending—by households, businesses and government—in the economy. That keeps people employed and buying things, and makes it more likely that
businesses will want to invest to serve that consumer demand. Budget cuts reduce the level of total spending. Raising taxes on high income households also will reduce spending, but by much less than the amount of the tax increase since those with plenty of income typically spend only a fraction of their income."

Of course, the more you tax high incomes-and where does small business stand in all of this (remember Joe the Plumber?)-the more you add to an already high tax burden; and the result is encouraging the job creators to find a more hospitable place to do business-unless Ms. Taub believes that the government is a real wealth creator.

We're unsure about her perspective on this issue, but the economists cited lay their ideology out in plain sight: "Raising taxes and maintaining public expenditures and investments also helps New York and America in meeting its long run needs. America today faces two major problems— inadequate investments, especially in infrastructure, and growing inequality. The poor are
particularly dependent on government expenditures, and cutbacks would hurt them the

The harsh reality, however, is that with the Wall Street meltdown, the state is hemorrhaging jobs-something that the FPI economists only hint at ("New York State faces enormous challenges in closing a projected $12.5 billion gap in the 2009-2010 state budget. Wall Street is the epicenter of the global financial crisis and there likely will be no quick rebound from what could prove to be a severe recession.") So, how do we grow back the economy while we are laying a further tax burden on New Yorkers that are already over taxed?

The economists cited don't really care-concerned as they appear to be about the needy who would be "hurt the most" by cutbacks. The fact is, that there's nothing in the FPI letter that contradicts the governor's statement on the potential dampening of job growth; the signatories are more concerned with short term harm to the poor and a supposed income inequality than they are about the over all health of New York's economy.

This issue is addressed squarely by the Business Council's Kenneth Adams in yesterday's NY Post: "LET'S admit it: New York is grappling with a fiscal crisis largely of its own making. The national recession and Wall Street meltdown magnify the problem, but New York has a $15 billion budget deficit not because we don't collect enough taxes, but because we spend too much. To avoid being in this terrible situation again, we have to leverage this current crisis to achieve long-term reforms in government spending and fiscal policy."

That's certainly our view-and, given the state's existing tax levels, the argument Adams makes is compelling: "State and local spending in New York is now the second highest in the nation - 47 percent above the national average. A spending cap would help bring this excess under control.
It's clear where much of this overspending is centered - and that it doesn't actually buy us better government services. For example, we have the highest per-pupil education spending in this country - nearly $19,000 per student, 63 percent above the national average. Yet we're 33rd in the nation in eighth-grade math scores and not much better on other pupil-performance measures. And New York's per-capita Medicaid spending is more than double the national average, according to Kaiser State Health Facts. Yet, despite this off-the-charts spending, our key health-care indicators are worse than the national averages."

None of this is even acknowledged by the tax and spenders over at the DMI. As Adams points out: "On the other side of the ledger, our personal-income and real-estate taxes are the highest in the country. Business taxes are the second highest. The result is the worst tax climate in America, and an economy that was already tanking before the downturn."

What kind of "award winning economists" fail to address this crucial equation? Or perhaps, the awards in question are similar to those Pulitzers that the NY Times receives for its stellar work-products, as it were, of the fact that all in question swim in the same ideological swamp.

We listen to the DMI at our peril-particularly with the loss of the Wall Street engine: "In recent years, Wall Street pumped out 20 percent of state revenues - masking the fundamental problems in our fiscal policy. Now that narcotic is gone - and the "halo effect" of New York City's prosperity hiding the decline of the rest of the state is over. The ATM just spit back the debit card and told us we're $15 billion overdrawn. New York's leaders must make significant cuts in government programs and services. The state should relieve local governments and school districts of antiquated regulations and mandates so they can cut their costs. Simply shifting the burden from state taxes to local property tax does no good."

The "spread the wealth" crowd is trying to dose out a toxic brew; and the result will only make things worse; just as FDR's initial forays along the same lines did in the 1930s-making the original downturn even worse. The fact that raising taxes on the "wealthy" is popular-or that it never just stops at the so-called rich, will make this approach hard to resist. But Adams, underscoring that a policy's popularity doesn't make it prudent, gets the last word on this: "Families across New York are making prudent choices to live within their means. Our state and local governments must now do the same."

