Friday, November 28, 2008

Malcolm's Up Short

As Juan Gonzales highlights this morning, the senate leadership fight has gotten even more intriguing-with current leader Dean Skelos dangling plums in front of the dissidents: "In an attempt to keep Republican control of the state Senate, Majority Leader Dean Skelos is wooing three rebel Democrats with a proposal to form a "coalition government." Skelos made the offer at a dinner meeting Tuesday night on City Island with the so-called "Gang of Three" - Carl Kruger of Brooklyn, and Pedro Espada and Ruben Diaz Sr. of the Bronx, several sources familiar with the meeting said..."

So what's the supposed deal? Here it is: "Under the Skelos "coalition" proposal, the majority leader's post would be split in two - president pro-tem of the Senate and majority leader. In return for the Gang of Three backing Skelos for the first post, Republicans would help elect Espada majority leader. Kruger would then be named chair of the powerful Finance Committee and the top posts on other committees would be split between Democrats and Republicans.
Skelos has even offered nearly $6 million in extra funding for the Finance Committee and greater autonomy for all committees."

The waters are really being roiled now-and from what we've heard there's no consummation of any deal; and leaving Skelos in charge is not in the governor's interest: "The Skelos plan would still leave him and the Republicans in charge of the Senate - something Gov. Paterson and the other Democrats are expected to vigorously oppose. Even if the plan falls through, the rebels still hold the decisive votes for either side."

But with this much turmoil and uncertainty, Smith's status remains very shaky-and the NY Times profile this morning doesn't advance his interests in any real way. It is the decision of the dissidents that everyone awaits: "The governor has agreed to meet them because he is increasingly frustrated with Smith's inability to resolve the crisis, the Paterson camp says..."If this thing drags out much longer, you could see Democrats breaking away from Malcolm and looking for another Democratic candidate for majority leader," said one powerful lawmaker who has the governor's ear."

Extell Blinks: Costco Boxed Out

As the Real Estate Observer Blog has pointed out, Extel''s "Riverside Center" on 11th Avenue and 59th Street, is being set for the public reviews process: "Long in the planning stages, Gary Barnett and his Extell Development Co. have finally let loose images of Riverside Center, their planned 3.3 million-square-foot mostly residential complex at the base of the West Side development once known as Trump City. The Department of City Planning put on its Web site today an environmental review document for the project, a draft scope, which outlined the specifics of what Extell wants to put on the site, currently a series of parking lots."

What the blog fails to mention is what the development doesn't include-Costco, or any other big box use. As the Draft Scope for the project reveals: "Appropriate provisions in either a Restrictive Declaration or Special Permit would ensure that no “big-box” retail establishments (i.e.,warehouse clubs or discount department stores) would be included as part of the Proposed Project."

When Extell's plans were initially floated, Costco was prominently mentioned as part of the development; something that generated a great deal of controversy and opposition-particularly from this quarter. The real estate powerhouse, seeing the warehouse club handwriting on the wall, decided it was better to switch than fight. And perhaps Mayor Mike weighed in-sotto voce, as it were-since he received heavy criticism for his support of an auto-dependent box store in Manhattan when, at the same time, he's made traffic congestion a singular issue.

Adding to the Costco revulsion is the fact that the company doesn't accept food stamps. Clearly Extell did not need the Alliance, the UFCW, and a full complement of advocates for the hungry breathing down its neck during the upcoming ULURP process. As is so often the case, a strong initial opposition sent a clear signal to a developer that a different course of action was more prudent. Extell chose discretion over valor, and Costco once again found itself barred from Manhattan.

Lobbying Puzzle

Capitol Confidential is musing about the difficulties faced by lobbyists since the leadership issue in the state senate remains up in the air: "But given the uncertainty of the leadership vote in January, who do you lobby, Democrats or Republicans? The Senate GOP is doing everything it can to entice a Democrat to defect, but is quietly preparing to be in the minority. The Democrats are convinced that they will be in the majority in January, but nothing is for certain until the leadership vote is taken January 7."

But given the closeness of the partisan divide, the lobbying challenge will be to woo as much bipartisan support as possible-regardless of which party assumes control, so the following observation is, perhaps, a bit off the mark: "But lobbyists must play a bit of diplomacy until January, even if it seems to be headed into Democratic leadership. “You have to treat both of them like they are in the majority. Suspend disbelief that this could continue this way,” said the source."

One needs to wait and see, not only who's in charge, but how the structure of power is arranged-given all the discussions of reform-from both parties. Undoubtedly, it will take some time for all of this to shake out-even after a leader is finally chosen.

What's Your Take on This?

The Queens Chroncle believes that New Yorkers should just suck it up; and that the mayor should simply rescind those rebates: " But now, in the face of foreclosures, crumbling financial giants on Wall Street, and infrastructure that is centuries old in places, the city at large must face a harsh reality: the fiscal well has gone dry. Currently, Mayor Michael Bloomberg is exhorting city organizations to cut a total of $1.5 billion from the budget in an attempt to keep New York afloat. Closing budget gaps won’t be easy, but New York can’t operate in the red. Vital services, including police budgets, are now threatened. It’s for that reason that the $400 homeowner rebate should be rescinded and kept in the city’s rapidly dwindling coffers this year."

As if giving tax money back to its rightful owners was something that should be jettisoned before all of the city's other "essential" services." As the paper tells us: "Tax rebates are temporary for a reason. When times are good, and the city sees increased revenues from tourism, and throngs of shoppers crowding the streets, the government doesn’t need its people to subsidize things like police pay raises and infrastructure improvements so heavily."

What a load of crap! As if the folks weren't asked to fork over wagon loads full of tax cash even when "times are good." All of which leads us to ask: What prompts the Queens Chronicle to advocate such an asinine position? As a weekly read by Queens homeowners, the paper's take on the rebate issue is, well, counterintuitive.

So, as with most public policy isssues that revolve around the mayor, we're lead to speculate that somehow this Queens paper is another entity that's simply in the tank-because it's on the take, or angling to be. The following comment is almost an indictable offense: " Two-hundred fifty-six million dollars means more to New York City right now than $400 means to any one individual or family. Those millions can keep police on the street, and firemen in their stations at all hours of the night. That money can keep class sizes smaller in our schools, and can heat senior and community centers during the cold winter months ahead."

Mike Bloomberg couldn't have phrased it better-but we're wondering what the Queens Civic Congress-or our friend Rose Marie Poveromo of the United Community Civic Asociation-would say about this editorial outrage? Someone should challenge the Chronicle to justify why its views are so out of synch with its readers.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Dean of Discipline

According to Spin Cycle, current senate majority leader Dean Skelos is getting desperate: "Then, finally, there's the plan unfurled in the morning papers to put the Senate Finance Committee on steroids and hand it to Gang Dem Carl Kruger in return for his vote. One reader notes that this, of course, would be the same Finance Committee currently chaired by venerable LI Senate veteran Owen Johnson, who would apparently be rewarded for his loyalty by being dumped."

