Friday, October 31, 2008

School Daze at the Daily News

Remember the old left wing ditty? "Daily News. daily blues, pick up a copy any time you choose. Seven little pennies in the newsboy's hands, send you right off to never never land." Well, it appears that never never land is right where a critical story on the city schools was sent-after the story had been already uploaded to the paper's website.

Here's the Gotham Schools take on the matter-done in her usual hard hitting style by Elizabeth Green: "Parents are outraged about those fat cat educrats at Tweed Courthouse, at least five of whom earned between $1.7 and $6 million in salaries and investments last year, the Daily News was supposed to report in today’s newspaper — but didn’t, after a late-night move killed the story."

This, on the heels of Juan Gonzales' piece on the expensive couriers being used at Tweed, was apparently too much for the Kleinemen to take: "Mr. Zuckerman, can you take a call from the chancellor?" As Green tells us: "My understanding is that the story was slated to run today both in the newspaper and online, but then got scrapped late last night. This appears to have happened because of an outside intervention, since the story had already been uploaded to the paper’s Web site, meaning it had gone all the way through the editing process. Word of the decision to kill the story — not postpone or delay or just put on the Web, but kill — came to both print and Web designers, who dutifully destroyed it, except for one thing: the Web headline, which was still visible this morning."

The story was slated to tell us the following, as one commenter at the Gotham blog culled it from Google News:

"Klein with Garth Harries, who oversees creation of new schools and boasts investments of up to $6 million. Also pictured with Klein is former aide Kristen Kane.City schoolkids and their families may be feeling the pinch of hard times, but at least five senior DOE advisers had salaries and investments that totaled between $1.7 and $6 million each last year…Deputy Chancellor Christopher Cerf, who once ran the controversial for-profit education company Edison Schools, had between $1.8 million and $3.3 million in …The department’s chief operating officer, Photeine Anagnostopoulos, was sitting on stocks and bonds worth anywhere from $2.2 million to $4.8 million. “It exposes a degree of insularity in this administration,” said David Bloomfield, a parent member of the Chancellor’s Citywide Council on High Schools."

Warning to the News: you can't keep doing this or you'll end up like the LA Times, ridiculed for withholding important information that doesn't fit your political agenda. And as the mayoral school control fight heats up, the folks will know who's telling the truth, and who's playing footsie with his billionaire buddy.

Term Tension

The NY Times-and we need to single out Michael Barbaro here-has been doing journalism a real solid over the past few months. Barbaro, following in the footsteps of Ray Rivera and, to some extent Charles Bagli, has been examining the Bloomberg record and actions with just the right soupcon of skepticism. Today, the focus is on a new tension between the mayor's aides and the speaker after a bruising term limits battle: "Tensions between City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn and aides to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg are erupting just a week after Ms. Quinn shepherded the mayor’s divisive legislation to loosen the city’s term limits law through the Council."

This tension devolves from the fact that it was the speaker, someone without the resources of a vast fortune, who has been the cynosure of the term limits battle; while the mayor "monitored" the hearings-staying in the background as his city council staff did the heavy lifting: "Feelings are raw between the two sides largely because Ms. Quinn took heavy political shrapnel for the mayor during the term limits battle as she rounded up support for what became an unusually difficult vote."

So now, moving ahead as if there's been nothing unusual going on, the mayor wants to revamp the way in which senior centers are managed-once again the vaunted "business model" is thrust front and center-and is getting ready for his tax hike: "In closed-door meetings over the last few days that occasionally escalated into shouting, Ms. Quinn has told the mayor’s aides to back off a plan that would change how hundreds of programs for the elderly are financed, a proposal that has infuriated several council members. According to people briefed on the conversations, she has warned that the mayor’s plan to push for a property tax increase as early as next week could encounter resistance, especially since council members are still reeling from the term limits vote."

So an interesting unintended consequence of the term limit fight, is a council that feels. perhaps, that it doesn't have to roll over for the mayor after bequeathing an extra term for his benefit: "The tensions reveal the degree to which the bruising term limits battle, initiated by the mayor so that he can run for a third term, altered the political landscape, with Ms. Quinn and her colleagues feeling empowered to challenge the Bloomberg administration as never before. “There is a sense that the mayor has damaged his popularity and that is emboldening members,” said David Yassky, a councilman from Brooklyn who supported the mayor’s term limits extension."