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Bloomberg's Left Critique

With Mike Bloomberg preoccupied with getting more representation in the US Senate for the Upper East Side, it is a good time for some to evaluate just how well he is doing himself; under the premise that perhaps he should get his own house in order before lobbying for someone else. This time, the critique of the mayor comes from the left (via Liz): "In this moment of jubilation for Democrats and progressives--even Indiana and North Carolina have gone blue--one open wound remains: the voters of New York City, who, for nearly sixteen consecutive years, have ceded Gracie Mansion to deeply anti-progressive men. As Michael Bloomberg's bid for a third term proceeds virtually unimpeded, that winning streak seems set to expand to twenty. New York City, wild child of American metropolises, bastion of political liberalism? Well, deep in its heart, maybe. But not among its leadership, not in a long time."

Interesting thought here-Mike Bloomberg as the anti-progressive: "Bloomberg would have it that he is a center-left technocrat, a liberal even, from the uppermost upper crust. It's part of the mythology that made him victorious in 2001...But, as is often the case with opportunistic politicians, Bloomberg's rhetoric bears little relationship to his record. Beyond the confines of his tireless propaganda machine, there is one salient fact: the Bloomberg Administration cannot point to one major success and credibly claim it as its own. The technocracy he promised has, in practice, more closely resembled autocracy. The center that he claims to occupy has often given way to the right."

Well, we would agree about the disparity between the Bloomberg record and his rhetoric-that gap is a chasm; and Porter is correct about the top-like spinning of the Bloomberg propaganda apparatus. But in our view, Bloomberg's failures are not those of someone who has governed from the right-to argue this, is to obfuscate why Bloomberg is such a failure at governing.

In fact Mike Bloomberg, as Mark Green would argue, has governed from the left; with a social policy on health and welfare in particular that has expanded the reach of government paternalism. What he hasn't done, is effectively deal with a government structure that is way too large and inefficient. And it is this chicken that is coming home to roost as the city's budget implodes.

Still, Porter has it right about the mayor's exaggerated tenure: "And yet. Despite this assemblage of failures and embarrassments, Bloomberg backers will argue that the Mayor has three trump cards: the economy, the crime rate, and education. Indeed, the crime rate in New York City has been at historic lows throughout Bloomberg's administration. But there's little evidence that anything Bloomberg has done is responsible. Criminologist Franklin Zimring, in his book The Great American Crime Decline, argues that Rudy Giuliani's crime prevention measures during the 1990's--COMPSTAT and the commitment to efficiency it represented, additional police on the beat, and a more aggressive policing philosophy--were responsible for the historic drop in crime that Bloomberg merely inherited."

And, as far as the economy is concerned, Bloomberg has done little to merit a term extension: "As for the economy, whatever success Bloomberg has enjoyed can be attributed to others--and the success is overshadowed by failure. The city's economy, as measured by overall growth, boomed between 2001 and 2007 because the financial services sector boomed. At the same time, Bloomberg did nothing to combat the decline of New York's middle class. Income disparity has spiked so much in recent years that, in 2006, a Brookings research,er Alan Berube, could declare that, in New York, "the middle class is missing." New York has the smallest proportion of middle-income families among all major American cities."

We could say the same thing about his small business record as well. As much as we disagree with Porter's perspective as to the Bloomberg shortcomings, he does make a strong and cogent deconstruction of the Bloomberg myth-and deserves the final word: "As his try for a third term begins, it's worth considering whether or not the legacy of Mike Bloomberg will be proof, once and for all, that money can buy anything--including respect for a record that, if it exists at all, is largely unaccomplished.'

Gang Warfare

All of our friends over at 32BJ are going all out to try to insure that the state senate has a democrat as leader. As Liz tells us: "This week, some 8,000 Bronx members of 32BJ will receive direct direct mail pieces targeting two of the so-called Gang of Three - Senator-elect Pedro Espada Jr. and Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. - in an effort to crank up pressure on the dissidents to come back to the Democratic fold and back Malcolm Smith for majority leader."