One man's desperation is, well, another's wiliness; or, perhaps we should say that, "desperate times demand desperate measures." If Skelos can pull this off, he deserves a medal-and maybe the Spin Cycle folks should be prodding Malcolm Smith into a more desperate posture. He certainly will look silly if the Skelos gambit actually can be pulled off.

For his part, Skelos showed up in the Bronx for Ruben Diaz's turkey event-as did Smith-and he offered the following about Diaz's support: ""I have no idea. I'm not a gambler. You'd have to ask him," Skelos said. I also asked Skelos about proposed changes to the way the State Senate Finance Committee operates. If enacted, they would give enormous amounts of power to the chairman, and could be a way to lure a Democrat to other side. Skelos scoffed at the idea it was an attempt to get a Democratic to vote for him as leader, saying, "No matter what you do, you're going to be criticized." He added, "We have to put politics aside. The elections are over." Glad to know this.

As far as the finance committee is concerned, this ploy may just be the beginning-with a whole slew of possible bipartisan initiatives forthcoming. Which is just what Senator Kruger told the Daily News: "Sen. Carl Kruger, who did not attend Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr.'s Thanksgiving love-fest in the Bronx this afternoon, told DN Capitol Bureau Chief Ken Lovett: "We're weeks - maybe months - away from any kind of agreement" on who will lead the state Senate. A Senate Republican plan to empower the Senate Finance Committee to woo the himself and the other Gang of Three members is a positive step, Kruger said, but added: "That move is just a tip of the iceburg. We're retooling a system that's been in place 100 years. That's not going to happen in one fell swoop."

This doesn't stop the NY Daily News, however, from its editorial presumption on the matter-assuming facts not in evidence, as the lawyers might say; the News editorials see "deform," and bribery in the Skelos move: "State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos is engaging in naked political bribery and calling it reform. That's how twisted Albany's culture is...So Skelos is fighting to keep his grip by luring Democrats into his column. Should one come over, he is reportedly willing to make that person chairman of the Senate Finance Committee - with a $5.9 million budget to be used as the person saw fit. Without having to get the boss' okay. That's the way the system should function on every committee - and not just as part of a crass deal. What Skelos is proposing would further deform, rather than reform, Albany."

Hold on there folks. As Kruger has said this may be-and should be-only a first step towards real legislative reform; and the News should wait a bit before making intemperate snap judgments.

And the Skelos template has appeal-even for the governor: "The Senate plan to give more power to the Finance Committee got qualified support from Gov. David Paterson, who noted it was Republicans who changed how the Finance Committee operated back in 1993...In the end, however, Paterson said he views the idea of having a Finance Committee with a separate budget and a degree of independence "a good reform idea."

What remains to be seen is the possibility that the bipartisan template could be co-opted by someone other than Skelos-who Paterson probably would wish to be displaced. The longer this drags out, the greater the possibility that a dark horse leader will emerge

Myth America

According to Liz (via Kate Lucadamo) Anthony Weiner is going after what he calls the "myth of Mike Bloomberg." And in doing so, he's hitting on some of the very themes we've been emphasizing in our commentary: "Weiner criticized the administration for increasing spending over the past six years, not creating enough jobs and (in his opinion) virtually ignoring infrastructure problems. “The only element of infrastructure that has been successful has been the city’s ability to ticket and tow your car,” Weiner told the group. Because of increased spending by Bloomberg, the congressman said, the city is “very poorly prepared” to handle the economic downturn, adding: “We have spent in the boon time instead of spending down…We have to get our spending under control.”

In attacking in this manner, Weiner seems to be preparing a left/right strategic attack plan-going after the mayor from the right on spending and overall fiscal management performance: "Weiner said the city needs to expand jobs in entertainment, culture and health care. He accused Bloomberg of “flat” job creation in the outter boroughs...“The myth that we did this great job is just that, a myth," Weiner said. "We are poorly prepared going into this downturn."

This is a smart approach to the upcoming mayoral battle. Our view is, the more folks that are out there deconstructing the mayor's image, the brittler it-and he-will become. AW is someone who is good at getting under the mayor's skin; and his foray here is useful for all of the mayor's potential adversaries.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Barbecuing the Sacred Cows

While it is true that Dean Skelos' bipartisan template for state governance might be a breathe of fresh air up in Albany, if it isn't accompanied by courageous actions than it all amounts to the proverbial rearrangement of the deck chairs on the Titanic. Dealing with the state's budget mess will take some strong medicine.

Some of this is dealt with in this morning's Albany column by the NY Daily News' Bill Hammond. Hammond dramatically underscores the current fiscal mess. In detailing the state budget's five "biggest lies," BH leaves the most significant for last:

"Lie No. 5: We don't have to cut school aid or health care.

The truth: It's unrealistic that these two programs, which account for more than half of state spending, should be treated as sacred cows. New York spends more than any other state on both public schools and Medicaid. That spending has grown substantially in recent years and, barring action by Albany, will keep going up next year. If Paterson took the drastic and unprecedented step of laying off 5,000 state workers, he would save about $400 million. But if he holds school aid and Medicaid flat - not truly cutting them, but stopping their growth - he saves $3.5 billion.
The truth is that lawmakers have no choice but to cut spending - and cut deeply. Politicians who say otherwise are either kidding themselves or lying to you."

The question here is, where are the leaders ready, willing, and able to confront this size and scope of government issue? And while we're at it, how about the patronage mills? Speaking of which, the following Op-Ed on ESDC and pork spending is certainly thought provoking: "WHEN news broke last Thursday that Gov. Paterson had spent $40,000 on a fancy rug for the governor's mansion in Albany, the media mocked him for spending on a luxury when the state faces a fiscal doomsday. Yet that 40K is peanuts. The real outrage of that day came from the governor's Empire State Development Corp. (ESDC) - which handed out $7.3 million in "grants and loans" at one of its monthly board meetings."

Of course, ESDC isn't the only place to look at when it comes to government reform-the MTA also comes to mind; as do other public authorities that seem to be really unaccountable to the public that there supposed to serve. Then there's available revenue sources-such as Indian cigarette retailers-that are being ignored by the governor.

Our old friend Arthur Katz weighs in on this in the NY Post today: "The failure to enforce the law also costs the state substantial amounts in lost sales taxes - and reduces New York City's own excise-tax collection. The total revenue loss works out to more than a billion dollars a year."

So much can and should be done to address the state's fiscal mess. Crisis does create the conditions for dramatic changes in the way the state is both structured, as well as how it approaches its spending habits. In order for this kind of bold action to take place we're going to need leadership that aware of what's needed. All of which makes the current senate leadership stalemate that much more problematic.

