Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Columbia: "Vamanos!"

In what will be a taste of things to come, if Columbia University gets its expansion plan approved, the university has followed through on its intention of evicting the 15, mostly Hispanic auto mechanics from their West Harlem body shop. As the NY Post highlights this morning, the mechanics, as sub-tenants, had no legal recourse to fight their eviction.

Can the handwriting on the wall be any clearer? This is a corporate interest, much like any other, using the false impression of public interestedness to aggrandize its own corporate agenda. As Rolando Sally, one of the evicted mechanics told the paper, "'They don't want to continue to give us a chance...'" His partner Tony Garcia went on to say, "'Everyone is crying...Columbia doesn't want to give {a new lease}.'"

In the dissembling that we have come to expect from this once proud institution, a college spokesman said that Columbia had invited Mr. Garcia , "to apply for space as a tenant in a Columbia-owned property." Yet, as the Post points out (in typical Catch-22 fashion-someone's reading Joseph Heller over at the Morningside Heights campus); "Garcia said the school told him no other space is immediately available."

So we find out sooner rather than later just how Columbia handles evictions. Remember it has also promised the residential tenants of the Till Houses that they will be relocated to "as good, or better" apartments. Perhaps they will, or maybe only when space becomes available.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Gardiner Correction

In my earlier post I criticized the Sun's Jill Gardiner for her saying that the Gateway Mall was built on vacant city land. A careful reading of the article would have indicated that she was referring to the construction on the Hub at Third Avenue. Sorry Jill, you were right.

In addition, as a commenter to the blog pointed out, the Carrion remarks about "family life" at Gracie Mansion could also be considered a shot at the two other possible mayoral candidates-Anthony Weiner (a bachelor) and Bill Thompson (divorced or separated, not sure about this). All of which raises the question of whether the "family values," pro-business, anti-labor candidate, may be really planning to run as a Republican.

Mayor Carrion, or Simply Carrion?

In today's NY Sun, Jill Gardiner takes a look at the mayoral prospects of Bronx BP Adolfo Carrion. While the article is mostly positive, and cites the construction boom in the Bronx, it does raise some questions about Carrion's viability in a city wide race; and quotes Richard Lipsky that, "Mr. Carion could have a hard time taking credit for the new construction, as City Hall initiated most of it."

The greater difficulty for Adolfo, however, will devolve from an inability to appeal to a larger city wide constituency, while simultaneously maintaining his Latino base. His decision in 2006 to support State Senator Sabini against Hiram Monseratte, his Hispanic challenger, could come back to haunt him in two years.

Carrion's enthusiasm for the removal of mainly Latino businesses from the Bronx Terminal Market to make way for the Gateway Mall won't win him points with Latinos, something that Monseratte is sure to bring back up in 2009. It should be pointed out here that the Sun is incorrect in saying that the Gateway Mall will rise on "formerly vacant, city-owned land." The vacancy was a product of the eviction of the existing businesses in a sweetheart deal between the city and the Related Companies (with Deputy Dan as the midwife).

In addition, Carrion has a rather rocky relationship with labor; his support for BJ's in the Bronx and his flirtation with Wal-Mart has raised questions about what he would do as mayor. His willingness to support the mayor on congestion pricing, an idea that has little support in the outer borough constituency that he needs to cultivate, will also make it hard for Adolfo to project himself out of the Bronx stereotype.

One last point. What's up with the headline in the Sun?- "Gracie Mansion is ready for family life again." Gardiner doesn't comment, but since one of Carrion's main rivals may well be a gay woman we're interested to see if this was some sort of implied shot against Chris Quinn. If it is, then 2009 could become quite a nasty fight for the top slot in city government.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

MTA's Decongestant

Well, well, now. Perhaps the cat is finally out of the bag, especially when the leading cheerleader for a congestion tax is suddenly turning a bit skeptical about what in financial circles is called, "the use of proceeds." In this morning's NY Daily News the paper's editorial asks some hard questions about the proposed fare increase-ones that we have already raised-but no one, least of all the agency itself, has bothered to answer.

The confusion arises from the protean nature of the congestion tax itself. So many claims have been made on the money that we're going to need a forensic accountant, along with the EIS we've called for, to determine where the tax money would be going if the congestion tax was given a green light in Albany.

What we have been told all along, and the NY Times editorial this morning repeats the mantra, is that the proceeds of the tax would be utilized for the generation of a more robust mass transit infrastructure. This has been the major carrot used-the one the editorial boards have been hammering away on- to convince a skeptical public (particularly the folks outside of Manhattan with poor transit options) to support the mayor's tax plan.

As it turns out, our skepticism about all of this has been well-founded. As the DN reported yesterday, in Friday's MTA hearings chaired by Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, it was revealed that the MTA budget is counting on some of the money from the congestion tax in order to meet its normal operating expense needs. As the News says today; "We thought the congestion pricing money was slated for capital improvements, not operating funds. Sander had better make himself clear."

Now does everyone finally realize why the public has been so unwilling to buy Bloomberg's pig-in-a-poke? It would seem that much of the public has been a good deal wiser than the mayor's media amen chorus about all of this. As Senator Diaz reminded us all at a recent press conference, we heard the same arguments when the lottery was being championed as a funding mechanism for education. Once the state gets hold of the public's money-well, you know the rest of this story.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Expose the Charlatans

In this week's Village Voice there is a letter written in response to a previous story that was done on Nick Sprayregen, and his vocal opposition to the Columbia expansion. The letter, written by someone claiming to be a religious figure and community resident (isn't it interesting how all of the so-called proponents of Columbia refer to the neighborhood as "Manhattanville," just like their paymasters?) attacks Nick for being a businessman and not a community resident.

What's fascinating in the Reverend Williams' letter is how closely it hews to the scurrilous flyer that Bill Lynch's army of homeless guys were giving out at a recent community meeting. But Williams is claiming to the Voice that he represents, "...an extensive coalition of businesses, landowners, religious leaders and concerned individuals who support Columbia University's Manhattanvile proposal."

Where is this coalition, and if it exists in such an extensive form, why is it resorting to anonymous flyers and character assassination against a local businessman who doesn't want Columbia (you know that friendly and only community-minded West Harlem neighbor) to make off with his property? Williams, or whoever he is, than goes on to ask about Sprayregen: "Who, and what does he really represent?

First this guy tries to defame NS as a rich interloper, a builder, he says, of luxury condos in Yonkers. Then he goes on to say that Nick is trying to use his wealth to make himself the face of the opposition to Columbia. If all what these folks are saying about Sprayregen was true, they should welcome him as the poster child of the opposition since he is only a businessman, not a resident; and after all he only has worked and employed local residents, while servicing neighborhood needs for around thirty years which should certainly disqualify him from any voice in the expansion proposal. The fact is, that Sprayregen is only one voice among thousands who disapprove of the CU scam.