Senator Kruger must be feeling really left out of all of this; why are all the other guys getting the attention?, he must be asking himself. The effort by the union, of course, would have zero impact in Kruger's district-as would that of the other members of the coalition: "The mailers, which are in both English and Spanish, are part of a wider campaign by a number of labor interests that were instrumental in helping the Senate Democrats win a majority of seats this fall for the first time since 1965 and don't want to see the fruits of their labor scuttled by three renegades. Other union members of this pro-Democrat alliance include: Unite-HERE/ New York Hotel Trades Council, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union and the Communications Workers of America."

And last we checked, the Dems need 32 votes, so someone better start showing Kruger some love. The union folks aren't the only members of the tail wagging dog coalition. however: "Also involved in the push to co-opt the Gang of Three are: NARAL Pro-Choice NY, the Empire State Pride Agenda, Tenants PAC, and the Working Families Party. All have a wide range of policy agendas - from same-sex marriage to protecting rent regulation - the success of which hinges on the Democrats having control of both the Senate and the Assembly (not to mention the governor's office)."

None of these actors will have any impact on Kruger, and the gay rights and abortion folks will only antagonize, not only Diaz, but many of his church-going constituents as well. Diaz, for his part, is taking a holiday to tend to his flock: "Sen. Ruben Diaz, one of the so-called “Gang of Three,” said that he’s taking a break from the whole Senate leadership issue for the holidays. “I took a vacation from this problem, this issue, for the last two weeks,” he said.”I have not met with anyone. Not with the Sen. Smith, not with the Republicans, and not with the two guys.” When asked why he was taking a break from it all, he said, “I’m a minister, I’m involved with the the church. After the new year, we’ll be talking with people."

Which apparently is what the other two gang members are doing as well-believing that the ball is in Smith's court; since it was the putative leader who agreed to a deal, and then didn't. But the clock is certainly ticking, and the Monserrate mess ain't helping matters much for Smith and his flock; with one Democratic constituent even going so far as to demand that Hiram not be sworn in with the assault charges pending.

As the NY Daily News reports: "Marcia Pappas, president of the state chapter of the National Organization for Women, told the Daily News Monserrate should not take office until the charges against him were resolved. "Certainly if there's an indication that he's a perpetrator of domestic violence, the leadership in the Senate needs to take the appropriate steps," she said."

Which begs the question: "What leadership?" Since, without Hiram, the Dems are one vote short; something that can't be simply taken with a grain of assault.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Senate Stenosis

Well, we're almost past the twelve days of Christmas, and Malcolm Smith is still without the senate leadership in his stocking-and it doesn't look like it will happen so soon. As Liz Benjamin writes this morning, commenting on the Monserrate snafu and the Golden threat to try to prevent him from being seated: "A resolution vote could be complicated by the so-called Gang of Three - three renegade senators who have refused to pledge their loyalty to Smith following the collapse of a power-sharing deal that would have greatly enhanced their clout. Without them, Smith is three votes shy of the 32 he needs to be majority leader. Losing Monserrate would put Smith at 28 votes. The Republicans have 29, with the election of incumbent Republican Queens Sen. Frank Padavan still tied up in court."

Of course, the three amigos are still out there-and who knows how they'll react to the Monserrate incident: "Monserrate used to be allied with the renegades - Sen. Carl Kruger, Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. and Sen.-elect Pedro Espada Jr. - but abandoned them to cut his own deal with Smith. Members of the Gang of Three have not forgotten how he turned his back on them."

The resolution here could go in any number of different ways-Smith could be unseated, or elevated; or Skelos and the Republicans could sneak in. The stalemate could, however, remain unresolved for weeks, just when quick action on the dire state budget is needed: "The turmoil in the Senate is happening as the state faces one of it's worst budget deficits ever, a combined $15billion dollar gap. Governor David Paterson, who wants the legislature to act swiftly on spending cuts and new taxes and fees in the New Year, remains unconcerned, at least publicly, about the disarray, and says he'll work with either party."

All of this is further complicated by the fact that the Padavan recount also is in limbo; with an appeal of a judge's inane decision to count paper ballots that both Democrats and Republicans had discarded as flawed. If the court decision expected today isn't final, that Skelos and company only have 29 votes: "Residents of the 11th state Senate district in northeast Queens may be without an Albany representative next month as the legal wrangling over that seat continues. An appellate court is expected to decide today whether the Board of Elections should resume counting almost 2,000 paper ballots previously marked invalid. Republicans are expected to appeal any decision that allows those ballots to be counted."