Bait and Switch

The stakes in the senate leadership battle just got raised. As the NY Times reports this morning:

"In a move that could help woo three Democrats whose votes will determine which party will control the New York State Senate next year, Republicans are planning to grant more autonomy and power to key committees, officials said on Monday. The most striking change will involve the Senate Finance Committee, which plays a major role in budget planning and has the power to approve all of the governor’s nominations to top executive branch jobs. Under the plan, the Finance Committee would be given its own funds in the state budget, allowing it to operate almost independently from the rest of the Senate. Traditionally in the Legislature, committee leaders are effectively figureheads who defer to the Senate and Assembly leaders."

The senate move comes on top of some "over-the-top" comments that were made by the WFP's Bertha Lewis about the possibility that one of the dissidents, Brooklyn's Carl Kruger, might get the coveted housing committee chair. Lewis charged that Kruger was, "palling around with Republican terrorists." Another supporter of Smith's, Manhattan Senator Tom Duane, had upset a second recalcitrant lawmaker, Ruben Diaz, because of the Bronx senator's position on gay rights.

So Smith finds that his ascension has just gotten a lot more complicated-with Republican senate leader Skelos talking the bipartisan game that Kruger, Espada and Diaz find attractive: "But the change would also empower Senate Republicans to offer an especially attractive post to one of the three Democrats — Senators Rubén Díaz Sr. and Carl Kruger and Senator-elect Pedro Espada Jr. — who have not yet committed to supporting Malcolm A. Smith, the Senate’s top Democrat. Mr. Smith needs their votes to become majority leader when the Senate meets in January. John E. McArdle, a Senate Republican spokesman, said that the overhaul was intended to provide “a more bipartisan basis for functioning” and could extend to other committees, allowing rank-and-file members of both parties to participate more."

The independent finance chair would have, not only a great deal of autonomy, but the resources to go with it. As the NY Post describes this morning : "Senate Republicans, who narrowly lost majority control on Election Day, are moving to create a nearly $6 million honey pot designed to encourage one of the "Gang of Three" Democrats to defect to the GOP side, The Post has learned."

This is, as the Post points out, one mighty big carrot: "For the first time in 14 years, the Senate budget, which cannot be altered by the governor, will contain a separate $5.9 million expenditure for the powerful Finance Committee, the chairman of which will be chosen in January by the next majority leader. "It's a carrot that people will take a look at," a Senate source said. "The money will be there for whoever heads the Senate Finance Committee next year, it means power and influence and a seat at the table for whoever is the chairman."

So clearly, the Republicans are pulling out all of the stops-but the bipartisan template could be co-opted by any putative leader-imitation being the greatest form of flattery. Here's Kruger's response to the Times: "In an interview last week, Mr. Kruger said that such a change would bring the Finance Committee’s leader “to its rightful place, where the finance person was looked at as maybe the second most important person in the conference and in the Senate.” Mr. Kruger would not say whether he was in discussions to assume the chairmanship of a newly empowered Finance Committee, but said “anything is possible.”

In this high stakes game of political chess, the next move goes to the Democrats; and the threats from some quarters could lead to unintended consequences that the party wants to avoid: "Democrats will hold 32 seats in the Senate next year, while Republicans are likely to hold 30. But Mr. Espada, Mr. Kruger and Mr. Díaz have remained coy about whether they will support Mr. Smith or the Republican leader, Senator Dean G. Skelos, leaving control of the Senate up for grabs."

Your move Mr. Smith-or perhaps it is the governor that needs to weigh in here; that is, if he wants to be able to help choose his dance partner in what will no doubt be a difficult budget season. What we do know, is that this whole fight has just been given a greater degree of complexity and nuance.

Rebate Tsuris

As council members Gentile and Ignizio have pointed out, the refusal of the mayor to give out-or to even delay-the rebate checks to home owners is causing real hardships; and the NY Daily News underscored some of this in an article yesterday: "Sisters Rosalyn Lipsky {no relation} and Mildred Corwin planned to paint the hallways in their two-family house in Mill Basin, Brooklyn. That's been postponed. Italo Sgaraglia and his wife, Eleanor, thought they were going to be cozy and warm this winter in East Elmhurst, Queens. "Now I'm going to have to turn the heat down," said Sgaraglia, 75 and retired. "Eleanor's going to be cold." The Lipskys, Corwins and Sgaraglias, like many other families, have scrapped plans, rebudgeted or will make sacrifices because their $400 property tax rebate checks did not come in the mail the first week of October as promised by the city."

Of course, this is all either a "minor economic issue" for the mayor, or a shiny example of his realism in the face of economic disaster. New Yorkers are not responding charitably: "The shock was immediate. "Everybody needs $400 in this economic meltdown," said Rosemarie Provermo, a Queens homeowner and head of the United Community Civic Association. "For a lot of people," she said, "it means are you going to put a big turkey on the table this Thanksgiving, or just some chicken."

And generally when the shock wears off, it is replaced by something else: "And the anger builds.
"Normally, we put that $400 toward our mortgage that's $2,002 a month," said Lucina Clarke, who lives in a two-family home in Canarsie, Brooklyn, with her husband, Wayne; her mother, Irmene Pascall, and her teenage children. "The mayor pulled the rug out from under us," said Clarke, adding that her husband will have to put in more hours at the medical lab where he works."

The anecdotal evidence is building here, and the city's middle class home owners are ripe for the picking by any decent Bloomberg opponent. The following end quote should be seen as emblematic of the problems the mayor's likely to face in the next election cycle: "Jade Munday, who lives in a semidetached home in Brooklyn's Marine Park, said, "Not having that $400 is hard. Every year we use it to help pay the gas bill. During the winter, it's $160, $170 a month."
Munday, whose husband, Robert, is a lineman with Verizon, has two toddlers and a third child on the way. "My mortgage is $2,500 a month, then we've got $120 for electricity, then gas and water," Munday said. "Really, we could use the money."

Snatching Defeat From the Jaws of Victory

Yesterday Malcolm Smith did the decent thing; distancing himself from the abhorrent comments that linked Senator Carl Kruger to "Republican terrorists." As Liz first reported:

"Still trying to lock down the majority leader vote, Senate Minority Leader Malcolm Smith distanced himself from a key ally who accused dissident Democratic Sen. Carl Kruger of “palling around with Republican terrorists” and warning there will be "hell to pay" if Kruger gets to chair the Senate Housing Committee. Smith, who is trying hard to secure the votes of Kruger and his fellow Gang of Three members, issued a statement critical of the comments made by Bertha Lewis, Working Families Party co-chair and the chief organizer for ACORN National. “The comments by Bertha Lewis are inappropriate and we do not condone such over-the-top rhetoric,” Smith said. “My conference and I look forward to working with our fellow Democrat, Sen. Kruger, on our bi-partisan reform agenda."