It is time that the sewer rats came out of their tunnels and openly admitted their role in all of these attempts to deligitimize Nick. The reason they can't is that their extensive coalition-a coalition of the bribed and bought-is no such thing; and pales before the real community coalition of Coalition to Preserve Community and CB#9. After all, if the Reverend Williams was part of any mass movement here, there would never been any unanimous vote in favor of the 197-a plan and, therefore against the CU plan, at the community board.

Nick Sprayregen is being targeted in typical scapegoat fashion because the Columbia expansion has so little community support-it simply lacks any of the ingredients needed to legitimately attract local enthusiasm. The more that the paid proponents of CU can focus on Nick, the less attention paid to the weaknesses of the plan itself.

A good strategy in another context perhaps, but not in West Harlem where the locals have been on to the Columbia game for years. The use of these tactics, however, speaks volumes about the integrity of this poison ivy league institution.

Mayoral Control Freak

There is a fascinating analysis piece, one of many that is done by the inimitable Sol Stern, that focuses on the reality behind the mayoral PR campaign about how well the schools are doing under Bloomberg's stewardship. In many ways, the elaborate mayoral burnishing is reminiscent of the current campaign on congestion taxing-lavish spending on media relations designed to conceal some unpleasant truths lying beneath the surface of all the glitter.

In addition, the attempt to create a more sophisticated version of the Marx Brothers' catch phrase-"Who are going to believe, me or your own lying eyes?-leads the way, as it has on traffic taxes, to the further display of Mayor Mike's most natural trait-arrogance. Remember, when confronted by state senate Democrats about some of the fuzzier details of the congestion tax proposal, Mike rudely questioned whether the caucus, elected officials in their own right, had bothered to read his plan.

As Stern underscores, the same attitude of mind over matter-"I don't mind, and you don't matter"-charcaterizes Bloomberg's approach to accountability in education. What the mayor sees as accountability in this area is simply the four year election cycle, and nothing more. After voting, anyone who had a problem with the Bloomberg school agenda could, according to him, "'Boo me at parades.'"

In Stern's view, and one we share for a host of other policy reasons as well; "The arrogance of that response demonstrates how little Bloomberg really seems to care about accountability." But, as Stern points out, this situation isn't simply about the personality flaws of the chief executive.

Bloomberg's attitude about being accountable needs to be seen in the context of his public relations machine; "In fact, his Department of Education routinely undermines accountability with a public-relations juggernaut that deflects legitimate criticism of his education policies dominates the mainstream press uses the schools as campaign props, and, most ominously, distorts student test-score data. Without transparency, real accountability doesn't exist."

This is precisely what we have been saying about the mayor's congestion tax blitzkrieg-a multi-million dollar full court press that co opts the media and distorts data in order to avoid the transparency that is necessary for proper oversight and evaluation. And, as we have also said-mirroring Stern's analysis-all of this is in the service of a special interest: Mike Bloomberg's national ambition.

Why does the DOE have 29 employees in its press office, four times the number in the old Board? This operation is on top of the sophisticated city hall press effort, and doesn't include "...the substantial public-relations and marketing services that the administration has received from companies, either pro bono or paid for by third-party private contributions." Can anyone say REBNY or the NYC Partnership?

In similar fashion to the efforts of the environmental groups on congestion, signed on as beggars at the feast for the mayor's ambitious national plans, we have a group called the Fund for Public Schools that has "launched a two month ad campaign bolstering administration claims that reading and math scores were rising and calling on New Yorkers to 'help keep the progress going.'"

What wasn't mentioned, of course, was the fact, "that Klein was the Fund's chairman or that the mayor's friends, including the Broad Foundation, had helped pay the $1 million cost of the ad campaign." When is the press going to get off its duff and simply connect the dots here; and with the elaborate smoke and mirrors of the congestion tax scheme? The lavish public relations spinning hides what the inn keeper's wife observed about the Master of the House: "He thinks he's quite a lover, but there's not much there."

Once again what we are seeing is the way in which the mayor's great wealth is being put to the use of a special interest-his own; and like all special interests it is cloaked in a public interest garment. Whether it's education or the environment what we will see, if we look closely enough, is the truth of that great fable-"The Emperor has No Clothes."

Friday, July 27, 2007

No Green Light

It never ceases to amaze us how certain folks can't help but try to put the best spin on the legislature's approval of a commission to study the mayor's congestion tax-and reasonable alternatives to the taxing scheme. This morning's NY Daily News editorial is a case in point; an effort apparently written directly out of the mayor's press office.

The News' editorialists feel that the commission will have no choice but to approve the mayor's plan-that's if the money is even there-because; "The legislation establishes a commission that must find a way to reduce Manhattan traffic by 6.3%-but, by our reckoning, there's no way to do that except through congestion pricing."

Well let's hope that the commission doesn't use the DN's reckoning, because there is absolutely no empirical basis for the paper-or the mayor for that matter-to make the 6.3% assertion. The commission, as Richard Brodsky told the Times, is a process not a fait accompli; and one of its primary missions, along with that of the City Council, is to devise the right methodology to evaluate the congestion tax plan-under the heading of, "There's a first time for everything."

Which gets us back to our emphasis that this proposal needs to undergo a full Environmental Impact Statement-there is no exemptions for "Pilot Programs." Here, from our developing expert analysis, is a brief taste of the underlying rationale: "It is self evident that an underlying concern about the proposed Action that meets the SEQR/CEQR criteria of significance that warrants an EIS is the potential adverse environmental, social and economic impacts on communities adjacent to subway stations that serve the pricing zone caused by a large number of auto commuters who would not otherwise travel to these areas..."

This is just a preliminary glance at what will be a full-blown, clarion call for a thorough review of the congestion tax assumptions. We're pretty sure that the 6.3% figure-probably simply extrapolated from London-will not withstand real world empirical review-which will make the mayor's proviso of this figure in the legislation moot.

So there's along way to go from here. There is much opposition in both houses of the legislature-and in the senate particularly there is no guarantee that leadership will be able to deliver the members. As tax supporter Senator Schneiderman told the NY Times; "'There's a lot more communication to be done by the advocates of congestion pricing, including me, if we're going to get anything done.'"

A Tale of Two Cities

The Q-Poll was released yesterday and it revealed that we are indeed a tale of two cities. What the poll found, as this was consistent with all of the previous polls, was that the folks outside of Manhattan do not approve of congestion taxing. Leaving the Manhattan numbers aside, what we find is that New Yorkers disaprove of the mayor's plan by a 58.25-34.75 margin-a landside by any poltical calculation.

The poll, however, does go further and asks repondents how they would feel if the congestion tax was used to defray any increase in the subway fare. The response? No surprise really-the support shifts to a margin of 58-36 in favor. What does this kind of question mean, especially in the context of yesterday's news that the fare increase that's being planned has no correlation with the mayor's tax proposal?

The question really has no place in a non-partisan poll because there has been no explicit correlation of the two policies-aside from the disinformation clack in the mayor's amen chorus. Suppose, however, the Q folks had asked what their feeling would be about congestion taxing if it would be imposed along with a fare increase? The numbers would skew even further against the congestion tax.