So it may be necessary for the governor to intervene here if he wants to get swift action on his austere budget proposals. Without leadership, the senate is basically out of business; kinda like the state of New York's government in general.

Times' Senate Musings

Eleanor Randolf weighed in yesterday on the stalemate in the state senate-and she invokes the ghost of Joe Zaretzki-but with Randolf you're always wondering where all of the information is coming from. In any case, she sees potential disaster in the making: "Democratic senators managed to win a two-seat majority in November, but still cannot decide on a new leader. One sleazy deal to give the leadership to Malcolm Smith of Queens has already fallen apart. That had three particularly whiny Democrats threatening to vote for a Republican leader if Mr. Smith did not do their bidding."

Sleazy deal? Does she mean the part of the deal that would have lead to greater power for committee chairs? Oh, probably not. She must be upset with giving Espada and Kruger plum assignments; unlike all of the other politicians who horse trade as part of their political essence-or a slug like Joe Biden who's keeping his senate seat warm for his highly qualified son.

But we digress. Randolf's stealth intent here isn't disparaging Kruger and Espada-"Manchurian Democrats" is the way she describes them-it is to undermine the Smith ascension by raising the Republican bogyman: "While the Democrats scramble to hold on to their slim majority, Republicans are already negotiating behind the scenes to find a different leader who will keep things from changing too much in Albany. New Yorkers have no time for such nonsense. The state faces a mammoth budget crisis. And after years of stalemate, voters are expecting a new Senate to clean up campaign financing and reform redistricting. Instead, as in Senator Zaretzki’s day, Democrats are looking so disorganized that some voters must already be wondering what was so bad about the Republicans."

Randolf's "reporting" becomes a bit clearer-at least for the cognoscenti. And which voters does she see as longing for campaign finance and redistricting reform? No, Randolf's real intent lies elsewhere. Come on Dems, she whispers, let's find a better leader who can keep the Republican wolf from our door. And with this we're left to wonder: Cui bono?

The Bloomberg Assesment: No Third Term

Mike Lupica is not always our favorite columnist, but Sunday he really hit one out-skewering the mayor on the Yankee Stadium assessment scam with a column titled: "It's a Wonderful Lie." In his piece he ridicules Bloomerg as the Harry Potter of big city mayors-the kind of wizard we need, supposedly, to get us out from under.

Yet, if he capable of such wizardry, he doesn't appear to be applying it for the good of city tax payers-not if this stadium deal is any true measure. As Lupica points out: "So one of these days Bloomberg and the people who work for him - or used to work for him when he was trying to get the deal done on the financing of the new Yankee Stadium - need to explain something to the citizens of New York, and to the Congress, in a way those of us who aren't financial wizards can understand: How more than two years ago the appraised value of the land around the new stadium, land the Yankees need to build the richest baseball stadium ever built, suddenly and magically went from $27 million to $204 million because that made the deal work best for the New York Yankees."

What Lupica sees clearly, is just how much this giveaway tells us about the mayor's real resume: working assiduously to aggrandize his wealth cohort: "Because if the city just hands over the bonds at a time like this, it will tell you everything about the way Bloomberg's New York actually works for the rich and the powerful." And why the assessment of the city's voters should be to reduce the Bloomberg rating into junk bond status.

Budget Opportunities

As we have pointed out, both the mayor and the governor seem lost when it comes to finding creative ways to save the tax payers from paying through the nose during the current budget meltdown-and one of the most expensive government expenses is for pensions, something that both men don't want to touch. As Adam Brodsky points out: "GOV. Paterson and Mayor Bloom berg may be about to blow the biggest chance in a generation to fix New York's long-broken, budget-busting public-pension system. Indeed, their planned remedies fall so far short, and come with such a steep political price, it may be wiser for them to simply hold their fire - and do nothing - rather than waste a precious opportunity."