Kruger, while expressing appreciation for both a Smith phone call, as well as his public comments, did seem to further distance himself from the possibility of supporting the current minority leader-a distancing that the Padavan recount surge abets: "But while Kruger, who earlier told the Associated Press he wanted a statement from Smith repudiating the comments, said he was appreciative of the statement and a personal call from Smith, he said Lewis’ comments seriously jeopardized the possibility he’ll back Smith. “What Bertha Lewis’ infusion into this speaks about is not so much her statements, though they re repulsive, but rather the fact that she feels she’s been empowered (by) her position,” Kruger told DN Capitol Bureau Chief Ken Lovett."

Kruger apparently is concerned about the intimacy of the WFP's relationship with too many of the senate Dems-from the top on down: “I do believe because of her working relationship with the Senate that she has the license to make those kinds of statements and that’s a sad commentary,” Kruger said. “It weighs very very heavily not only on my decision, but also the mindset of my two (fellow Democratic dissidents)," the senator added, further noting: (Smith) is not apologizing. He’s distancing himself from her comments. But I would never have embraced her in the first place.”

Bertha, for her part, appears unapologetic about the monkey wrench she's thrown into the leadership battle. If addressing the state's problems in a bipartisan and non ideological manner is a Smith priority, than the Lewis entourage may become serious baggage weighing down any successful leadership achievement for the beleaguered Malcolm Smith. Liz's blog post heading-"With Friends Like These"-is apt indeed.

Fire Sale

As Azi reported yesterday, the city is about to begin to cut essential public safety services: "Here at the City Council budget hearing on public safety, Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta testified a few minutes ago that his department will begin closing “several fire companies” between the hours of 6 p.m. to 9 a.m.--a savings about $8.4 million. Scoppetta later said the department will eliminate five fire companies, but the department has not identified which ones.

So, as we have speculated, the Bloombergistas begin to wield their budget ax, and do so against what is essential for any municipal government to maintain: its fire protection for the neighborhoods of the city. And in doing so, Bloomberg is emulating the cutbacks initiated by former mayor Dinkins; beginning with treating the department as if it was a McFire Department-with less staffing in the evening than during the rest of the day (and, of course, more fires are at night-with the greatest threat to life).

Isn't it time for everyone to acknowledge that Mike Bloomberg hasn't provided the necessary leadership that would have prepared government for what we're facing today? As Spin Cycle pointed out yesterday-in regards to the state budget-a time of crisis is also a time of opportunity: "Some lawmakers and economists were hopeful that budget director Laura Anglin would advise Paterson to use the huge budget deficit as an excuse to reinvent government. Some suggested merging agencies and authorities with overlapping responsibilities such as the Transportation Department and Thruway Authority."

Have we ever seen this creativity from the Bloomberg administration? Instead we get the following obsequiousness from a manager who was over his head at ACS, and now facing the closing of fire companies: “We have a very good relationship with City Hall and that means a very good relationship with the mayor. The fact that he’s going to be here, we think, for five years instead of one more year, is a very positive thing, for the fire department and for the city.”

Oy vey! It's time to retire these folks. If FDNY believes that this is what constitutes a good relationship with the mayor, than we'd hate to see what happens to the agency that gets on Bloomberg's bad side.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Leading Up to Chaos

The comments of Bertha Lewis this morning still continue to roil the senate leadership fight. As Liz B reports, another of the rebel three, Senator Ruben Diaz, is also taking umbrage at the Lewis calumny: "Reacting to speculation that Kruger might be named Senate Housing Committee chairman in exchange for his support of Smith, Lewis accused the Brooklyn lawmaker of "palling around with Republican terrorists" and said there would be "hell to pay" if he was tapped to head the committee. "We were making progress and now we're back to square one," Diaz said. "People should not be making these comments at this stage in the game. It doesn't help. It didn't help when (Sen.) Tom Duane made his comments, and it didn't help when Bertha Lewis made hers."

Or, possibly, "with friends like these..." At any rate, both Malcolm Smith and Dean Skelos will be attending the annual Diaz turkeys for seniors bash tomorrow in the Bronx; and Skelos might be feeling a bit better since Liz is also reporting that Frank Padavan is looking pretty good in his senate recount: "The 11th SD recount is dragging toward a close, and things are looking up for incumbent Republican Sen. Frank Padavan. As of last night, 692 votes separated Padavan from his Democratic challenger, Councilman Jim Gennaro, according to someone involved in the recount process."

Liz also reprises the premature Stavisky chest thumping that we had admonished him about: "That's still slightly less than the 723-vote lead Padavan had on election night, but more than his low of 474, which caused quite a bit of glee in the Senate Democrats camp - so much so that Gennaro consultant, Evan Stavisky, declared that the GOP senator's was plummeting "faster than the Dow under George Bush." As of this moment, it appears Stavisky might have spoken too soon. The Republicans are again feeling confident that Padavan will retain his seat, which would be a blow to Senate Minority Leader Malcolm Smith has he tries to reach the magic 32 number that will land him the majority leader's post."

So we suggest that everyone should probably just chill a bit, let the turkey digest, and see what transpires after the holiday. After all, no one wants to contemplate what would happen if no one has enough votes to be designated the senate leader.

As the TU wrote this morning: "As for the Senate majority leader battle, if a majority leader isn't chosen in January and there is no Senate secretary appointed either, staff payroll and operating expenses can't be paid, said Dennis Tompkins, a spokesman for Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.
If Republicans and Democrats are still locked in a fight, Tompkins said the secretary of the Senate, Steven Boggess — a veteran aide to former Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno — would be recognized as having the ability to advance expenditures to the comptroller, but only the current staff payroll would be honored. "If Boggess retires, then we've got a problem," Tompkins said."

And it looks as if Boggess will be gone before the end of December in order to be able to lobby without running afoul of the state's new ethics law: "The GOP exodus has begun. Steven Boggess, the longtime secretary of the Senate, plans to retire before the end of the year, DN Albany Bureau Chief Ken Lovett reports. A source close to Boggess said he will put in his papers sometime this week and be gone by Dec. 30 so he can begin a yet-unspecified lobbying career."

Hold on to your hats folks. We're not out of Chaos Forest quite yet.

Tax and Rend

Apropos of our earlier discussion of Carl Kruger, Bertha Lewis and the WFP, comes the following discussion on the severity of the state's fiscal crisis from Spin Cycle: "Gov. David A. Paterson is warning that next year's budget will be "grim," with retrenchment virtually everywhere, from schools and hospitals to building projects and social welfare agencies.The cuts will probably be deeper because of last week's failure by Paterson and lawmakers to close a $2-billion hole in the 2008-09 spending plan. That red ink now must be rolled into the projected $12.5-billion deficit for 2009-10, precipitating reductions in spending rather than slowing its growth."

What this means is that the size and scope of government will need to be addressed-and Long Island tax payers and homeowners are in Newsdays' focus: "Long Island has a lot at stake in the 2009-10 budget. Area public schools received $2.6 billion in aid this year and a future reduction would probably spark a hike in school property taxes. The region's hospitals rely on billions of dollars in Medicaid reimbursement, nearly $2.9 billion in 2005. And Long Island Rail Road customers are facing possible fare hikes and service cuts as the cash-strapped Metropolitan Transportation Authority struggles with little hope of help from the Capitol."