Unfortunately, the Crain's people in today's update don't provide this kind of insight, and take leave of their reportorial role, joining the choral ranks by headling the poll story thusly: "New York City Backs Transit Plan for Transit Funding..." Say what?With all due respect to Crain's, its headline is misleading and plays into the supportive line that has crept into the magazine's coverage of this issue.

The fare is going up because the MTA's entire funding mechanism is out of whack. So what we have here then, is a misleading poll question being obfuscated even further by a misleading report of what the poll's findings actually say. New Yorkers are too smart for this kind of spinning.

All of this takes a somewhat back seat to the passage of the commission bill in the legislature yesterday. This certainly was no shock since leadership supported the measure that they themselves brokered. What we did find interesting was the number of Senators who felt that they had to vote No, on what really was only a procedural vote.

Of course, nothing could top the report that Senator Bill Perkins, in voicing his opposition to the Bloomberg tax, called both Bloomberg and Doctoroff "'rats,' out to impose their own plan on the 17 member body..." Since Perkins used to chair the Rat Committee in the City Council we have to say that he qualifies as an expert in this mater-and we always defer to such expertise.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

MTA: Getting Out of Our Way

With a fare hike looming once again, it took Norman Seabrook, the head of the correction officers union and an MTA board member, to put the entire fiasco into perspective: he suggested that the MTA sell off station naming rights to Disney. The mayor, on the other hand, thought that the idea was, well. Mickey Mouse.

Perhaps the idea is unrealistic but it does manage to highlight something about the agency and its entire operating methodology-it's Mickey Mouse through and through. The MTA's budget is not transparent, its functioning is beyond any outside accountability-and its reason for existence is no longer clear to anyone who has watched it operate over the past few decades.

Yet this is the same agency that we will sit back and allow to unilaterally raise subway and bus fares on New Yorkers because, well because it says that it must. What's fascinating here is that the MTA is apparently, at least according to the NY Post, earmarking fees raised through a congestion tax to defray its own projected operating deficits; "The MTA's latest financial plan-which already calls for a fare increase-is loaded with speculation about income from congestion-pricing charges..."

As MTA CEO Lee Sander tells the Post, "We need the money..." Well, don't we all, but we understood that congestion taxes were going to a separate authority under the mayor's scheme. Has something changed? This is just another example of the way in which the congestion tax is being unrealistically claimed for multiple purposes-and is therefore serving multiple masters. Since everyone is claiming the door prize, the likely result of all of this is- if the tax is ever enacted it will need to be constantly increased in order to feed the hungry hordes.

Which brings up the NY Times editorial point that is raised this morning: "While congestion fees would buoy the system in time, Mr. Sander needs to find an immediate way out of the MTA's fiscal pickle. Its revenues come from the state and local government coffers and the fare box. Fares have had to finance a big part of the budget-58 percent versus the national average of 40 percent-mostly because the state and city have long shortchanged public transit" (Emphasis added).

While we certainly disagree with the Times' view that the congestion tax could help to stabilize the system's finances-not with a projected deficit of $31 billion in transportation capital funding-we do agree that the bus and subway riders have been shortchanged-but sticking it to middle income auto commuters is not the proper response to this historic public transit penury.

The only likely result would be the rapid increase in both congestion taxes and fares-something that we see in embryo today. The funding for our mass transit infrastructure, and we mean for the entire region, needs to be addressed in a comprehensive an equitable manner. And the burden needs to be spread fairly across the board-and not by pitting middle income commuters against the folks on the E Train.

Part of this task would include an immediate-and prior-implementation of a mass transit expansion that would make the system a cheaper and attractive alternative, as it is in Paris As one Parisian emphasizes in this morning's Times Op-ed; "The lesson for big city mayors: If you're going to squeeze the cars, first primp the public ride."

So what the congestion tax commission needs to do is to expand the scope of the inquiry in order to avoid what C Wright Mils called "crackpot rationality," the seemingly rational planning that is done for an overall irrational enterprise. Congestion taxing will not save the fare, it will not build more transit infrastructure, it will not even reduce traffic congestion in any meaningful way-and, as importantly it is an inefficient way to raise money, as one of its own supporters admits in this morning's DN.

There is the need for a traffic congestion plan, but only as part of an overall plan to deal with mass transit funding. Part of this comprehensive oversight should include a real hard look at the continued usefulness of the MTA, and alternative ways to bettter administer our complex transit system. A congestion tax is the most inefficient, unfair and least comprehensive approach to this serious problem. Let's hope that our leaders in Albany understand this.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Farely Predictable

One rationale down, it seems. As the NY Times is reporting this morning, it looks as if the MTA is going forward with the rumored fare/tolls increase. No surprise in that, it's just important to highlight the fact that any linkage between the fare increase and the mayor's congestion pricing plan is, and always was, political fiction.

What needs to be done here is for our elected officials to begin a process of examination: the MTA must be put under the microscope in order to evaluate its operations with an eye towards either reform or replacement. Unelected public authorities, while sometimes providing needed cover for electeds, are basically unaccountable and undemocratic vestiges that should be replaced by entities that are directly responsive to political authority.

It is true, as City Council Transportation Chair John Liu tells the Times this morning, that any fare increase, "is tantamount to a tax increase..." Given this taxing ability we need to insure that the authority is not only accountable, but also competent-with the money raised being spent prudently. Richard Brodsky's hearings a few years ago on the MTA don't give us a great deal of confidence that this is so.

Which takes us back to the mayor's own tax plan. It is our view that the stables need to be cleaned before we devise an elaborate taxing scheme that purports to raise money for mass transit. We know that the mayor's proposal for his own "smart" authority will be going nowhere in Albany, which only means that any money raised would be wheel barreled over to the MTA.

Big mistake! We need for the Albany commission on the congestion plan to begin the process of developing a regional transit plan, one that examines the utility of maintaining the dysfunctional public authority that seems to avoid even a modest amount of oversight. Until then, proposals to tax New Yorkers for putative transit improvements should be resisted strenuously.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Getting Testy

As the NY Sun reports this morning, the congestion tax commission will provide council speaker Chris Quinn with a severe political test. As the paper says, Quinn came on board the Bloomberg band wagon, "before the deal that puts the council on the hook was negotiated." Now it will be up to her to deliver, an effort that has both potential political costs as well as benefits.

With a dedicated cadre of opponents on the council, many of whom occupy key leadership positions, Quinn will have to adopt a strategy that acknowledges the concerns of opponent, while at the same time cultivating the necessary votes to pass the required home rule message. Councilman Weprin, a confirmed congestion tax opponent, told the Sun that he didn't think the speaker would "use her pulpit to influence members."

We're not as sanguine as our friend David on this point. The speaker will need to use all of her resources because, as Professor Cohen of Columbia told the Sun she needs, "to show she has the leadership ability to be mayor..." With her political prestige on the line, she'll have no choice but to go full bore on this issue-and make no mistake she will be a formidable presence in the upcoming months.

