Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Bridge to Nowhere

You've got to admire David Paterson's timing. On the day that New York welcomes a new archbishop, the governor announces his support for same-sex marriage; an anathema to the church. Not to be outdone, he goes on to attempt to resuscitate bridge tolls on tax day! And, in our view, neither proposal will either do Paterson any political good-in spite of Errol Louis' clarion call-nor will they successfully implemented into law.

According to Louis: "If Paterson is successful, the Empire State will become by far the most populous state to sanction gay marriage, joining Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts and Vermont. That would catapult Paterson into the national spotlight as a civil rights champion and shore up his sagging poll numbers in advance of next year's elections."This, I think, will be the defining moment in the governor's career," said Sen. Thomas Duane, the openly gay Manhattan pol who has gamely introduced a marriage equality bill year after year since 2001, only to see it die without so much as a vote in the state Senate. "I believe that we can win this year," he told me. "I don't want to lose, and I don't think the gov can afford to lose right now."

The thought of Paterson being catapulted anywhere is intriguing, to be sure, but we can't see how this act-one of desperation for the failing governor-will be politically expedient; and with four senate Democrats already saying, no way, the chances of the measure's passage in that body are dim indeed. And Louis also underscores another point; support for the concept is very slim in the city's black community-another political pitfall for the flailing governor.

The same fate awaits tolling the East River and Harlem River bridges. As the NY Post reports: "Bridge tolls are back from the dead. Gov. Paterson is again behind a plan that would toll 13 now-free East and Harlem river bridges at the current cost of a transit ride for all drivers -- about $2 -- except those crossing the spans for medical purposes or certain business-related reasons, officials said."

How has this revival been reviewed? "Sounds to me like the plans of a lunatic," said Sen. Carl Kruger (D-Brooklyn), who helped kill the first toll proposal. Kruger accused Paterson of "some type of memory failure" for including tolls in the proposal. Kruger dismissed certain elements of the plan, like the medical exemption, as "ridiculous." Do I now have to bring a note from the doctor and bring it to Richard Ravitch?" Kruger said. "It's a flight of mental instability and it sounds like the death rattle of a dying idea."

And, even with the tolls, the transit fares will be hike 8% under this new rescue plan incarnation. Doesn't seem to be tenable, now does it? As the NY Times reports: "Seeking to win over State Senate opponents of a plan to create new bridge tolls on the East and Harlem Rivers, supporters of a financial rescue for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority offered a compromise on Wednesday that would give toll rebates to drivers traveling to medical appointments and to businesses that frequently use the river crossings. But some opponents of the tolls — which would be set to match the subway fare, currently $2 — quickly rejected the compromise, which was put forth by the state commission that proposed the original rescue plan. “I am opposed to any toll,” Ruben Diaz Sr., a senator from the Bronx, said on Wednesday. “They’re going to do a rebate? After two years they’re going to say no rebate. It’s a gimmick.”

And to keep in tune with our theme here, why does the governor who wants to find an MTA rescue compromise, push forward on a gay rights bill that will alienate one of the senators that he's trying to woo? "I think that the governor should be involved doing this now and stop pushing gay marriage,” Mr. Diaz said. The governor is expected to offer legislation on Thursday to legalize gay marriage, something that Mr. Diaz, a Pentecostal minister, fiercely opposes."

So it appears to us, that the governor's attempt to demonstrate bold leadership on two controversial issues will afford him little in the way of new support-and will only, in the end, underscore the weakness of his leadership. It's a little late for him on the leadership front, and both these proposals smack of being political Hail Mary's.


We missed the NY Post editorial on this same theme: "Instead, while professing renewed support for an MTA bailout, Paterson kicks down the door and lobs in a hand grenade -- gay marriage, the one issue even more divisive than tolling the East River and Harlem River bridges."

And the Post also makes the same point we had made about annoying Senator Ruben Diaz: "But he must realize that a key player in any debate is Sen. Ruben Diaz (D-Bronx) -- who last winter threatened to withhold support for Smith as majority leader unless he got assurance that gay-marriage legislation would not be brought up in the current session. Diaz is one of several senators wavering on an MTA bailout. Those tolls weigh heavy on his district -- and now he's got another reason not to play ball."

Who's giving Paterson advice nowadays? Newt Gingrich?