Centrist Democrats like Carl Kruger-as well as those Republican "terrorists"-are going to be vital players in the upcoming grim budget battle: "This is going to be an extraordinarily difficult budget that is actually unprecedented in the lifetimes of most of us," said Assemb. Robert Sweeney (D-Lindenhurst). "The governor probably will call for cuts across the board. I don't know if he will propose any new revenues, but I think it's inevitable."

In this context, the role of the WFP will become central; and Governor Paterson's effort to act in a prudent and pragmatic fashion-much like PE Obama is doing-could be challenged: "Raising taxes right now would diminish the number of people who live in this state," Paterson said. Fiscal experts were divided over whether Democrat Paterson would succeed in shelving the
millionaires' tax, given strong support for it among the Assembly's Democratic majority. But even if Albany were to soak the rich a bit more, the experts said, only about $2 billion would be produced, far short of closing the two-year, $15-billion deficit."

Let's face it, the extreme left wing of the Democratic party has no interest in reining in government; yet the current crisis offers up a perfect storm moment for reform:

"The billions and billions from Wall Street that the state relied on in the past simply aren't there anymore," said Robert Ward of SUNY's Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government. "Washington is likely to help New York ... but it's certainly not going to bail us out
entirely."Some lawmakers and economists were hopeful that budget director Laura Anglin would advise Paterson to use the huge budget deficit as an excuse to reinvent government. Some suggested merging agencies and authorities with overlapping responsibilities such as the Transportation Department and Thruway Authority."If you just craft a budget from the point of view of cutbacks without looking at the opportunity for reform, you may not be in the strongest position to leverage support for what's going to be some very tough medicine," said state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli."

One thing is certain; this is a time, not for vitriol and rancor, but for bipartisanship and cooperation-something that the outrageous Bertha Lewis charges threaten: "State Sen. Craig Johnson (D-Port Washington) agreed, adding that adoption of a lean budget wouldn't be effortless just because Democrats will control both houses of the legislature and the governor's office come January. "You are going to have a better working relationship between the three parties," he said, "but there are going to be challenges."

Biking Up the Wrong Tree

As if we didn't need more proof that the Bloombergistas were hostile to neighborhood business, we now find that the folks over at the DOT want to "redesign" 8th Avenue in Chelsea with bike lanes: "Chelsea residents and cyclists from all over the city reconvened this week to discuss the proposal to install a buffered bike lane on Eighth Ave. after the issue created a stir in the community this summer...Ultimately, though, the committee members {CB #3} voted 8 to 2 in favor of the lane, asking the Department of Transportation to address any concerns raised by the community."

Not that the good burghers of Chelsea were unaware that this might cause trouble to local merchants: "Chairperson Jay Marcus said his committee wants the DOT to reach out to businesses along Eighth Ave. to discuss the possibility of mid-block loading zones, side-street parking and other options to mitigate problems the lane could pose to deliveries."

Nothing like signaling one's approval before ascertaining the potential impact on the community stores; and we loved the hauteur here: "Fellow committee member Eric Muise called the new lane part of a “fantastic program,” noting that “75 percent of us do not own cars.” What abou the tax base and the access for emergency vehicles? As the DOT's borough commissioner pointed out: "Margaret Forgione, DOT’s Manhattan borough commissioner, said that DOT has been in constant contact with the Fire and Police departments, and that they have not expressed concerns about the proposed new lane on their operations."

The transportation advocates are, as always, living in a world where cost as well as benefits are not considered; particularly when those costs upset their simplistic-and ideological driven-world view. As one business related: "Rick Schmetzler, co-owner of the Gym Sportsbar on Eighth Ave., said that although he is “an avid bike rider, I don’t think this has been very well thought through.” He claimed that the DOT has done “absolutely no outreach to business owners.”

Our friend Dirk McCall was right on point at the CB meeting: "Dirk McCall, executive director of the Greenwich Village-Chelsea Chamber of Commerce, spoke on behalf of several business owners who he said either couldn’t come or couldn’t stay long enough to speak at the meeting. He and other members of Board 4 surveyed every store along Eighth Ave., and McCall said that overall owners are “extremely opposed” to the lane...McCall refuted claims in the community that storeowners are OK with the proposal, saying that he has received several “furious calls” from owners on the matter."

It would seem to us that, at the very least, a full EIS needs to be done so that environmental as well as social impacts can be properly gauged. Will the bike lane impede business and create even more hazardous motorist and pedestrian traffic? We should have some idea before embarking on an experiment that would, in our view, create even more traffic congestion in Manhattan.

Leadership Holdup

We've been accused on occasion of verbal overkill, but we're not even in Bertha Lewis' league when it comes to rhetorical excess; as Liz Benjamim reports this morning in the NY Daily News: " Working Families Party official has accused a renegade Democrat of "palling around with Republican terrorists." She's also warned state Senate Democrats there will be "hell to pay" if Sen. Carl Kruger of Brooklyn is given a key committee chairmanship in exchange for his leadership vote."

Now, intense partisanship is definitely one of the most identifiable features of the American democratic tradition, but every so often it spills over into something ugly; and that's what Ms. Lewis has done. Labeling anyone a terrorist, particularly when they are simply in disagreement over one public policy, is to poison the political debate in our state-and to the blur the line between those of us who are simply political opponents, and those really dangerous groups and individuals who threaten are way of life. Keep in mind as well, that there are those who believe that the platform of the WFP poses a threat-to the very solvency of our state's finances.

New York State is facing its most severe fiscal crisis in over 70 years, and the solutions proffered will require bipartisan negotiation and accord. In addition, we believe that part of these solutions will need to address the fact that New York is rated 49th out of 50 states when it comes to the hospitality of its business climate. Needless to say, the state's hard working citizens, many of whom are represented by Kruger and the so-called terrorist Republicans, are suffering from ruinous tax rates at all three levels of government.

It is in this context, that the WFP has called for further increased taxation in order to insured "shared suffering." This view is less likely to include paring the state's bloated payroll in order to relieve homeowners and businesses of the burdens that make New York a challenging place to live and do business in. We believe that it isn't in the interest of the Democratic leadership of the state senate to allow itself to be held hostage to any interest group; and especially one that believes we can tax our way out of the current crisis.

In any case, putative leader Smith should speak up here and make it clear where the party stands vis a vis allies and supporters that step over the rhetorical line and issue unseemly and anti-democratic threats. President Obama has embarked on a sensible and pragmatic course, one that is irking his more frenzied partisan ideologues; Governor Paterson and the senate democrats need to follow his example. New York voters still occupy a sensible middle ground, and the response that the party gives to Berth Lewis' outrageous accusations will send a signal as to where the Democrats stand, and what they believe is appropriate political dialogue.