That being said, her stalwart support for the mayor carries certain risks. The bottom line reality in this fight is that, in spite of all the money that has been spent to sell the tax plan, most New Yorkers abhor the idea. The bulk of the opposition resides in the communities that the speaker will have to woo if she's going to have a chance to actually win a Democratic primary. In addition, let's not forget that potential mayoral foe, Anthony Weiner, has come out strongly against the mayor's plan. Therefore, Quinn, just like many of her council colleagues looking to move on politically, does not have an easy road ahead.

So as "Take 3" of the congestion tax bill gets introduced in Albany on Thursday, there is much uncertainty on both sides of the controversy; and things are not as rosy as Crain's New York Business believes in its editorial this week. There are simply too many variables in play for any one to get carried away with bold prognostications.

And the one thing that has been missing in all of this is the actual examination of the mayor's plan. Remember, every time the mayor has been asked to explain aspects of the plan he has gotten rather testy-acting as if PlaNYC 2030 was the Ten Commandments. It isn't, and some of the plan's assumptions are likely not to survive the disinfecting action of sunlight. In addition, many of the claims of supporters are contradictory and may well be exposed in the debate.

Still, the Mike Bloomberg shouldn't be counted out in all of this, particularly because of two factors: (1) His willingness to spend lavishly-and to use public resources as an additional enticement; and, (2) The absolute abdication by the editorial boards of the city of their oversight role. Quite simply, they-with relatively few exceptions- have become embarrassing toadies of the mayor.

Why has the cry for an accounting of all of the mayor's spending gotten stuck in so many editorial throats? After all, a number of these folks never shut up about the pernicious influence of money in politics. What makes this situation different? Many of those with the current lockjaw fever would no doubt argue that all of this spending is OK because it is in the "public's interest."

But who defines this public good, and what separates this policy from any a special interest? Please look closely here. This is Mike Bloomberg looking to impose a tax on many middle class New Yorkers who are already, by all measures, very heavily taxed. He claims that he is doing this because of some notion of environmental betterment.

Perhaps he thinks he is, but there's an alternative explanation. Mike Bloomberg, a mayor who has done more than any other mayor in recent memory to increase carbon emissions in this city, has decided that he needs to use the popular concern with the environment as a platform for his national ambitions.

He is unconcerned with the potential fiscal impact his tax plan may have on thousands of New Yorkers, precisely because his major interest in all of this is the promotion of one Michael R. Bloomberg-the very definition of a special interest, since there are few New Yorkers, when looking at an additional $2,000 tax bill, who give two snits whether Mayor Mike runs for national office.

So, in the final analysis what we have is lavish spending on behalf of a special interest and, like all such interests, it is falsely couched in public interest terms. You'd think that all of our righteous editorial voices of indignation would get that; but they don't-not because they're in the mayor's pocket-but because they are fully embedded in the fabric of his well-tailored suit.

Monday, July 23, 2007

In Liu of Common Sense

In this week's feature article in the Gotham Gazette, a publication that has genertally been supportive of the mayor's tax scheme on congestion, there is some discussion about the role of the City Council in the upcoming battle. As the GG says; "The compromise changes the political equation by bringing the City Council into the picture...While City Council Speaker Christine Quinn has endorsed the plan, her members seem largely divided."

According to the Gazette, there are 11 council supporters and nine opponents, with 30 members undecided-a large contingent given the plan's notoriety. As Council member Avella tells the Gazette; "'I'm surprised that more council members aren't talking...the council should play a role.'" The problem here is that a number of members have gladly received the mayor's municipal largess-at time when it appeared that no stand actually needed to be taken. Now, with a council vote interposed, it is going to get uncomfortable for some council folks when their constituents start to make their feelings known.

John Liu, however feels that most council members will come around if it means that the outlying neighborhoods will get express bus service-to which we reply, let's see the buses first. And anyway, why does additional bus service have to be contingent on yet another tax? Why doesn't Liu first consider whether we need to add another tax to, in effect, susidize the inefficiency of the MTA.

As Transportation Chair, Liu should have been more aggressive at holding this dysfunctional agency's feet to the fire. Perhaps then, the express buses he longingly hopes for, would have already been provided. This battle should be about the proper care and funding of a mass transit infrastructure-something that can be done fairly without any new tax on the middle class.

Perhaps it is Liu who will come around when he realizes that supporting additional taxes on outer borough residents is not the best platform to launch a city wide race from-no matter how much money you have raised. We'll see if common sense prevails here-after the councilman's position gets wide circulation.

The idea that congestion taxing is fair-an idea that owes its strength to a distributive concept of fairness that always sees equity in taxing the middle class homeowner-fails to consider the impact that the overall tax burden already has in a city that too often leads the way in the tax burden it places on all of its citizens and businesses.

The Blomberg Enablers

In the entire congestion tax battle, leading up to the creation of a commission to study the mayor's proposal, we have been witness to one of the most fascinating examples of a social psychology phenomenon: the attempted use of emotional symbols to create a suspension of critical faculties in support of an idea that no one has truly examined in any empirical fashion.

The past few months would make an interesting additional chapter in one of Murray Edelman's books on the symbolic uses of politics-an opus that examines how symbols are used to emotionally manipulate large numbers of people; while at the same time allowing a few folks to reap considerable tangible benefits at the expense of the many.

What is just as fascinating, however, is how this attempt has so far been rebuffed-partly by the work of opponents of the tax scheme who have labored long and hard to deconstruct the concept-by elected officials who quite simply refused to drink the Kool-Aid. It is now time to examine what the mayor has presented as an unassailable public benefit.

Let's begin with two of the mayor's main assumptions: congestion is choking the city; and the consequent pollution is making our kids sick. In the first place, we have yet to see the traffic study that supports the first argument. It is our understanding, one that is bolstered by some very knowledgeable folks, that the number of cars coming into Manhattan has not appreciably increased in the past decade. In fact, the levels of congestion that have really increased can be found outside of the CBD-something that the mayor's plan addresses not at all.

Secondly, there is the pollution/asthma nexus advanced by the mayor and some real estate moguls. The reality is that the city's air quality-as unhealthy as it could possibly be at the time of the passage of the Clean Air Act-has shown remarkable improvement over the past thirty years. Carbon monoxide emissions, according to one leading expert, are almost immeasurable they have become so negligible.

In addition, the areas where asthma rates are highest are far from the CBD; and there is nothing in the mayor's plan that looks to ameliorate these outer borough-specific traffic/air quality conditions. Which brings us to the "two levels" of politics. The advance men for the asthma debate are real estate developers, companies and individuals who stand to make hundreds of millions of dollars from their developments, who are single handedly promoting in-asthma-rich neighborhoods-the kinds of traffic congestion that their own ads claim contribute to the exacerbation of the respiratory ailments of our youngsters.