Who's Yassky referring to here, and why's he being quoted? After all, David appeared with the mayor at his faux stimulus package announcement yesterday. It would have served him better to use a first person narrative, since it is Yassky's popularity that has suffered even more, at least in his own Park Slope district.

But Bloomberg isn't totally clueless about his need to assuage the bruised feelings-it's just that he doesn't do, "I feel you pain," with any degree of believability: "To calm nerves, Mr. Bloomberg, in a step that is unusual for him, has begun to personally call every council member, telling them they must find ways to work together even if they disagreed over term limits. But some of those calls are not going very well, as council members say the mayor expressed fleeting gratitude for their support before launching into lectures about taxes.“I thought that the phone call was going to be simply and purely, ‘Thanks for casting a tough vote,’ ” said Councilman Lewis Fidler of Brooklyn, who voted to change the term limits. “I didn’t expect him to talk about the next tough vote.”

And, except for the quotable Charles Barron, the Times is largely citing council members who supported the mayor. Here's Jimmy Vacca (along with Arroyo) on the senior center issue so dear to his East Bronx constituents: "Two lawmakers who voted for Mr. Bloomberg’s term limits legislation, James Vacca and Maria del Carmen Arroyo, both of the Bronx, immediately expressed their anger over the plans for the seniors programs to Ms. Quinn. Mr. Vacca said that early this week, he told the speaker’s staff members that “if we don’t fight this, the Council will be the emperor with no clothes.”

It's a tad late for the clothing reference, after most observers would agree that the mayor efficiently undressed the council in his bogarting for a third term. The Speaker is trying to regain some semblance of balance in a power struggle that she's been uncomfortable fighting: "In an interview on Thursday, Ms. Quinn said, “I have come to believe this is not the right time for this restructuring,” citing the economic turmoil, which could make the centers even more crucial to city residents. Ms. Quinn said she had not been given the assurances she needs from the Bloomberg administration that senior centers would not lose financing — or close — under the overhaul now under consideration."

And all of this even before the tax issue rears its ugly and controversial head: "Next week, the mayor is expected to rescind, six months early, a 7 percent property tax cut and lay out a 5 percent annual cut in spending for city agencies, according to city officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the plans are not yet public. Both measures require the support of council members, and Ms. Quinn has already embraced Mr. Bloomberg’s call for swift action on the budget."

So, as we have said, second fiddle is a hard role to play when you've already turned your bow over to the mayor; but the speaker and her term limited colleagues who voted for continuance, are realizing that they must do something or else the public's anger-which could be deflected from the mayor by a $100 million disinformation campaign-could be heaped on council members seeking an extended third term.

Paterson's Promise and WFP Peril

In this morning's NY Post, the paper heaps editorial praise on Governor Paterson for his sober budgeting: "New Yorkers might want to get this in writing: "We have agreed that any taxation right now would only exacerbate the problem. If anything, we need to lower taxes." That's what Gov. Paterson told Congress on Wednesday - even as he asked plaintively for federal funds to make up for state tax revenue lost in the Wall Street meltdown. "We have to put our own house in order," Paterson conceded. And he all but took tax hikes off the table."

The stance of the governor sharply contrasts with that of our city leaders-particularly on the correlation of lower taxes with job creation: "We need to lower taxes for some of our businesses [in order to] create jobs," he said, "so that hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers don't leave the state, as they do every year, for other areas where the life quality is better." Paterson hit it on the head: Tax hikes will drive away the very folks who can revive the economy - and regenerate depleted tax dollars."

What's the city response to the meltdown?-a whole laundry list of cockamamie programs of assistance; something that we questioned earlier. As the NY Daily News tells us: "Warning that the recession "won't end quickly or painlessly," Mayor Bloomberg outlined an 18-point plan Thursday to ease New Yorkers' burden in tough times."We have an increased obligation to New Yorkers who face harsh, short-term problems," said Bloomberg."

Of course, there's not a hint of a tax relief plan, instead: "Next week Bloomberg will unveil a modified budget that reflects a 2.5% reduction in across-agency spending. He has also hinted that he may raise property taxes to plug pending budget holes."