As an aside here, it's interesting that someone has apparently shot Lewis out of a cannon on the issue of who chairs the housing committee. To our knowledge Senator Kruger (Carl, that is) has never asked for chairmanship of that committee, or any other, in exchange for his vote. There is, however, someone who's deeply concerned about the housing chair: "The rent laws don't expire until 2011, but the Senate Democrats have said they'll seek to repeal the Urstadt Law. That would take control of rent regulation out of Albany and give it to city lawmakers, who are closer to the issue and potentially harder for anti-regulation interests to influence. The ranking Dem on the Housing Committee is Sen. Liz Krueger, an upper East Side lawmaker seen as pro-tenant."

If any one's fingerprints are on the Lewis outburst, they would belong to Liz Krueger; and the Lewis charges against Carl Kruger can be seen as a preemptive strike-one that sets the stage for a potential showdown that can severely hurt the electoral roll that the Democratic party has been on in the state: Kruger insists he has "never had any conversations with anyone concerning any committees" in exchange for his support. He called Lewis' terrorist comment "an overstep in this day and age." Senate Democrats, he said, are being "manipulated and held captive" by Lewis and the Working Families Party - and he suggested she "butt out."

The Lewis outburst, then, lays out a gantlet to the leaders of the party. Whatever one can say about Kruger, he's always been a loyal Democrat; he even supported Freddy Ferrer in 2005 when folks like Malcolm Smith were abandoning the party to support Mike Bloomberg. He's also been close to Governor Paterson, and has made substantial contributions to both the governor and the state party.

The governor's response, and those of other party leaders will say a lot about where Democrats stand-and the manner in which the senate leadership battle will get resolved in the coming weeks. It would be sad indeed, if a loyal Dem like Kruger was isolated to such an extent that it would force him in a direction that the Bertha Lewis' of the world wouldn't like. Senator Kruger gets the last word here: "He also warned that Lewis' tactics could backfire and lead him to support a GOP majority leader, which would lead to a GOP housing committee chair."She should butt out and let the professionals who were elected to lead their constituencies make these decisions," he said."

The Royal Shaft

The reign of King Michael I, and the prospect that it might continue, brings to mind a royal screwing of yet another kind-that paean to divorce sung by Jerry Reed: "They split it right down the middle, And then they give her the better half. Well, it all sounds sorta funny, But it hurts too much to laugh. She got the gold mine - I got the sha-a-aft."

Well, Mike Bloomberg brought his own goldmine to the city; yet it's New York's tax payers, ignored by a cavalier and mindless spender, who have gotten the shaft-beginning with the whopping commercial real estate tax in 2002, and continuing with a less than austere response to the demands of a municipal labor force that the mayor has cultivated without regard to the fiscal consequences.

In yesterday's NY Post, Fred Siegel underscores this grim reality, one that has been masked by a less than scrupulous media oversight (which, thankfully, has begun to change). And the term limits power grab initiated the beginning of a more careful evaluation of the mayor's tenure: "When Mayor Bloomberg deployed his vast personal and political power to overturn the term limits law, he began to demystify the public relations image he had purchased at considerable expense. It was only then that New Yorkers began to recognize the danger of making Gotham's wealthiest man its chief executive."

So what does Siegel see in the Bloomberg Error? He sees a mayor, who just last week was refusing-illegally as it turn out-to send out rebate checks to homeowners, who has acted with fiscal irresponsibility in the pursuit of his own ambition: "But the cupboards are bare because Bloomberg has emptied them for his own political ambitions. While the stock market was heading south, Bloomberg, one eye on a potential presidential run, raised his approval numbers by expanding the city payroll. Since 2004, he has hired at least 40,000 new city employees, while bringing his own mayoral staff to record levels."

An item in yesterday's NY Post on the DOT's hiring makes the same point: "JUST weeks before Mayor Bloomberg ordered city agencies to come up with $1.5 billion in savings to help balance the battered city budget, the Transportation Department doled out raises and promotions to four dozen top managers." This isn't something new, but a trend that has characterized the Bloomberg approach to government.

As Siegel reminds us: "Similarly, to help clear the way for a third term, Bloomberg has been shoveling out considerable money in the form of newly negotiated union contracts with the Policeman's Benevolent Association, DC37 and the Corrections Officers that run above the rate of inflation. If it wasn't above an elegant gentleman such as the mayor to stoop to such measures, you might call this what Tammany Hall did: vote buying. Bloomberg is only too happy to raise property taxes on the unorganized middle class if that's what it takes to keep the power of the city's politically well-organized unions in his corner or on the sidelines come election time."

Siegel also deconstructs the mayor's the phony, "Great Manager," appellation:

"As mayor, he's been little interested in management. When the Staten Island Ferry crashed, killing 11 people, the politically well-connected Transportation Commissioner was spared a reprimand, let alone fired. When the mayor was informed that a set of subway switches had burned out and couldn't be replaced for months or even years, guaranteeing massive delays, Bloomberg nonchalantly said fine, that's the way it will have to be. He reversed himself only after howls of public protest. When a blackout produced by Con Ed incompetence left more than 100,000 Queens residents without electricity for a week, Manager Mike declined even to visit the affected areas until the press began to hound him. Even then he declared, "I think [Con Ed CEO] Kevin Burke deserves a thank you from this city. He's worked as hard as he can."

Then there's the mayor's complete failure to negotiate with his Albany equals: "Bloomberg touts himself as a CEO who can negotiate the best deal for the city. But part of running the city includes bargaining with people he can neither give orders to, nor buy like the City Council. That's made Bloomberg a singular failure in Albany, where the mayor tried to steamroll his ill-conceived congestion pricing plan through the Assembly...While arguing over whether to reauthorize Off Track Betting, the Mayor clashed with the normally mild-mannered Governor Paterson, whose support is essential for the city; Paterson came away describing the mayor to the Post's Fred Dicker as "a nasty, untrustworthy, tantrum-prone liar who has little use for average New Yorkers."

Yet when it comes to self promotion, there's no one better than Mayor Mike: "While Bloomberg has been little interested in management, he has been superbly self-promoting. Early on he sold credulous journalists on the idea that he was a post-partisan mayor, a man who rose above conventional party politics. This is in a sense true. He has been only too willing to buy support from either of the major parties to achieve his own ends." Post partisan he is-elevating the Bloomberg banner while transcending those grubby political interests that serve other, less noble, individuals and groups.

And then there's Bloomberg's ironic reversal of the, "controlled by the special interests," charge: "The traditional danger with party candidates is that they can be bought up by special interest groups. Bloomberg reverses the old game; he's won office by buying up the interest groups. When in office, Bloomberg - like most mayors - used public funds to keep the organized interests happy while putting the city at fiscal risk. But Bloomberg adds a twist, by dipping into his own vast treasury to buy support through "anonymous" gifts to non-profit institutions."

