Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The Will of the People Congested

We observed with some degree of amused detachment the chaos surrounding yesterday's 30-20 City Council vote in favor of the mayor's congestion taxing plan. Detachment because our professional involvement with the opposition ended at the close of last year; amusement because of not only the speaker's silly pronouncement that the vote heralded the "will of the people," but because of the fate that awaits the likes of Dominick Recchia, Eric Gioia and Mike Mcmahon-three council members with larger political ambitions who made their futures a bit more murky with their decision to side with the mayor on this sticky issue.

First to the speaker. As the NY Post reports this morning, she had this to say at the news conference after the vote: "In a press conference with Council Speaker Christine Quinn after the vote, the mayor declared that "the people of New York City have spoken." As the NY Daily News reports, "Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan), who worked with Bloomberg to wrangle votes for the plan, said the vote showed broad support, with 20 of the 30 yes votes coming from council members who represent areas outside Manhattan."

Ah, the two levels of politics in action. Pay close attention to the word wrangle in that Daily News quote. Never has the will of the people been subjected to such a difficult berthing process; and isn't it interesting that the Bronx, the borough where public opinion against the congestion tax ran the highest, couldn't manage a single no vote.

All of which reminds us of the title of the Jack Newfield book on New York politics: City for Sale. Let's be clear, this is a measure that couldn't have gotten ten votes on its own, a proposal for environmental change that failed to provide any environmental review, and a piece of legislation put forward by an "above politics" mayor and a liberal city council speaker that brought forth more good old fashion political horse trading than anything seen since the good old days of Tammany Hall control.

Here's how the NY Times describes the process: "Although the administration and the Council’s leadership were able to gain support with promises of programs, projects and political aid in upcoming campaigns — as well as threats of taking those things away — opposition remained strong. Several council members argued that it was unfair to essentially tax residents to move around their own city, that even after they voted to support the proposal, the Legislature could approve a different version, and that revenues would not necessarily go toward the promised transit improvements."

And of course there's the time-honored Wimpy nature of the proposal, at least as far as it pertains to all of those mass transit improvements. Wimpy, as in Popeye's Wimpy, who always said; "I'd gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today." We loved the statement on this from Mike McMahon: "It was a very close decision," said Councilman Mike McMahon (D-SI), who voted in favor - admitting he was taking a "leap of faith" that the revenue generated would be used for mass transit." Indeed, a politician with faith, what an unusual thing to see.

All of which, of course, may well be for nought. As we've said from the very beginning of this process there was little chance that this city council could stand up to the combined political muscle of the mayor and the speaker; and the closeness of the vote really belies all of Chris Quinn's happy talk about the people and its supposed will. Now the scene shifts to Albany where the only real legislative checks actually existed.

It does, as we imagined all along, all come down to Shelly Silver, someone who can't be cajoled and/or threatened by the mayor and his money. After forcing her members to take a stand on this issue, Quinn may have left them hanging out to dry-particularly all of those outer borough leap of faithers who went with the mayor and the speaker on this new tax. Here's a funny from the Times on this: "But other council members took the vote as a sign that Mr. Silver would ultimately back the plan, since Ms. Quinn had said privately that she would not call for a vote until she had an indication that it would gain approval from the state."

We'll see about that pretty soon; but we think that Silver's support, much like the promise of mass transit aid has as much chance of success as anyone getting paid back for giving Wimpy money for his hamburger. We'll give the end quote to Leroy Comrie, someone who stood up on this as well as anyone: "Queens Democrat Leroy Comrie was skeptical that commuters would see any of the promised $354 million in federal funds that would come along with the plan.
"I have absolutely no faith in the MTA being honest with New Yorkers," said Comrie."