The problem here us that pensions are fixed no matter how badly the market is doing-unlike most of us who have taken a bath along with the decline in stocks; and the benefits in New York are unmatched elsewhere: "Payments to the funds for New York public-employee pensions devour huge sums of taxpayer dollars, largely because the benefits are more generous than in other states - or in the private sector. Retirees are also living longer, thus further fueling cost spikes. Meanwhile, politicians - pandering to public-sector unions - regularly sweeten the employees' pot even more."

If something's not done soon, the tax payers will be hosed big time: "The really bad news: It may be impossible, at this point, to stave off pension-driven fiscal calamity. Sagging financial markets - in which the funds are invested - have sapped fund values. And, since retirement benefits in New York are guaranteed, taxpayers must cough up the difference. If the markets don't recover soon, New Yorkers may face mammoth new tax hikes and truly draconian cuts in government services to keep pension funds whole. Taxpayers will be rightly furious to learn that they have to pay up big-time to hold civil-servant retirements harmless - even as their own 401(k) plans have shriveled."

What we need is a pay-as-you-go system; just like the private sector: "The private sector has largely switched to a saner system. With each paycheck, workers and firms contribute set amounts to personal retirement accounts. If government did that, it would take an enormous load off taxpayers' backs (and make it easier for budget planners, too)."

Will we get this? Not likely, since neither Bloomberg nor Paterson are willing to take on the public employee unions. But if they don't we're all headed for fiscal disaster; "Far better for Bloomberg and Paterson to amend their plans and push for more fundamental change - or just stand down and wait for another moment. Perhaps that moment will come when a political leader with more backbone steps up. Or when fiscal collapse forces a major overhaul. But by then, of course, it may be too late."

Government Remains Intax

Between the mayor and the governor-not to mention the MTA-New Yorkers are about to pay the price for political profligacy and malfeasance. As the NY Post editorialized yesterday: "Gov. Paterson is touting 137 new taxes and fees, the MTA wants to jack up fares 23% - and the City Council and Mayor Bloomberg just passed a 7% property-tax hit. Moreover, Bloomberg on Friday took to the radio and snarled that councilmembers who voted against the higher levies are "cowards" - and said that more local tax hikes are in the works. Hmm."

This comes from someone with a very limited view of the possibilities of government reinvention; and also someone who has spent seven years posturing as a leaders who is able to make the tough decisions because he's unencumbered by special interests. All of this is, of course, fraudulent.

All of us like toughness, but when it isn't accompanied by any political or fiscal acuity, what do we really have? As the Post points out: "Yeah, we know: The pols face a monster "budget crunch." But, c'mon - in all frankness, it's in no small way a "crunch" of their own creation. After all, when prudent folks realize they're going to be short of cash, the first thing they do is stop spending so much. Not New York pols. Their solution is simply to pick the public's pocket - through endless tax and fee hikes."

And Mike Bloomberg is certainly no exception-having squandered any opportunity to govern sensibly when the city was flush with Wall Street cash. And David Paterson appears ready to jettison his tough talk and, what else, try to knee jerk his way out of this mess with more taxes as well. As the NY Times pointed out, income tax hikes may be following his record number of fee and nuisance tax proposals: "Gov. David A. Paterson rolled out 137 proposed tax and fee increases last week on items including iTunes downloads and soft drinks, but there could very well be another big one to come."

It won't be long before that personal income tax hike is dragged out; all in the name of "fairness." As the Times tells us: "Increasing income taxes on the richest residents of New York is still a last resort, Mr. Paterson said in an interview, but one that may become necessary as a result of the state’s precarious financial condition. For now, the governor has avoided broad-based income tax increases even as he has proposed $4 billion worth of new or increased taxes and fees to help close a $15.4 billion budget deficit, the largest in state history."

Where are the dramatic cost reductions? The streamlining and consolidation? Instead the governor appears ready to concede defeat to the groups who depend on government largess: "Increasing income taxes on the richest residents of New York is still a last resort, Mr. Paterson said in an interview, but one that may become necessary as a result of the state’s precarious financial condition. For now, the governor has avoided broad-based income tax increases even as he has proposed $4 billion worth of new or increased taxes and fees to help close a $15.4 billion budget deficit, the largest in state history."