Mayoral Claims

We now come to the most crucial aspect of the mayor's congestion tax plan-his claim that if the tax is enacted there will be 6.3% reduction in congestion. As anyone not on the mayor's pad actually seen the study that determines this? And we don't mean the conclusions-which is a famous tactic of the liars for hire in the consulting community. Figures are thrown out that conclude one thing or another, but the back-up documentation-the data that would allow someone else to replicate the work-is absent.

So what we have with the mayor's 6% solution is a chimera; a ballyhooed number that for all intents and purposes could have been drawn from thin air. What needs to happen here, is for the state and city legislatures to immediately develop a methodology-both political and scientific-that would subject the mayor's assumptions to an independent test (And John Liu's feet should be put to the fire hear for his lap dog approach to the problem).

We need to get a better handle on the actual congestion conditions, their root causes, and some realistic ways to address the real world conditions. All we've gotten so far from the mayor is the old: "How do you say F#U in business?" The answer: "Trust Me."

The operative word is independent, because we have seen time and time again how a small coterie of consultants would-to paraphrase Meatloaf-do anything for money. Of course, all of this may turn out to be moot if the feds don't fork over the dough, if Albany drags its feet because of the politics of pique; or if other cities are successful at our expense.

But if they do send us the money we need to be ready to avoid another Bloomberg social experiment-one that uses the tax payer once again as a guinea pig. In order to be able to do this, we need to have more facts at our disposal-and more critical thinking than the editorialists at the DN seem capable of- than have been forthcoming so far.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Times and Rudy: Deconstruct and Denigrate

In this morning's NY Times the paper focuses on Rudy Giuliani, with a long profile by Mike Powell that deals almost exclusively with race relations. Its failings? Primarily in the article's lack of context, and its reliance on Dinkins and Sharpton to provide the color commentary.

Where, for instance, is there any real discussion of the collapse of the political culture under the disastrous reign of Dinkins? The Korean boycott fiasco isn't even mentioned, and while crime reduction is discussed, it is done so in juxtaposition with Rudy's abrasiveness and the NYPD's aggressive tactics against blacks.

What a really thoughtful piece would do, is to examine the extent to which Giuliani altered the political culture in this city-and the fact that dissing Rev. Al was part of that change, and a healthy one at that. What's really newsworthy is the extent to which Sharpton-his past behavior and anti-Semitic rhetoric notwithstanding-has been legitimized, and can be seen by the Times as a reliable observer of Giuliani's mayoralty.

If Rudy manages to get the Republican nod, this line of attack-because it would be a mistake to see the Powell piece as anything but a broadside meant to aid and abet the burgeoning anti-Giuliani narrative that the Democrats are developing in anticipation of his candidacy-will become standard; with the media acolytes providing the "analysis" while operating really as only an amen chorus.

Columbia's Lion Eyes

In today's City Section of the NY Times, the paper takes a long look at the expansion plans of Columbia University. The most incisive parts of the article deal with the fears of local residents that they will be priced out of the neighborhood once the "swells" start to crowd out the old neighborhood stalwarts. As long time resident Luisa Henriquez told the Times; "'They want us out here...'They want it all.'"

The university, of course, sees things quite differently-envisioning scientific breakthroughs in an area where currently you only hear the sounds of car engines being tuned. As the university's spokeswoman says; "'Columbia wants to work on the kinds of issues that impact humanity, like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease...'"

Why not throw in a cure for cancer while you're waxing poetic here? The issue, however isn't-or at least doesn't have to be-a zero-sum game between a beautiful new campus for Columbia and the preservation of local business and residents. It is only this way because the university makes it so. As Ms. Henriquez says, "'Columbia should work around us...They say that everything is for the students, for the students. What about us?'"

In addition, the vision that Columbia is seeking to impose on West Harlem (Manhattanville is the name the university chooses to use; the neighborhood sees itself as West Harlem) excludes other equally. or even more compelling uses. So, while some merchants welcome the change-and the new business it might bring; "...others in Manhattanville are unsure, and still others are strongly opposed, saying that the university is charging into Manhattanville just as the neighborhood begins to perk up, that they will be priced out of the revamped area and that other initiatives, like building affordable housing, are much more compelling."

Unfortunately, aside from a brief side bar discussion of our own Nick Sprayregen, we never get to meet these others-leaving the erroneous impression that Sir Nick is the lone white knight here, battling Columbia in order to preserve his own business interests. This is, of course, far from the truth; it excludes from the discussion the critical role of CB#9, the community's 197-a plan that is an alternative to the university's vision, and the actions of the Coalition to Preserve Community, a coalition of scores of local groups who are opposed to the expansion plan.

This is particularly remiss because the article does go into a rather lengthy discussion of the historic university gymnasium controversy that roiled this neighborhood in 1968. If this battle is, as the university spokeswoman suggests, a "shadow" that still hangs over Columbia's current plan, than the nature of the current opposition-aside from that of Nick Sprayregen-needs to be properly laid out for the Times readers. It isn't, and we are left with only Sprayregen-and even he is juxtaposed against another businessman-not a property owner-who welcomes Columbia's expansion (the fact that he is a lease holder and Columbia is his landlord may just color his observation somewhat).

The article also excludes any meaningful discussion of the private university's role in the taking of local properties, or the questionable role of AKRF, the consultants who are representing both Columbia in the land use process, and the state in the condemnation process-a clear conflict of interest. It doesn't discuss the role of the $40,000 a month man Bill Lynch, Columbia's point man in all of this.

In spite of its shortcomings, the Times piece does accurately capture the sense of foreboding and the fear of displacement that the Columbia expansion effort generates in the local community. The article ends with an anecdote about a tour bus coming through the neighborhood, and the observation of a local woman; ""'They're shopping for property.'"

In the end, as it always is does Manhattan, it all comes down to property. The university, a non-tax paying institution, is going to try to use the land use process and the eminent domain process to gobble up as much property as it can. Whatever benefits the community sees will only come after the main course is served. That is, unless other variables are introduced here that allow for changes in the ubber-vision of the university. Stay tuned-don't leave the gym until the final whistle blows.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Expansion Alterations

This week the NY Sun did a story this week on the efforts of "storage king" Nick Sprayregen to prevent Columbia from heisting his property for its own expansion. There was also a piece in the Village Voice that focused on Nick and his battle. Both articles make much of the fact the Sprayregen has the means at his disposal to fight the university-a fact that shouldn't take away from the righteousness of his fight to keep his own property.

The truth is, however, that there are some folks who are doing everything possible to portray Nick as the rich "interloper," lacking any real concern for the interests of the community. Of course, this attack begs the question of the role of the much richer Columbia-and how much its expansion serves the interests of anyone besides Columbia. At the past few community meetings, however, we have been treated to flyers-given out by some rather homeless looking guys- from a group with no address or phone number. These missives attack Sprayregen; while simultaneously portraying Columbia as the community's white knight.

Anyone want to hazard a guess as to which political consultant-of rather over-inflated reputation-is sponsoring this trash? You'd think that for $40,000 a month one could at least do some actual grass roots organizing, and not some phony effort whose main feature is character assassination. The real community sees through this, and continues to support the fight against the university's use of eminent domain.