Some contrast between the supposedly savvy businessman, and the career politician. Do you think that the Post wants to re-evaluate its third term support for Mr. Indispensable? Which brings us to the Working Families Party and its rising influence.

As the NY Times reports: "In just 10 years, the tiny Working Families Party has built a reputation for pulling off upset victories in low-turnout primaries and special elections, one or two at a time. Now, however, in a presidential election year, and with the Senate’s Republican majority endangered for the first time in decades, the party is putting its record on the line in half a dozen races from Ronkonkoma to Rochester. Democrats in the Senate have effectively outsourced their entire ground game to the unassuming army of Working Families canvassers at a price of about $700,000. On any given day, about 200 of its people are in the field."

There's no question that the party has gained great leverage, but the question that remains is just how that newly gained power will be influenced. Will the WFP aggressively promote its tax raising, no service cutting agenda? And, if it does, will it find itself at odds with the frugal attitude of New York's governor? As the Times points out: "Victory would mean a chance to demand that newly empowered — and deeply indebted — Democratic lawmakers press the party’s liberal agenda on issues like taxation, rent control and health care. A monumental achievement for any third party, let alone one so young."

And then there's Kruger and the three amigos, whose "independent caucus," could control an upcoming senate leadership battle even if Democrats do take over with WFP help. An Obama-like political agenda on taxes would thrust WFP right into the eye of the political storm; with the state's first African American governor as its adversary.

Mayoral Wolf Tickets on Schools

With the mayoral backdraft on term limits in its infancy, it's useful to look forward to the battle over school governance. In all likelihood, the mayor will be facing an increasingly skeptical public; folks who will be more receptive to dissonant voices, such as those represented by the Riverdale Riview's Andrew Wolf.

Wolf, writing in the Public Advocate Corner opines: "By the statistics, mayoral control has failed, as Diane Ravitch has previously pointed out in this space. Test results on the most reliable measures are flat, despite an unprecedented influx of funds – a 79% increase in the education budget in just six years." But this failure extends beyond the numbers themselves.

As Wolf demonstrates: "But mayoral control has failed in a more profound way. Desperate to show “progress,” a laundry list of structural reforms has been implemented by the gang at the Tweed Courthouse. Most of these have to do with providing incentives to principals, teachers and students. If you want to believe that teachers will only do a good job if we give them the chance to earn an extra $3,000 bonus for higher test scores, than I have a bridge to sell you."

The educrats fail to get the essence of what it means to dedicate yourself to teaching kids. Having built their models on false assumptions, is it any wonder that their achievements are so meager? As Wolf indicates: "Most teachers I know desperately want to do a good job. Meeting with success makes the life of the teacher more rewarding. No small bonus, or even large bonus could ever replace that satisfaction."

Nor will bribing pupils have any real lasting impact-and the analogue of paying folks to lift them out of poverty is equally ridiculous: "The idea that students will be motivated by giving them cash prizes or, more perversely, cellular telephones that they aren’t allowed to bring to school with them, sends the wrong message. We have to imbue in our young people an appreciation for the value of learning – as a way to help them succeed financially, sure, but even more for the enrichment it gives to their lives." It is sad, but not all kids will be motivated; nor will all students be equally successful in spite of our best efforts.

But we need to develop the right methodologies-something that the Tweedlers haven't understood: "The changes we need are the ones that have been ignored. We are following an empty curriculum that leaves even the brightest students woefully deficient in the sciences, history, geography, music and art. We are training teachers to use methodologies, such as “balanced literacy,” that have been proven ineffective with the most at-risk students, while jettisoning strategies with much better track records and far more promise."

Worst of all, the Bloombergistas have recruited an army of MBAs who have a trained incapacity to make any positive educational impact:"In trying to impose a “business model” on our schools, we have failed our children in a profound way. We then use the “creative accounting” of inflated test scores and never-ending test prep to “prove” that the schools are bringing “profits” for the huge investment in public capital that is being poured into them. It is all an illusion, reinforced by a public relations army spending ten times more to sell their product us than the old Board of Education did. If we have learned nothing else during the last few weeks, it is that the Bloombergian “business model” doesn’t even work in the business world. Why should we think that it works in the far more complicated world of education?"