And if you want to see how this kind of anonymity produces results, take a look at Greg Canada's treacly paean to the mayor's stewardship of the schools in yesterday's NY Daily News: "The key to the success of the new system has been holding officials truly accountable. It is not about any one mayor, but about having an elected official whose job description includes a clear mandate to improve school performance as much as he or she is responsible for making sure that the streets get swept and that emergency services are operable. New layers of bureaucracy will take us straight back to the bad old days, when corrupt and self-interested bodies answered to no one. We can't have it both ways: either one person is in charge, or no one is."

Any time an Op-Ed like this appears, the author should be required to disclose how much he or she has received from one of the mayor's philanthropic conduits; it certainly was no accident that Canada had an honored place in the front of the line at the term limits hearing down at city hall. Rank has its privileges, and all that.

But Canada's praise is way off base with the school reality. As Siegel points out: "There is no better monument to Bloomberg failures as a CEO - of his arrogant inability to negotiate, of his purchased reputation - than with New York's education system. Bloomberg, who has had whole subway cards plastered with ads and full-page spreads in the newspapers touting his educational "achievements," has done a far better job of promoting himself than improving the schools. He has nearly doubled the education budget. Yet his "reforms" have created considerable chaos in the schools, which have now been re-organized three times to little educational effect. What the changes haven't produced, Bloomberg's vast PR operation notwithstanding, is improvement on the national education tests. His education legacy to date: the debts that will have to borne by a work force ill-prepared for the economy to come."

Many of these themes are well mined by Wayne Barrett, but Siegel goes further to demonstrate the extent to which Bloomberg's philosophy of government (sic) has been destructive from the get-go: "For years, our so-called "business savvy" mayor has only one strategy: Spend. In 2007, the city took in 41% more in taxes than it did in 2000. And yet that wasn't enough to cover Bloomberg's gargantuan vote-buying spree. During Bloomberg's first six years as mayor, notes The Manhattan Institute's Nicole Gelinas, city spending shot up about 50% - from $41 to $62 billion. That meant that even in the midst of an unprecedented boom, Bloomberg's genius required the city to incur record levels of debt."

This is from our great fiscal steward-someone who uses the bad old 1970s in both an ill informed and disingenuous fashion: "It's not clear if this argument is willfully ill-informed or merely self-serving evasion. But it was John Lindsay's tax hikes in the years leading up to the fiscal crisis that sent the city spiraling down into effective bankruptcy. The upshot was that in the 1970s, the city work force faced major layoffs, which only deepened the downturn. We're again headed down that path. Even as Bloomberg hikes the wages of senior workers who are crucial to the leadership of their respective unions, and hence Bloomberg's royal re-election bid, he's threatening sizeable layoffs for the newest hires."

And all the while, the mayor tries to pass this off as tough love-dramatizing the extent to which abuse can be redefined when the abuser has unlimited cash reserves. In yesterday's NY Daily News, Adam Lisberg hits on this mantra: "Bloomberg, however, is not in the dumps - because he thinks he's seen this all before. He made even harsher decisions to balance the budget when he took office; today, he loves to use them as examples of how when politicians make the tough calls instead of ducking, the public appreciates it later. "If any of you want to close firehouses, put a smoking ban in and raise property taxes, and then do a parade on Staten Island, you can join me," he told a Senate panel in June. "Today all of those things are popular, so what do I know?"

This is as good an example of the mayor's arrogance and tone deafness as we've ever come across. The property tax hike is now popular? Well, what do we know? But it does appear that the mayor may be falling into the trap of all those army generals who are always fighting the last war: "The first time Bloomberg tried those cuts, it helped get him reelected - or so he thinks. This time may be tougher. "You like a good fight if there's a good win at the end," Quinn said. "After one round of tough choices, there's going to be another round of tough choices."

Not only will it be tougher, but the Bloomberg will be further off of this rose as we devolve from, and further into, the term limits issue. Here's the money quote on this from Siegel:

"Bloomberg is so committed to his ideal of the "luxury city" run by and for the wealthy and organized interest groups that the Wall Street collapse took him completely by surprise. Like Lindsay's successor, the hapless Abe Beame, Bloomberg seems not to understand what's happening around him. His budget projections are based on the notion that the future economic path will be shaped like a U, but it's more likely to look like an L. New York, which became ever more dependent on Wall Street's high rollers to create each new job a thousand-dollar meal at a time, is going to have to rethink its economic future. Wall Street as we knew it is never coming back. The high taxes and over-regulation Bloomberg prefers pushes out the small- to medium-size businesses that will have to drive much of our economic growth in the future."

The harsh reality is that business man Bloomberg had a great opportunity to build on some of Rudy's hard won reforms-he simply lacked any real understanding of government, and was shackled with a Nelson Rockerfeller world view that made him ill-equipped to govern creatively: "We're likely to look back on the Bloomberg years as a time of lost opportunities to build on the gains of the Giuliani years. Between 2003 and 2007, the vast flow of revenues produced a boom that gave the city a chance to dig out from under its massive debt and restructure its labor contracts. Instead, Bloomberg's agenda added costs that will plague the city long into the future."
In contemplating giving Mike Bloomberg a third term, the cliche about finding oneself in a hole and understanding that it would be useful to stop digging comes immediately to mind. We must never forget that it was the little engine who couldn't that got us into this sinkhole in the first place.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Slip Sliding Away?

Well the Marist Poll is out, and it looks as if the mayor may be heading onto a slippery slope-as his popularity has taken it's first dip: "Although a majority of registered voters in New York City -- 59% -- think Mayor Michael Bloomberg is doing either an excellent or good job in office, his approval rating has dropped significantly. This is the first time since 2005 that his job performance rating has dipped into the 50 percent range"

As we have been saying, the term limits debacle may have created the conditions for a popular re-evaluation of Bloomberg; with his "above politics" image severely tarnished. As the poll reveals: "Mayor Bloomberg may have won the battle to extend New York City’s term limits, allowing him to run for a third term, but he has a long way to go to convince New Yorkers that the change is a good one. While 30% of the electorate believes the decision by the City Council and the mayor is good for the city, a plurality of the electorate -- 43% -- disagrees with the change. In fact, 48% want the courts to overturn the decision and revert back to the two term limit. 42% think the courts should uphold the new law."

In our view, once the image is challenged, a degree of vulnerability is created that can, if properly exploited, lead to the mayor's demise. The calamitous economic conditions-and the mayor's response to them-will provide the backdrop for the ongoing political narrative; but term limits extension may prove to be Bloomberg's Rubicon. As Liz tells us: "On term limits: 40 percent of those polled said they're less likely to support the mayor for a third term because he changed the rules mid-stream"

As the City Room also indicates, the Marist Poll revealed that Congressman Anthony Weiner was in striking distance of the mayor-with Bloomberg receiving only 51% of the vote to Weiner's 37%; a sign that the mayor may be vulnerable, especially as he is forced to make any number of unpopular decisions around the city's budget. Clearly, the political terrain has shifted, and the result of next year's mayoralty is perhaps not as much of a foregone conclusion as many of us have thought.