Missing in all of this is any attempt to devise a middle ground. In the Sun story Sprayregen tells the paper that he is willing to work with the university and collaborate with the proviso that is property is preserved. Columbia's response is that its buildings must be built to "university specifications," and that "the existing footprints of these private properties don't fit these academic research needs."

Oh, please! There are 18 acres here and, as the Observer points out, Columbia is busy buying up even more land in the neighborhood. There is room for changes to be made, and even executive vice president Robert Kasdin, Columbia's spokesman on this expansion says that, "Columbia is still open to alterations in the plan..."

Well we are going to put the university to the ultimate test of its sincerity-to determine just how much smoke they are all blowing. When we introduce the alteration in the coming weeks, we will see how the university responds-and to what extent is greed transcends the blithely stated spirit of compromise it puts forth to the press.

Uncertain Future for Mayor's Traffic Plan

In today's NY Times, the paper does its own post mortem on the recently concluded "deal" that was struck on the mayor's traffic tax. The tag line in the headline says it all: "Hardest Part Lies Ahead." Not only for the mayor, we might add, but for all of the legislators-particularly those in the outer boroughs and suburban districts-whose constituents aren't going to look favorably on any new version of a commuter tax.

Of course, a challenge lies ahead for opponents as well; faced with the mayor's willingness-along with his real estate allies-to spend unlimited funds on astroturf efforts in the environmental community and among certain civics. Which is why Liz Benjamin, in her Daily Politics blog, is right to give Walter McCaffrey and myself "mixed" props because, while we "manged to drum up a heck of a lot of press operating on a much smaller budget than Bloomberg and the coalition of his supporters...They didn't manage to wholly block congestion pricing, but they have time yet."

That's the key here: time. We now have an eight month window to demonstrate just why the mayor's traffic tax is such an anathema to average New Yorkers. Which is why one of Liz's commenters gave us such a kick when he said that the the opposition to the mayor consisted of "this incredibly small group of parochial interests." The only people behind McCaffrey and Lipsky, said the commenter, were the Queens Chamber of Commerce, the Automobile Club of NY, and the Municipal Parking Association.

Ah yes, but let's not forget the 68% of the city outside of Manhattan that has told poll after poll that this idea stinks. The hundreds of civics is Queens that have come on board do to the hard work of Corey Bearak, plus the scores of similar groups in Brooklyn that we have been working with Steve Barrison to bring in to the coalition is just the beginning. All of the fence-sitting council members-and some who support the mayor but should know better just where their constituents stand-are going to be hearing from the grass roots voices in their districts. As will the state representatives as well.

What we have been saying all along, in somewhat of an ironic tone, is that everyone supports the mayor's plan-except for the people. The letters that have come in to the tabloids from the neighborhoods gives a good flavor of the grass roots appeal of the mayor's plan. In today's DN, under the heading "Congestion Indigestion," we hear the following lament: "While I absolutely agree that we need a plan to lessen traffic, taxing those who already live here and pay some of the highest taxes in the country is absurd...Charging city residents to drive in their own hometown is overkill."

All of the neighborhood discontent is only going to get stronger as the mayor's plan-and what it doesn't address-gets fully exposed to comprehensive review. Mayor Mike needs to try to avoid having his traffic tax plan become, as Rory Lancman tells the NY Sun, his "Moby Dick." He's been fortunate so far, in not getting tarred by other unpopular initiatives he's put forth-but he shouldn't push his luck..

And when the public gets wind of all of the presumptuous planning that the DN reports the mayor has done-haughtily anticipating his plan's approval ("But uncertainty isn't stopping City Hall.")-their support for the congestion tax will diminish further. As will the legislature. Remember Shelly Silver's advice to the mayor-use the money to buy express buses, not congestion cameras.

This is the regal arrogance that the mayor has consistently displayed at certain key junctures in his mayoralty; last seen when, as Alicia Colon points out, he called being trapped in the subway for 48 minutes in the July heat "a minor inconvenience." So if the mayor forges ahead too quickly before legislative reviews are conducted he runs the risk of courting disaster (Or, in his own words, it will be "a very sad day for the city").

And for the national agenda of Mayor Mike; no Robert Moses hole digging is going to work in today's political climate. Already the mayor, according to AMNY, is saying that the city will have to give back all of the fed's money (assuming it gets the grant in the first place) if it doesn't implement his tax. Yet, how does this square with the possibility that an alternative plan may have a bigger impact on congestion relief? Another example of attempted strong-arming and bad faith?

We're going to see a real battle ahead, as the mayor's money (will the Times and DN critique the corrupting power of money in this battle?) is pitted against the will of the people; and New Yorkers' fatigue of living in the highest taxed milieu in the country. Every elected official in the city will be forced to take a stand-a good thing for democracy.

Friday, July 20, 2007

"DEAL," or NO "DEAL?"

It is one of the most fascinating scenarios we've ever seen in thirty years of public policy watching and lobbying. The Albany leadership has concocted a complex deal-including congestion relief- that is being characterized by some in Albany as "The Big Ugly." Here's the Capitol Confidential description: "That's typically the way to describe a large, sausage-like piece of legislation that includes a lot of amendments, add-ons, or side deals."

What remains to be seen is whether the deal holds or, to paraphrase Karl Marx, whether the synthesis achieves composite error. There a lot that can go wrong between now and any final resolution of what will happen to the mayor's traffic tax, and what we're seeing now is a whole bunch of folks reading into the situation what they'd like to believe is true. This is definitely not the "No Spin Zone."

To give a better idea of the confusion we only need to look as far as the reactions of the city's two major tabloids-in both their news coverage and their editorials. The NY Daily News hails the Albany agreement in a "They Bust Gridlock" editorial. In the piece the editors praise the "courage" of the leaders and says, "The deal shifted the debate from whether the city will impose fees for Manhattan motoring to how the charges will be implemented..." In similar fashion, the news coverage leads with a "Green Light, Mike" headline followed by a "Mayor can start congestion plan, but state gets final say on toll."

Things look radically different over at the NY Post, a paper that has also editorially backed the mayors plan, although with far less enthusiasm than the DN. The Post's editorial head, "A Definite 'Maybe'," indicates the extent to which the paper sees the Albany deal in much less a sanguine fashion. The money quote" "Certainly, no one has unplugged the life-support machine that's kept Mayor Mike's traffic relief plan barely alive."

The Post sees the deal as a cover for the leaders to achieve some of their own ends, while giving the mayor some degree of face-saving. It also sees Silver's fingerprints on the deal smudging any degree of false optimism; "Sure enough, the plan did not even come to a vote in either house of the Legislature. Rather, Silver proposed an arrangement imposing new hurdles."