Newsday also believes that the cave-in is inevitable: "Gov. David A. Paterson's proposed budget for 2009-10 may not be dead-on-arrival in the legislature, but it is on life-support, experts said..."He very much faces an uphill battle because the constituencies putting pressure on the legislature not to adopt his budget are so powerful," said Elizabeth Lynam of the nonpartisan Citizens Budget Commission."

Let's face it, Paterson simply doesn't have the mandate-or the political courage-to stand strong for fiscal sanity; and for the state's beleaguered tax payers. And now he's even gone about belittling those who complain about his record number of fees. Here's how the NY Daily News reported this scorning: " Gov. Paterson doesn't understand all the fuss about the $4 billion in new taxes and fees he has proposed to help close a $15.4 billion budget gap. "We found a lot of little taxes that are optional," Paterson said on WOR radio. "In other words, people can stay away from these items and don't have to pay the tax."

Kinda like a, "Let them eat cake," moment; a tone deafness to the struggles that New Yorkers are going through in these tough times: "Later, in a conference call with reporters, Paterson warned of fiscal calamity if the state does not begin addressing its massive budget problems.
"I am uncomfortable with [the fiscal] reality, but I'm very comfortable with this budget," Paterson said. "I feel we have assessed responsibility very equally." The governor said he opted for the new fees and taxes after trimming $9.5 billion in education, health care and other spending. "We didn't think we could cut beyond where we did," Paterson said. "That's when we had to look at taxation."

And yet this budget is $1,4 billion larger than the last! How prudent is this approach? The Post strikes the right note here: "But both the city and the state have got to keep their eyes on the ball: Tax and fee hikes will only throttle an already badly battered economy - and hurt struggling residents, to boot. They've got to keep digging for more savings. And, really: With $180 billion in total passing through City Hall and Albany, how hard should it be to find them?"

Friday, December 19, 2008

Punishing Bad Behavior

Clyde Haberman expounds on the governor's proposed soda tax-as well as some other tax measures that rely on human weaknesses: "Here they go again, the politicians, looking to capitalize on human frailty. With his tax proposals this week, Gov. David A. Paterson joined a long line of New York leaders who have counted on self-wounding, even self-destructive, behavior to help them dig out of budget holes. Mr. Paterson called for a huge tax, 18 percent, on sugary sodas and juice drinks. It’s a public health measure, his lieutenants said — you know, to counter the obesity epidemic."

Haberman's not buying it however: "Sure. The $404 million tax haul that the governor expects next year is merely incidental, right? State budget planners are so confident that New Yorkers will keep guzzling sugar-laden soda that they figure the tax will pull in even more money, $539 million, the following year."

How this accounts for the statement from the governor's office that the tax will reduce soda consumption by 5% is beyond us-but we never bought that argument in the first place; the tax is simply too small to dramatically alter consumption patterns. All it will do is reduce the disposable income of a lot of low income consumers.

And what about the government's own addiction to the revenues? As Haberman underscores: "Make no mistake, the last thing that government wants is for everyone, right this minute, to stop smoking, boozing, gambling and downing those nutritionally empty supersweet sodas. Too much money is at stake." But that won't stop the hypocrites from shrieking about Big Tobacco, or the nefarious mega food corporations; screaming all the way to the bank in this case.

One Trick Ponies

The inevitable conclusion to the budget dance between the mayor and the city council was reached yesterday-with the city's home owners getting predictably whacked. As the NY Times reports: "Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s $1.2 billion property tax increase won approval from the City Council on Thursday, raising homeowners’ bills by 7 percent as the city grapples with a worsening economy and disappearing revenue. As a result of the 33-to-18 vote, annual tax bills will increase by hundreds or in some cases thousands of dollars, effective Jan 1."

How sad it is, but given the mayor's nonfeasance over the past seven years-and the council's collusion-there really isn't anything that both parties could do besides hiking our taxes. But, as Simcha Felder points out: "Opponents warned that residents were already overtaxed. Since Mr. Bloomberg took office, property taxes have increased by 18.5 percent. “Today, the Council votes to take the bucket to the same old well and ask homeowners to bear the brunt of a swelling budget among dwindling revenues,” Councilman Simcha Felder of Brooklyn said. He added, “I believe that is unacceptable and that will hurt all New Yorkers in this difficult time.”