According to Marist pollster Lee Miringoff (who agrees with our point above), the mayor's current poll numbers could be a harbinger of things to come: "Says Miringoff: "He is popular but the numbers have declined so the question is are we looking a short term fallout from the term limit or are we seeing a trend line with people being dissatisfied because of the economy."

Rebate Debate

It appears that Scrooge McBloomberg is having second thoughts about his tax rebate decision-or maybe it's an attitude adjustment. As the NY Times reports: "A day after defiantly asserting that the city could not afford to send out $400 rebate checks to homeowners, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg struck a far softer tone on Thursday, saying he would cooperate with the City Council, which has been urging him to release the checks. "There’s nobody who would like to send a check to every homeowner in this city more than me,” the mayor told reporters at a news conference after appearing at a luncheon on Staten Island."

Maybe someone got to Hizzoner about how the folks are really hurting-and it is, after all, their money that's being returned:“It’s not easy to stand up and say: ‘Look, we just don’t have the money,’ or ‘We’re not really sure that we have the money,’ ” he said." Than why does it seem that Mike Bloomberg really doesn't have any great difficulty telling people to just suck it up?

As for the NY Post editorialists; can you say schizophrenic? The paper just loves to whack the city council-but in this case the mayor's tax and spend behavior complicates the attack: "Hizzoner wants to keep the city's books in balance - in accordance with the law. Imagine that.
And absent a way to cover the checks, he says he won't just pop them in the mail - notwithstanding council diktats. "We have no money," Mayor Mike said Wednesday. "This is not a legal issue; this is a fiscal issue." But of course he has money. City Hall will haul in some $60 billion this year. That, in fact, is a lot of money. It's just a matter of how it'll all be spent."

Exactly so; and as the Post has pointed out in the past-see Heather McDonald's piece on the $433 million a year cost of housing unwed mothers-there's a lot in the $60 billion that can avoid the euphemistic label, "essential services." The Post goes on today to challenge the council; but it is the mayor who calls the shots here: "Make no mistake: The property-tax rebates were meant to soften the blow of an 18½ percent hike that Bloomberg never should have imposed in the first place. And though the rebates are a pittance, compared to that hike, the more money returned to taxpayers, the better. But if they are to go out - and the budget is to remain in balance - then something's got to give. What does the council suggest? Don't hold your breath waiting to hear."

In our view, it is Third Term Mike that should be setting the tax cutting and budget reduction table. After giving little credence to the seriousness of the city council over the years, the Post shouldn't all of a sudden ask the body to do what apparently the mayor doesn't have either the inclination or the chops to do.

Winner Take All?

The Politicker is reporting that State Senator George Winner believes that the defections of two or three rebel Dems can lead to what he calls a "fusion" government: " "A fusion" scenario would exist if two elected Democrats kept their party enrollment, but crossed lines to vote for Majority Leader Dean Skelos. Skelos was re-elected unanimously as his conference leader earlier this week, but the official vote on who controls the whole chamber comes after new members are seated in January. "I know that that interest on our side in looking at a fusion-type of government is certainly there," Winner said."

Well, duh! Of course the Republicans, who are two slices short of a loaf, would welcome a fusion that allowed them to maintain their majority; but the rebels may have other ideas. As Liz B reports, Senator Kruger ain't showing love to either side: "I don't approve of the way Skelos handled himself or Malcolm," the senator continued. "Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, he comes to the table with a lifetime of experience...In this particular case, if he saw the Senate was dysfunctional, then the Assembly could have passed a bill and thrown it at the Senate. "Waiting for Dean Skelos and Malcolm Smith to strip to the waist and duel on State Street is not the way of governing."

And the NY Times agrees with the Skelos assessment: "Before Mr. Paterson and the legislative leaders could hammer out the final details, the Senate’s Republican leader, Dean Skelos, announced with great fanfare and unbelievable cynicism that he was prepared, then and there, to call for a vote on the governor’s draft plan. In raw, unmediated form, that plan was sure to lose. The governor had no choice but to cancel the proceedings and send everyone home. The Republicans’ strategy is obviously to defer all the tough choices until next year when the Democrats will be running the whole show: the governor’s office, the Assembly and, at long last, the Senate. But while tactically shrewd in a narrow political sense, Mr. Skelos’s approach is fiscally irresponsible."

We're not gonna wait for the Times to ever become ecumenical enough to mention the fact that some of the Democrats were also being both cynical and pusillanimous. We didn't here a peep from Speaker Silver; you know, something to show some heart to the governor.

So it appears that the recalcitrant donkeys aren't eager to pledge their fealty to either side; and the longer the wait goes on, the better looking these Dems do get. And if Malcolm in the Middle is waiting for Frank Padavan to crater, he just might be waiting until the twelfth of never. As Spin Zone tells us: "Democrats are complaining about the conduct of the recount in Queens, where Democrat Jim Gennaro trails incumbent Republican Sen. Frank Padavan by 500 votes.
Typically, that's a leading indicator that Democrats don't think Gennaro is going to pull it out. Not always, but typically."

Still, the Times recycles the race canard this morning-in the form of Hypocrite-in-Chief Michael Reich: "They are challenging ballots based on a technicality that had never been enforced in the past,” said Michael H. Reich, the executive secretary of the Queens Democratic Party and one of the lawyers overseeing the counting. “But they are only doing it to Democratic voters and voters with names that they assume are African-American, Latino or Asian. They’re not doing it with voters they presume are white. I am outraged by this.”

Sure he is. This is the same First Reich that spent the last few years doing everything in his power to keep the first Hispanic from Queens, Hiram Monserrate, from going to the state senate. He should shelve his faux outrage for a gullible jury. As the Times points out: "For the time being, the disputed ballots are placed in a cardboard box on the floor of the meeting room, and a judge will eventually rule on their validity. As the pile grows, so does the anticipation among Democratic and Republican leaders throughout the state."

Back to the rebels, Senator Kruger's complaint revolves around what he perceives is the lack of any clear philosophical direction by either of the putative senate leaders; a meandering that could lead the state into disaster: "Kruger rather ominously predicted that if the state continues down this path, it could eventually find itself no longer under the control of its own destiny and under the thumb of a higher power - perhaps a monitor or emergency control board that forces spending cuts and doesn't care which special interest contributed cash to your campaign account."

It's time for the senate to come up with leadership that addresses the need to cut the size and scope of government. Our favorite wacko, Supervisor Paul Finer of Greenburgh, wants to cut the county government out entirely. As Politicker indicates, citing Finer: "There may not be will among a lot of politicians right now, but as the economy worsens and taxes keep going up and up, we have to look at ways of really running a government to reduce costs. And eliminating a layer of government could do that," he said this morning."

The need for consolidation must be taken seriously-for school districts as well as layers of government. So far we haven't seen anyone really ready to think out of the narrow box of big government orthodoxy; but the current budget mess just might stimulate a willingness to leave old, stale shibboleths behind.