In its news coverage of the deal, the Post puts "deal" in quotations and goes on to relate, "But Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, whose members are strongly opposed to the mayor's plan, said that while some kind of congestion plan was inevitable, it's possible it won't include congestion pricing. Said one ranking legislative source: 'This is a face-saver for the mayor and I wouldn't bet on the likelihood that his plan will be approved in the end." The Post's Fred Dicker, speaking on WABC radio this morning was even more direct; "'The mayor got rolled,'" he told the Curtis and Kuby listeners.

This degree of skepticism is echoed in this morning's Observer report that sees the mayor as "bullish" on the deal, while observing that speaker Silver remains "sluggish," pointing out that, "Technically, lawmakers only agreed to keep studying the issue..." As Liz highlights; "The speaker didn't leave the impression that congestion pricing is a done deal."

And over at the NY Times, the paper simply buries the entire congestion issue with a full length coverage of the campaign finance reform part of yesterday's deal. When it gets around to discussing the issue it reports, "The compromise also tied up other issues, in classic Albany style. It would set up a commission to study Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's plan for 'congestion pricing' and alternatives that are intended to ease New York City traffic, but it put off action on any measures until March..." Not really a "let's break out the champagne" proclamation.

So what we have is a complicated process where it looks as if the mayor's plan will be subjected to rigorous scrutiny. One of the provisos that the mayor did get included was that any alternate plan would have to reduce congestion at least as much as the mayor's own tax proposal. What is missing here, is the fact that the Mayor's own estimates have never been independently vetted; and we believe that such a process will greatly undermine the overly optimistic projections that form the foundation of his tax scheme.

All of which seems to mean that there will be considerable action on both sides of this issue in the months ahead; and that opponents will now get what they have been asking for all along-a real review process that will challenge the mayor's facile environmental assumptions. It is also now incumbent on the City Council to really exercise its oversight responsibilities-and it must insist that the mayor's plan go through a full environmental impact review, one done by independent experts and not the mayor's trained seals.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Deal, Or No Deal?

Just at the point where it appeared that the mayor would be thoroughly decongested, it now appears that he may have some breathing room after all. As the NY Daily News is reporting, along with the Post, NY Sun and Newsday, the Albany big three may be on the verge of a mega-deal that would allow the congestion tax to be kept alive for a thorough review by a legislative commission. The legislature would then have until, March, 31, 2008 to grant a final approval on all aspects of the traffic plan.

But as the DN says today, "A person briefed on the talks said a deal would set up a congestion pricing commission, contingent on the feds coughing up $350 milion by October 31...The commission would be required to make recommendations on how congestion pricing would be implemented by March31, suggestions that would be subject to approval by both the City Council and the legislature."

The devil here is most certainly in the details, but the mayor's plan, thought to be dead, now is close to actually coming off of life supports-if not yet breathing on its own. That being said, there is as of yet no deal. As Liz is reporting this morning, "Still No Deal," with the governor's spokesman telling reporters at around midnight to go home because, "All the pieces have not come together."

Still, it appears that something is going to happen here, and we're hopeful that the something will include a thorough review that would subject the taxing component of the mayor's plan to the scrutiny it deserves. Which is why, although we do appreciate the accolades, it is still too early for the Crain's In$ider to give Walter McCaffrey and Richard Lipsky any winning designations. There is a great deal of work that remains before gold medals can be awarded to anyone in this tussle.

What these new developments do set up, however, is an interesting set of circumstances, particularly down at the City Council. What the outline of the deal indicates, is that the council will now have to get into full battle gear over this issue-no more free passes as the legislature feared in an era of term limits. Each of the council members will now have to take a stand, something that they have been able to avoid up until now (while basking in the mayor's beneficence).

And in Albany, what will the commission ultimately come up with? Will a full EIS be required? Will trucks be included and will the fees remain at the current proposed levels? What about the parameters of the zone? Or will, on review, the legislature decide that there are better ways to accomplish congestion relief without a tax?

Stay tuned, this is not over by a long shot. Perhaps we will even see the the "Greater Good" achieved; something that the editorial folks over at Newsday see in the mayor's rather limited vision.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

What's Next? Decongested Mayor Tries to Move On

As the NY Sun reports this morning, in its epitaph for the mayor's political failure on congestion pricing, "with two years left in office, the mayor must decide whether to spend more of his political capital on what is likely to be a losing issue or to embark on a new crusade." Our suggestion, and we agree we the Sun editorial here, is that the mayor would be better off focusing on issues of greater national import.

The mayor has enough money to be in a position to get the attention of the national electorate; and to get everyone to forget just how meager his political skills are when dealing with elected officials in a position to block his imperious droit du seignor approach to politics. So in spite of all of the speculation that there may be a way to salvage aspects of the mayor's tax plan, we believe that Bloomberg will cut his losses and move on to what the Sun calls, "the next big thing."

So, as the NY Times reports this morning, all we seem to have left is the finger pointing, and the post game analysis that seeks to determine what went wrong with the mayor's grand strategy; "It was supposed to be different this time. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and his aides conducted elaborate analyses and an intricate media campaign, not to mention all of the detailed strategy sessions with aides and experts, to develop and promote the mayor's traffic congestion pricing plan."

The mayor complained that the legislature didn't "get it;" it failed to grasp the importance of adopting his plan-questions could be asked and perhaps answered at a later date. But as the Times points out, it was the mayor who was clearly out of his depth, bringing the proverbial knife to a gun fight; "...Mr Blomberg and his aides sprang a complex proposal on the Legislature at the end of its session, seemed unprepared to answer questions or to revise details...and then used the deadline to apply for federal financing as a bludgeon to shove the plan through."

It was a disaster from the beginning, orchestrated by someone who has become accustomed to seeing how his great wealth suspends the normal rules of the game when he pursues his own personal political agenda. It didn't work this time because of the mayor's hubris, and because the people in the cross hairs of his tax plan rose up to say-"Enough!'

Paying for Regulation

The NY Post's Steve Cuozzo has a nice piece this morning on the rising cost of dining out in the city. Now a great deal of the focus is on rising rents and the higher cost of supplies, but another item caught our eye. Towards the end of the story Cuozzo quotes Alan Stillman, the founder of Smith & Wolensky who also cites, "'financial pressure on the industry from city agencies like the Department of Health.'"

We have witnessed in the five years of the term of Mother Bloomberg and Doc Frieden an unprecedented focus on regulating and fining restaurants-from trans fat ban and menu labeling, to a ticket blits after some rats were spotted at a local Taco Bell. All of this has a cost, of course, although the mayor doesn't seem to worry about the regulatory burden his regime has on neighborhood businesses. His only concern? The financial sector where his kind of folks hang out and profit.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

It's Crying Time Again

In the run-up to the final demise of the mayor's congestion tax, he kept telling the speaker, as some form of inducement to join him, that Albany was only two hours away. That may be true, but if you're Mike Bloomberg, Albany might as well be in another country. He has never caught on to how to navigate the legislative shoals. Having been badly beaten on the stadium fiasco, he simply repeated some of the same mistakes-proving once again that the definition of crazy is doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results.

