Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Three Card Mayor

If, as the NY Daily News and the NY Post suggest, the defeat of the congestion tax was a Shel game, than it appears that Mayor Mike's lack of street smarts prevented him from seeing where the pea was hidden. And a frustrated mayor lashed out at what he saw as a rigged game. As the News points out: "Mayor Bloomberg's congestion-pricing dream died Monday without even a vote, and the mayor unleashed his white-hot fury at the man he blamed the most, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Bloomberg - said by aides to be too angry to be out in front of the cameras after the defeat - issued a statement that all but called Silver a coward."

Someone needs to take a chill pill, the fact remains that Mike Bloomberg didn't know how to play this game-and it's mayor culpa, mayor culpa, mayor maxima culpa. As the NY Post points out: "Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver delivered another painful civics lesson to Mayor Bloomberg yesterday, although this time - unlike Silver's humiliation of the mayor in the bitter West Side stadium battle three years ago - rejecting his congestion-pricing plan was anything but personal.
The lesson was that it is extremely dangerous for a legislative leader to - as they say in the Legislature - "get out ahead of his members" - a lesson Silver learned in 2000 when he was nearly ousted in a coup."

So our friend Bill Hammond gets it wrong this morning when he tells his readers: "Bloomberg and his team of experts took on some of the biggest challenges facing the city - paralyzing traffic, choking smog and overcrowded mass transit. They spent months developing a coherent plan based on solid reasoning and hard evidence. They amassed a huge coalition of civic groups. They held 14 public hearings and, responding to critics, made dozens of changes to their
proposal...Overall, they ran a campaign that belongs in political science textbooks, in the chapter called, "How to Do Things Right."

Sorry Bill, that's just plain wrong. The mayor set up what amounts to the biggest faux grass roots effort this city has ever seen-a coalition of the greedy looking for development payoffs, elitist bicycle brigades who held the city's car commuters in contempt, and the Daily News itself-a one man amen chorus. It didn't, however, have any of the folks who told survey after survey that they thought the idea stunk.

Bloomberg also unleashed a stealth payoff program that enticed environmental groups to abandon their long held beliefs in the sanctity of environmental review. The "coherent plan" was never properly vetted for its environmental impact, and critics like ourselves were ignored when we pointed this hypocrisy out. Hammond's final take? "Bloomberg, though defeated, has no reason to be ashamed. He took the high road. He argued his case on the merits. Short of ordering spine transplants for the entire Legislature, there wasn't anything more Hizzoner could have done."

What exactly was meritorious about the about the vote changing in the City Council when it came time to count heads? What about the $500,000 check to the senate majority? What about the threats to lawmakers from the League of Conservation Voters, or whatever this "grass roots" group is called?

The reality here is that, as the NY Times points out, no support for the plan existed in the assembly: "Democratic members of the State Assembly held one final meeting to debate the merits of Mr. Bloomberg’s plan and found overwhelming and persistent opposition." So the News' Michael Daley is flat out wrong when he says: "So much for democracy.One guy says "no" to the West Side stadium and the project is dead. The same guy says "no" to congestion pricing and that's dead, too. Without a vote. Without a single public hearing. Without even a moment's open debate. Just this one guy with the demeanor of an undertaker saying one word.
"No." However you stand on congestion pricing, whatever you felt about the stadium, you should be outraged. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has once again ignored the principles we are all supposed to believe in."

This was more democratic than the suborned city council process, and a public vote that so many disappointed supporters are making a big deal over wouldn't have made any difference. As the Time puts it: "“The congestion pricing bill did not have anywhere near a majority of the Democratic conference, and will not be on the floor of the Assembly,” Sheldon Silver, the Assembly speaker, said after the meeting."

All of which is a giant blow to the mayor's legacy, particularly his recently garnered environmental consciousness. As we told the NY Sun: "Richard Lipsky, a lobbyist for the Neighborhood Retail Alliance, a coalition of small businesses, said the mayor may have made a tactical error by focusing his energy on "the most contentious item" in his environmental plan, congestion pricing, and suggested that the approach would make it harder to push through the rest of his sustainability agenda."He's got a difficult job ahead in the next 18 months to generate the enthusiasm for the sustainability that winning this fight would have given him," he said. "It will be a real challenge for the mayor to do that. I'm not sure he'll be able to achieve it."