Monday, April 14, 2008

Pig-Headed Editorial

In an editorial on Saturday, The NY Daily News exhibited an ignorance about city governance as well as a wrong-headedness about what reform means in a democratic political system. Commenting on the speaker's decision to send about half of the council's discretionary money over to the mayor for vetting, the News opined: "Sure, there will be more openness, with all items in a database searchable by the public. And groups wanting money will have to provide fuller information, including disclosure of possible conflicts of interest. But the fact is there should be no member items. No more pork-barrel spending. No more oinking at the public trough."

Is the News serious? Does it really believe that issuing RFP's through city agencies will protect the funding process and remove favoritism? Won't the mayor-whoever that will be-make determinations based on his or her conceptions, friendships and political relationships? And will the local little league or senior center have the wherewith all to compete with well-funded not-for-profits for the outlays?

The News' argument is reminiscent of the fight by the progressives over patronage in the late 19th century, a fight that the historian Richard Hofstadter demonstrated to be a class-based and retrograde battle against empowering new immigrants; and something that was less than democratic. Let's state our position clearly: there's nothing wrong-certainly nothing anti-democratic-with patronage; and the dispensing of money for local projects, as long as properly monitored, allows local council members to take care of groups in their districts that have supported them. If there are other locals that get slighted there's term limits and democratic elections as a useful antidote for abuse.

The News' outrage is also selective when it comes to the abuse of power. For instance, when Deputy Mayor Doctoroff chose his friend Steve Ross' company to redevelop the Bronx Terminal Market without the benefit of a competitive bid, the paper was silent. This case of journalistic lockjaw was in the face of the fact that the sweetheart deal that was "negotiated," was so lucrative that it will reap the Related Company more in windfall profits than the entire council discretionary spending for scores of budget years.

In addition, as we have already commented on, the pork barrel vote trading that characterized the lead-up to the congestion tax vote at the City Council was hardly an exercise in the kind of transparent democratic practices that the Daily News wants us to believe is their bedrock principle. Perhaps the paper's silence in that episode was reflective of its totally unreflective and shameless cheer leading for another middle class tax. If that's true, than moral outrage is certainly a selective exercise at the paper's editorial office.

And the porking of the congestion tax vote is from a mayor who portrays himself as above the tawdry wheeling and dealing of the political process, someone for whom favoritism is as foreign as ethics is to an old Tammany ward healer. Mayor's wield great power in this city. It is important for the city council to retain as much of its power as necessary in order to counterbalance this mayoral muscle. The NY Daily News is one of the last places to find good advice for reforming NYC politics.