Monday, February 27, 2006

Lobbying Reform

In yesterday's NY Times the paper editorializes in favor of the recently announced lobbying reforms put forward by the mayor and endorsed by the council speaker. What's amusing in the paper's editorial is the assumption, without any evidence to substantiate the opinion, that there is a "kind of Jack Abramoff-on-the-Hudson scenario" operating on the City Council side of City Hall.

The Times goes on to say that this "coziness has been a huge disservice to New York's voters, whose interests have regularly been trumped by those with the money to hire lobbyists." Once again, it would be nice if the so-called paper of record would offer at least one example of this obviously egregious situation, instead of treating the observation as a revealed truth that is self-evident to all New Yorkers.

The paper also misconstrues how the political process works in this city. Wealthy interests often get their way because, well, they have inherent clout themselves. The Related Company spent tens of thousands of dollars on directly wooing Bronx officials. Its lobbyists were not the evil middlemen in this quest but played a secondary role.

In spite of this (the Times would call it influence peddling), there is nothing in the Bloomberg-Quinn reforms that addresses this potentially untoward situation. What the paper also misses is that there is a Weltanschauung in this city in favor of development. The existence of this worldview leads most of the media to reflexively endorse projects that "create jobs" and promote "development" without examining the relative merits with any real due diligence or, better yet, healthy skepticism.

The shame here, and we come back as always to the Bronx Terminal Market, is that the NY Times acts as a conservative force in NYC politics because its own interests are conjoined with what has been characterized as the city's permanent government. This leaves the paper unable to credibly evaluate the "special interests" that the Times itself is so much an integral part of.

Once again we must say that if lobbying reform is to have any credibility it needs to focus on the city's real estate industry and be linked closely to a concept of accountable development and a reform of ULURP. For a more comprehensive look at this perspective see the recent Gotham Gazette post on "Redefining Economic Development."