So, as the City Room and Daily Politics blogs are pointing out, we are left with the spectacle of a sour grapes mayor lashing out against his political opponents. As Liz points out-citing her colleague Kristin Danis-the mayor couldn't hide his bitterness at today's post mortem press conference; "'Some people have guts and lead from the front, and some don't.'" City Room's money quote from Hizzoner: "'This is just a disgrace.'"

He's right. But the real disgrace is the heavy handedness of the mayor's effort, and his arrogance in trying to bogart a real legislature. The mayor ironically makes our point: "In contrast, he said, the City Council had done 'difficult things' in the last five years, like approve bans on trans fat in restaurants and smoking in public places...'That's what courage is all about, and that's what we need, and unfortunately, we didn't see that'..."

Or, in other words, obediently follow my courageous nanny lead without too much second guessing. Does the mayor understand the meaning of solipsistic thinking? His quote in the Crain's/AP story says it all here: "'It's sad to note that after three months of working with all parties...'" C'mon! Three months? With all of this working how come there were still so many unanswered questions when the mayor met up with legislators yesterday? And how come he refused to answer the legitimate queries of elected officials who remained confused-even after reading the mayor's proposal?

As Newsday points out in its late breaking story on the aftermath of the congestion tax's demise, the mayor didn't have the requisite political skills to advance his ideas: "'He's used to getting his own way,' said state senator Neil Breslin, an Albany County Democrat who attended a closed-door senate conference with the mayor on Monday. 'But he's dealing with separately elected officials and they won't be treated in a dismissive way...He tended to interrupt before someone completed their thought in a very abrupt way, which offended a number of my fellow senators.'"

Where we go from here is any one's guess. The mayor told the Times that the city can unilaterally implement congestion taxing; "'The only thing we can't do is we can't institute fines or fees.'" Well, well, well-a voluntary congestion tax that could perhaps be seen as a charitable contribution-or as a carbon off-set. We'll just sit back and see if there really is a Plan B as the mayor constructs his national platform with renewable crayons.


Underscoring our point about the mayor's own failings in all of this, Azi quotes Senator Ruben Diaz (in a post titled, "Diaz Attacks 'Arrogant' Blomberg"), who keynoted our Sunday press conference: "'Bloomberg has himself to blame...Number one, he didn't deal with us right. He was arrogant. Number two, we are tired of people using our pain to get what they want.'"

Mike Spiked: Money for Nothing

All that is left for the press is the final accounting. As the NY Times reports this morning, "Lawmakers on Monday shelved Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's plan to charge a fee to drivers entering the busiest parts of Manhattan, dealing a setback to the mayor as he tries to raise his national profile and promote his environmental initiatives."

How much did Mayor Mike and his minions spend-publicly and privately-in their quixotic quest to enact a congestion tax on New York commuters? When the final numbers come in, that is if the journalistic scent is properly followed, it will be clear for all to see that money, even large expenditures, isn't always sufficient if a shortage of political acumen-and a failure to connect with the people affected most by a policy- characterizes the effort.

And the effort did indeed lack political acumen, much like the mayor's heavy-handed efforts over the West Side stadium failed to convince Albany law makers. As Richard Brodsky told the NY Sun, the congestion tax was "Jets Stadium redux." On top of this we saw just how much the mayor's basic political inexperience served him poorly once again in the attempt to use political negotiation to achieve a key policy objective. His people were so busy trying to cajole electeds with pork that they failed to involve themselves early on in the needed back-and-forth horse trading that is the life blood of legislative activity.

Which is why the Daily News' Bill Hammond gets it all wrong in today's analysis piece on the collapse of the mayor's plan. Hammond tells his readers that Shelly Silver treated the mayor "like dirt," going on to observe that "Bloomberg's congestion pricing plan is the classiest act to hit Albany in years. The mayor and his staff did months of homework, developed a well-thought-out proposal, rallied broad community support and pitched their big idea to state lawmakers with all the passion and sincerity they could muster."

This evaluation really couldn't be farther from the truth. The fact is that the voluminous plan had large question marks-and the bill submitted to the legislature differed significantly from some publicly discussed aspects of the plan. The time frame did not give the legislature adequate time to properly vet the proposal, and the "broad community support" that Hammond talks about was, quite simply, a mirage. Never has a phonier AstroTurf effort been launched on behalf of any policy goal in New York State.

As poll after poll pointed out, the real life public-the folks that couldn't be rented for a few dollars-simply detested the plan; and hated the fact that they would be further taxed so that certain elitist elements could micromanage their lives. The real broad based community support was evidenced by the galvanizing done against the tax by Corey Bearak and the Queens Civic Congress, and Steve Barrison of the Small Business Congress.

In many ways the successful opposition campaign was reminiscent of the effort against the ill-fated megastore proposal launched with such fanfare by Rudy Giuliani some 14 years ago. In that campaign, just like the one here against the congestion tax, community and small business opposition rallied to support elected leaders so that an unwanted policy could be defeated.

There is, however, one key difference. In the case of congestion pricing, the community/small business effort took second billing to the yeoman-like effort of the Assembly Speaker and fellow law makers such as Brodsky and Lancman. It is in our view the legislature's finest hour; demonstrating that no amount of money and media clacking can intimidate elected officials who, exercising their checks and balances prerogatives, think a policy just lacks credibility.

And Hammond should keep in mind that, time and time again yesterday, the mayor's poor political instincts were on display. As Liz points out this morning, the mayor even managed to alienate Senate Democrats, the one constituency the was in his corner going into the last ditch effort. Clearly frustrated, the mayor asked the Senate Dems if they had bothered to read the proposal. As the Times highlighted, "Mr. Bloomberg told the senators that his administration had sent plenty of information about his plan in the mail, and it was not his fault that they had not read it." But clearly it was his fault.

As Senator Kevin Parker told the paper, "'If the mayor came in with one vote, he left with none...His posture was not ingratiating...He says he does not know politics, and he certainly bore that out by the way he behaved.'" Indeed, Bill Hammond needs to point the finger of blame, as the NY Sun does in its editorial this morning, more at the architect of this grand scheme than at the skeptics who would not be bamboozled.

So we are left with the idea of a study commission. As the NY Post points out, however, it is unclear whether this will be enough to entice the federal dollars that the mayor was championing. Keep in mind, though, that the feds were happy to stiff the city on homeland security money, so there was never any guarantees that the transit funds would be forthcoming.

The dust has yet to settle on all of this, and we don't know how the mayor is going to respond to this public woodshedding by the Speaker. Already Bruno is skeptical about the utility of a commission so we can't be sure that the mayor will buy the idea, even if its just to save face.
We will, however, be ready to offer sensible alternatives to relieve the problem of congestion in the city; but the solutions must be legitimately city wide, and the costs must be borne fairly.

All in all this has been a great lesson in democracy-and the ability of the folks, with the aid of their elected officials, to fight all of the wealth and power that went in to advancing an ill-conceived idea. The mayor's hubris was his ultimate undoing.