Monday, April 14, 2008

Nailing the Pig to the Post

The NY Post, following the News' piggish apoplexy on Saturday, has called for the elimination of all pork barrel discretionary spending: "City Council Speaker Christine Quinn thinks she's found the right tweaks to fix the council's pork woes. Sorry, but pork is pork. And if ever there was a time to ban it - in Albany and at City Hall - this is it."

And just why must this be the logical progression from the council's latest phantom menace? Well because, according to the Post, "Why should millions of dollars be ladled out at the council's discretion? The grants are virtually always targeted to advance the personal and political interests of incumbents - while insurgents and outsiders need not apply."

So what? All political appropriations, no matter the methodology of disbursement, are targeted for the advancement of the interests of incumbents. And guess what? Incumbents are advantaged in any democratic system. The nuance here, lost in the editorial obsession with legislative misfeasance, is that all legislators are elected locally and are-and should be responsible to their districts.

Why should anyone be upset with the fact that spending is politicized? What's the alternative if it isn't? What system would replace it? Who would decide? Certainly we've seen the extent to which the wisdom of Mayor Mike's decision-making, unencumbered by the spoils system of political payback, has come to some disastrous endings. And we've seen how he's used political pork in the interests of some really questionable goals. But that's his right. He was elected and his discretion comes with the territory.

And so do legislative initiatives. That doesn't mean that the destination for some public funds shouldn't be criticized, but to question the wisdom of legislative initiatives per se, is to misread the essence of the system of checks and balances that keeps democracy vibrant.

So when the NY Post says, "Let's face it: The system reeks. If Quinn was a true reformer, she'd just abolish member items," it fails to do justice to the full scope of democratic practice in NYC politics. And by doing so, leaves the mayor in a much more powerful position than a mayoral-centric city charter already does.