Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Scapegoating Shelly

There are two pieces in this morning's papers that go along way towards balancing the one-sided attack on Speaker Silver Silver for his failure to shepherd the mayor's traffic tax through the assembly. The first, an editorial headline in the NY Post makes this telling point: "BLAME MIKE, NOT SHELLY."

The Post goes on to point out that; "We're not shy about bashing Silver; his reputation for putting his own personal interests above those of average New Yorkers is surely well-earned...But in this case, Mayor Bloomberg couldn't sell a flawed plan. Lawmakers couldn't bear to be blamed for what many, particularly in the outer boroughs, saw (with good reason) as a new tax on the middle class. They regarded the fee as an elitist levy on the average Joe and Jane. They failed to trust Mike's vow that revenues would go to mass transit. And they disliked Hizzoner's heavy-handed ways."

Which is what we've been saying all along since we first were asked to lend a hand to the anti-congestion tax coalition-and the tax mantra, honed by McCaffrey and Bearak and hollered from the rooftops by Barrison, was a non-stop message until the final bell tolled on the mayor's scheme. Here's the NY Sun's take in its editorial from yesterday: "Someday a rising Ph.D. student is going to make a name for himself or herself by illuminating the Sheldon Silver story. The way in which he outmaneuvered the mayor on congestion pricing was just a classic. And we say that as an editorial page that was open to the idea when it first began to be mooted and came gradually to understand what the Assembly saw, which is that it was a tax, after all, and an impediment, a restriction on us."

So the theme here is simple: the idea was an elitist tax; and the salesman of the idea was a bumbling billionaire whose haughty demeanor and lack of political skills made him the perfect foil for the speaker. There's an old story told by Tom Lehrer that epitomizes this situation: "My dog was run over the other day, but the driver did it with such skill that the bystanders awarded him both ears and the tail."

The congestion tax was Bloomberg's dog. And the skillful driver was Shelly Silver, someone who should be lionized and not vilified. Which is just what Juan Gonzales does this morning in the NY Daily News: "Shelly Silver of Grand St. on the lower East Side is a New York hero.
If you listen to the ravings of Michael Bloomberg and his powerful friends, Assembly Speaker Silver trampled democracy, promoted pollution and crippled the future of our transit system by killing the mayor's congestion tax. Don't swallow such nonsense. Taxpayers should erect a statue to Silver for standing up - once again - to Bloomberg's relentless bullying and vote-buying."

And Gonzales goes further by pointing out how absurd some critics are for seeing the Silver scenario as somehow undemocratic: "Silver, on the other hand, actually practiced some real democracy. Even though he favored congestion pricing, the speaker carefully listened to each of his members in eight hours of emotional debate in the Assembly's Democratic caucus.
"Everyone had a shot to speak in the debate," said Assemblyman Adriano Espaillat of Washington Heights, a supporter of congestion pricing. "The votes just weren't there. The opposition was overwhelming. What can you do?" "Five weeks ago, I told the mayor's people that between last June and now there was no change - it was still 5 to 1 against," said Assemblyman James Brennan of Brooklyn, another backer of the mayor's plan."

Compare this, as Gonzales does, to the pork barrel horse trading that went on prior to the vote in the city council-an accounting that still needs to be done. And we haven't even seen the bill on the exercise of democracy that went into the purchase of all of the astro turf environmental groups. Here's Gonzales on the mayor: "This is a mayor, for those who have forgotten, who practically bought the state Republican Party's support for congestion pricing with a $500,000 donation earlier this year. He then turned City Hall into "Let's Make a Deal" in an effort to overcome the opposition of City Council members last week to his controversial, $8-per-day tax on cars coming into Manhattan."

Yet the mayor, still in the political fog that he can't seem to escape, sees all of this as unfair and undemocratic, As the Daily News points out elsewhere: "Bloomberg - backer of both the stadium and congestion pricing - was still steaming Tuesday. "I do not think that any one person should decide what is right," he said in Washington. "The results would have been there. It would have passed."

Which part of this statement is sillier? The belief that one man shouldn't be able to make unilateral decisions? Or the supposition that if Silver had brought this to a vote it would have passed? Either one by itself would be a sign of political dementia; but together they make out-of-touch seem like real intimacy.

Speaking of out-of-touch, the final silliness in all of this belongs to the recently escaped figure of Darren Dopp-the man who was last seen sneaking out of the executive mansion before the cave-in. Dopp now works for Pat Lynch and he reacts this morning in Crain's Insider to the idea that his new boss was a loser in all of this: "Lynch spokesman Darren Dopp says: “No one gave it a shot when it was first proposed last year. It got as far as it did because of Pat Lynch Associates.”
That statement's silliness speaks volumes for itself; Lynch wasn't responsible for the loss, everything else is pure spin.