Bloomberg, with little new to say on much of anything, sings his hackneyed old song: "In a statement after Thursday’s vote, Mr. Bloomberg said: “It’s never popular to phase out a tax cut or reduce agency spending, but they are the right choices to avoid far greater and longer-lasting pain. We will not repeat the mistakes of the 1970s, which crippled city finances and nearly destroyed our quality of life.”

Now what we need from Thompson and Weiner is the kind of creative critiques we have already gotten on a state level from DiNapoli, Cuomo and Suozzi; trenchant analyses of how to reduce the size of city government-and provide services in a more creative and economical manner; something Mike Bloomberg has even given a thought to.

No Camelot in Wayne's World

According to Wayne Barret, we may have Mayor Mike to thank if the governor appoints Caroline Kennedy to the Senate: "It would be an oversimplification to say that Mike Bloomberg is the main man behind the Caroline Kennedy tsunami that's hit in the last two days...As large as these forces are, however, the ground war in New York is being waged out of City Hall. The same bluebloods who brought us Mike Bloomberg's term-limit extension have now joined the campaign for Senator Caroline Kennedy, and not just because they love Sweet Caroline."

So the Prince of Privilege has found his Princess, and as they say in Brooklyn; "Not for nothin'" Because, as Barrett surmises, there is indeed something in it for Mike Bloomberg: "If Paterson bows to the Kennedy surge, he may end whatever chance his Harlem neighbor Bill Thompson has of becoming the city's second black mayor...Imagine it's a few months from now, with the New York mayoral race approaching. Senator Caroline Kennedy endorses Bloomberg and wraps her arm around him at event after event. The endorsement of New York's newest Democratic senator--and the slightly less explicit support of Chuck Schumer (whose wife was a Bloomberg commissioner)--combine to neutralize an attempt by President Obama to campaign for a serious Democratic challenger to Bloomberg, who didn't endorse Obama in the presidential election."

And what would such a fairy tale be without it's Dark Knight? So, with great fanfare, in comes the Reverend Al Sharpton to bless the novice. As the NY Post points out: "Kennedy did have some good news yesterday. The Rev. Al Sharpton all but endorsed her after the two broke bread at Sylvia's restaurant in Harlem, where she described herself as a "Clinton Democrat."

Can anyone say "Master Card moment"? So Sharpton is putting the knife into Bill Thompson for a second time-the first being when he got lock jaw over the Bloomberg term limits override. Another "Not for nothin'" example of the Sharpton cash nexus; and the fact that he is represented by SKD as is Kennedy, just adds to the evidence that the reverend is as available as any item on E-Bay.

But what got our attention was Barret's deconstruction of the Kennedy resume-one that he claims has been reinvented: "The most tawdry part of the Bloomberg cheerleading, however, has been the exaggeration of the Kennedy resume. Aside from Caroline's books--some of which have been collections of her mother's favorite poems and other people's essays--the only significant career accomplishment is the two months she worked part-time at Bloomberg's Department of Education."

As the innkeeper's wife in Les Miz might say; "She thinks she's quite a lover, but there's not much there." Much of her work for education appears to have been overhyped-and she apparently has put in as much time down at the DOE as one of the city's fabled pothole inspectors: "The former Klein aide who would only talk to the Voice anonymously said that he sat near Kennedy's cubicle and that when she came in, she would "only stay a couple of hours or so." He said she was brought into meetings with potential donors and added to the fundraising effort by her quiet presence and charm."

Enough qualifications for her next gig, No? As Juan Gonzales underscores this morning: "The U.S. Senate is not the British House of Lords. Family pedigree and connections are not what counts. The Senate is not for on-the-job training or affirmative action programs for the privileged, no matter how well-intentioned. It is a body that must make enormously important decisions every day of the year."

But the biggest argument against Caroline is the fact that Mike Bloomberg/SKD is her biggest booster. Once again, as we have commented on before, the mayor's concatenation of privileged admirers is gearing up to arrogate to themselves rights that should reside with the folks. We'll give Gonzales the final word on this stealth coronation: "Gov. Paterson should show some backbone. He, more than anyone, should reject this notion of government by entitlement. He should appoint the best qualified person for the job, not a novice with a brand name."