Wednesday, October 19, 2005

First Stoopid Is, Than Stoopid Does, Now Stoopid Speaks!

We received a comment on our post on Intro 699 by someone who cleverly calls him/herself "George Washington Plunkitt." It seems that George, who clearly appears to be some twenty-something City Council staffer, feels that we are misinformed about the potential impacts of the bill on the city's green grocers. He tells us to, "Get your facts right (or at least read the law) before blathering about something you know nothing about."

Now there is something about someone who has such confidence in his judgments that he has to hide behind the cloak of anonymity. One thing about us, we've represented small businesses for over two decades and have never hid from publicly rebuking anyone (see Giuliani and his mega store plan). So George come out from under your desk and show your ignorant self publicly or refrain from speaking to us ever again.

As far as substance is concerned it is instructive to point out that GWP wrote a book called "Plunkitt of Tammany Hall," a book that Alliance Director Richard Lipsky had the pleasure to use quite often in teaching introductory courses in American politics. In criticizing our critique of Intro 699 GWP is quite well named, because it was Plunkitt who coined the term "honest graft."

And it is the whole regulatory scheme in this city that comes closest to replicating the Tammany world of GWP. For years inspectors have been shaking down frightened store owners using the city code as effectively as a 9 millimeter. In the case of stoop stands we've had inspectors who've issued violations to stores for exceeding the 5' rule without ever leaving their parked cars. Just this past year a hapless store owner was fined $2,000 because his displayed fruit extended over the stand and thereby exceeded the 5' rule!

As far as GWP's comment that "Only the Council can increase license fees," I would only advise him to join the real world. 699 is the Council's initiative and one thing we've learned about government is that lawmakers have a vested interest in demonstrating that the laws they've passed are being implemented to good effect. See Spot Run! See Spot Regulate! See Spot increase the Fine Structure!

The most precious comment of GWP's deals with the question, an accusation really, "Are you saying that storeowners have no regard for customer safety?” This in response to our accusation that Intro 699 was anti-business. This observation brings to mind the worldview of the city's most notorious regulator: former DCA Commissioner Gretchen Dykstra. In Dykstra's world anyone who opposed enhancing DCA's regulatory authority was "anti-consumer," and she invidiously juxtaposed these recalcitrant storeowners with their "law-abiding" non-complainers.

GWP not only needs to get a better understanding of the real world, the world where enforcement is arbitrary and adjudication lacks even a semblance of due process, he could also benefit from additional reading in political science. We'd suggest Murray Edelman's classic, "The Symbolic Uses of Politics". In this work Edelman depicts the gap between the expressed language of a statute (designed to appear to speak for some public good) and the actual impact of the implementation of the statute (something often totally at odds we the intent of the statute itself).

In the case of city regulators the intent of a code is always some undeniable good-like "pedestrian safety." The implementation, however, quickly devolves from its original meaning and is transformed into an arbitrarily enforced means for raising city revenues at the expense of storeowners. And GWP, if you are worried about storeowners failing to be concerned about customer safety please worry no more. Our trial lawyers are ever vigilant and the most innocent slip-and-fall can be expected to be conflated into the specter of a lifetime paralysis.

Oh, and by the way, if Intro 699 is such an impeccably drafted bill please do tell us just what the rush was. Couldn't the bill have been aged for more than two days? It would seem that the haste involved in this exercise indicates a reluctance to expose 699 to any form of comprehensive review, especially by the storeowners it targets.

One last point. GWP informs us that the bill is not "an additional layer of oversight" but is merely designed to force DOT inspectors to "get their butts out into the street before signing off on sidewalk safety." Trust us, everyone is safer if these folks find something more productive to do. How about actually intervening to tell the mayor that mega-developments like the Bronx Terminal Market are going to choke our city streets with vehicular traffic?

If inspectors don't start doing this than bills like Intro 699 will be moot. As the big box stores proliferate, the concern for pedestrian foot traffic will have vanished along with the customers shopping at the stores on the city's Main Streets.