Thursday, October 29, 2009

Pay for Pray

You know the old line, that whenever they say it isn't about the money, it's always about the money. And so it goes, it seems, with a great swath of our esteemed clergy who have lined up behind that old time religion-the almighty dollar-and endorsed Mike Bloomberg. And Abyssinian's Calvin Butts is right there in front of the line singing that famous NYC gospel hymn: "Not for Nothing."

So it really doesn't matter that challenger Bill Thompson and Butts have longstanding personal ties; this isn't personal-it's business. As the NY Times reports: "A few weeks ago, the Rev. Calvin O. Butts III, the influential pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, came to a difficult decision, one he had wrestled with all summer. He would not endorse William C. Thompson Jr., the city comptroller and a longtime friend and ally, for mayor, as he had promised Mr. Thompson last spring. Instead, he would endorse Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg."

And the check certainly wasn't in the mail: "Mr. Thompson was furious at the betrayal. But what he did not know was that Mr. Bloomberg gave a $1 million donation to the church’s development corporation — roughly 10 percent of its annual budget — with the implicit promise of more to come. “What could I say to a man who was mayor, and was supportive of a lot of programs that are important to me?” Mr. Butts said in an interview before he endorsed Mr. Bloomberg."

There is, we guess, something to be said for honesty-but what's the difference here between what Bloomberg is doing and the "street money" that John Corzine was excoriated for giving out to members of the Black clergy when he first ran for public office? This is literally a pay for pray scheme that dramatizes the extent to which Mike Bloomberg's money corrupts the democratic political process.

But Butts isn't alone: "In his quest for a third term, Mr. Bloomberg has deprived Mr. Thompson of what many once regarded as his political birthright: the blessings of the city’s most powerful black ministers, who together preach to tens of thousands of congregants each week. And to win them over, he has deployed an unusual combination of city money, private philanthropy, political appointments and personal attention, creating a web of ties to black clergy members that is virtually unheard of for a white elected official in New York City."

All of which gets to the core of our argument-one that Thompson finally began to pick up in the last debate-that the mayor has reversed the normal flow of special interest money, and has done so in the the interest of the most special of interests-his own: "Looming over it all is Mr. Bloomberg’s dazzling wealth, whether already bestowed — as in the case of Mr. Butts — or hoped for down the line. “We have to come to his foundation sooner or later,” said the Rev. Timothy Birkett, pastor of the Church Alive Community Church in the Bronx, who is backing the mayor this year. “We hope that he will be receptive.”

And the final accounting may never be understood-and the clergy here may be unfairly singled out-because when you're the city's richest man and are giving away $235 million a year-almost three times the amount that you gave out before you came into office-it isn't only the ministers feeding at the Bloomberg trough. And when we look at the congestion pricing battle of a few years ago, and the term limits fight of last year, we can better understand the "outpouring of public support" as simply a concomitant of the outpouring of Bloombucks-a further Astroturf example of the subornation of an open democratic process.

We do have one thing to be grateful for. According to the Butts, the new Bloomberg family retainer, he wouldn't have taken the money and given the endorsement if the mayor had been Rudy Giulliani: "Since Mr. Bloomberg was sworn in, the church and its affiliated nonprofit groups have received at least $7 million in city contracts. None of that, Mr. Butts said, made it any easier to tell Mr. Thompson that he had changed his mind about the endorsement. But he denied that the mayor’s philanthropy played a role in his decision. “If Giuliani had the money Bloomberg had, and spread it around, he still wouldn’t get support,” Mr. Butts said. “This is not about Bloomberg’s money.”

Boy, are we confused. Go back and read the opening quote for Cool Cal: "What could I say to a man who was mayor, and was supportive of a lot of programs that are important to me?” But this isn't about the money? And using Rudy as a prop to his conscience here does little credit to the avaricious Mr. Butts-it's really a low bar considering that Giuliani is right up there next to Satan with the members of the Black clergy.

But even that fact didn't get the normal high dudgeon going when Rudy, being Rudy, made his inflammatory comments about crime a few weeks ago: "That contrast was on display last week when Mr. Bloomberg appeared at a campaign event with Mr. Giuliani, who suggested to a mostly white, Jewish audience in Brooklyn that “the wrong political leadership” could return New Yorkers to the days of “fear of going out at night and walking the streets.” Several black elected officials immediately denounced the comments as race-baiting. But no prominent black pastors demanded that the mayor disavow the comments."

So sorry Calvin, as we remarked in the beginning, when they say it isn't about the money, it is always about the money. And the behavior of these paid sycophants is a reminder that democracy in NYC is officially off life supports; and is only waiting for the final coroner's report on Tuesday to pronounce its death. Can we get a church chorus of-"Michael Bloomberg,"