All of the euphoria notwithstanding, the approval of the Gateway Mall yesterday cannot hide the fact that the City Council has, by its failure to exercise its oversight role in any meaningful manner, made what amounts to an ironic case for term limits. What term limits have created is a legislative body with members who have both feet half way out the door in preparation for the end of their terms.
This creates the unfortunate situation of an elective body with little concern for the prerogatives of the institution they serve. Under the old council, with members who had served for a good number of years and a speaker(and staff) with institutional authority, there was an effective check on the potential for mayoral overreach.
This was illustrated when Mayor Giuliani tried to change the city's zoning laws, take away council powers in this area, and usher in a proliferation of megastores without community review. The council forcefully stood up for its own powers and, by doing so, for the neighborhoods and small businesses that were threatened by the mayor's scheme.
This new council, unlike its predecessors, is a fleeting thing, a gossamer entity that doesn't have the experience or the intestinal fortitude to take strong stands against mayoral abuse of power. The case of the BTM underscores all of the weaknesses inherent in the current body.
1)The Failure to Examine the Deal- The council allowed the mayor to transfer a lease without any competitive bidding to a good friend of the deputy mayor. The "flease" severely shortchanged the tax payers but no one at the council even bothered to examine it.
2)Land use Nonfeasance- The council, with no one on staff to evaluate the traffic and air quality in the EIS, simply pretended it wasn't there. No one read the 500 pages and no council member expressed any concern for its potential shortcomings. Yet, when we have come before the body on a land use matter all the talk is of the "criteria." It would seem that as long as you provide the council with a big enough EIS it really doesn't matter what it says because nobody cares!
3) Time Frame- It is absolutely ridiculous for a so-called oversight process for a 1,000,000 sq. ft. project to take place in eight days and be the subject of one 2 1/2 hour hearing. The pooper scooper law received more scrutiny even though both matters dealt with the same subject.
4) The Eviction of the BTM Merchants- was never even a subject for this council to consider. When asked to consider it, land use folks dismissively kicked us back to the Bronx council delegation, precisely where our problems emanated from.
5) Failure to Consider its own Charter-Mandated Powers- the council, by ratifying the Gateway application, gave the seal of approval to the mayor's usurpation of its oversight role on the sale or transfer of city leases. As we have pointed out, the council as acquiesced in the mayor's total control of the public wholesale markets.
6)Complete Enthrallment to the City's Real Special Interests- In years to come the entire Gateway process will be a gold mine for political scientists interested in how NYC government and its most powerful private sector interest (real estate in this case) operate in tandem to aggrandize already powerful forces at the expense of a wider public good.
Even labor, as powerful as it is alleged to be in this city, had to step aside as the council co-conspired with Related, Dan Doctoroff and Mayor Bloomberg to evict hard-working businesses and their hundreds of employees from a public wholesale market that was eliminated under the guise of saving it. Today, unless you are Steve Ross and his minions (no doubt laughing at how easy it was to snowball this legislative body), it is not a day to celebrate the workings of city government.
All of which brings us back to the issue of term limits. The only way that the City Council will ever have the potential to act as a proper check on mayoral excess is if its terms are extended. The practice of hiring ephemeral help needs to end and tenured public servants, with something to protect, need to be ushered in to insure that the thieves "don't steal the common from the goose."