We can't wait till this fight becomes acrimoniously public. Once it does, the mayor's crumbling PR fortress will collapse, and the term limits battle may well be decided in November, 2009-with Mike Bloomberg suffering a humiliating defeat.

With Help Like This...

City Room blog picks up on the Bloomberg/Quinn economic stimulus package: "It may not be a bailout, but every little bit helps. That was the message on Thursday when Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn and six other Council members unveiled a package of 18 initiatives that they said would help New Yorkers absorb the impact of the global economic crisis."

Keeping up with the Machiavellian notion, that it's better to appear good than to be good, Quinnberg unveils initiatives that will have little impact on the real world situation of most New Yorkers. The promotion of this package of irrelevancies is designed to generate a symbolic attachment to the belief that the city is rallying to our side during these troubled times.

Yet, Speaker Quinn sees this differently: “Getting ahead of this storm won’t be easy, but with all of the people here today stepping up to the challenge together, I’m confident we’ll help New Yorkers deal with this economic downturn, in tangible ways that can make an immediate impact,” Ms. Quinn said." Encouraging, no?

As we said before, the mayor and the speaker refrain from doing the most positive of tangible initiatives-reducing taxes and regulations, substituting symbols for concrete relief: "Among some of the specifics, the city wants to allow homeowners with properties valued at under $250,000 to pay quarterly, rather than semi-annually. Then again, he is widely expected to announce as early as next week that the city needs to raise property taxes by 7 percent, starting in January, to generate another $600 million to pad city coffers until the end of the fiscal year, on June 30."

This is the highest form of crackpot realism-permitting homeowners to pay higher taxes quarterly so that they won't feel the elevated payments as much. And this can be announced with a straight face? Get ready folks for the backdraft on all of this flim flammery.

Preposterous or Presumptuous?

In Daily Politics yesterday, Liz regaled us with the mayor taking umbrage at the gall of anyone challenged his droit de seigneur : "Mayor Bloomberg reacted strongly when asked this morning about the legal challenges opponents to the term limits extension legislation plan to file after Monday's bill-signing ceremony, saying: "I don't even know what they're taking about; they're so preposterous."

Now, knowing the mayor's regal hubris as well as we do, we believe that what he really meant to say was that his challengers were "presumptuous." Which our dictionary tells us means: "unwarrantedly or impertinently bold; forward." Subjects aren't supposed to challenge the regent in this manner. As His Honor tells us:

"The City Council passed the law; it was well-debated. Lots of people had a say, and if there are court challenges the corporation counsel will defend the city on those, and I think that the public wants a choice and they'll make the choice a year from November."

Or, in other words, it's pretty clear to Mike that what the public wants is, well, Him. But wait, what's that we here in Satchel Paige fashion? Remember what the old Negro League all star warned against: "Don't look back," he used to say, "Something may be gaining on you."
And that something, at least according to the City Room, could be an Albany challenge to term limits.

As City Room tells us: "Assemblyman Hakeem S. Jeffries said Thursday that a number of his colleagues in Albany have announced their support for legislation he is sponsoring to require a public referendum before the change in New York City’s term limit law becomes effective. Mr. Jeffries said that there are now 15 members of the Assembly’s Democratic majority who have joined him as co-sponsors of the bill."

Can this actually happen? "Mr. Jeffries’s bill would create a new state law requiring any municipality with term limits to hold a public referendum before making any changes that would affect how long elected officials can serve. Because the law would apply statewide, it would supersede any law passed by the City Council. That could throw up a road block for Mr. Bloomberg, who recently won a victory in his campaign to get the City Council to extend term limits."

But what about the state senate, you may ask? Ah, there's the rub-because even with all of the Bloomie Bucks pouring in, there's no guarantee that the senate will stay under Republican control. And if it doesn't? Who knows just how far this bit of preposturousness will go. As Hakim Jeffries says: "The fix was in at City Hall and democracy did not stand a chance,” he said. “The vote to legislatively change term limits was one of the biggest shams ever perpetrated on New Yorkers,” Mr. Jeffries added. “With breathtaking arrogance and reckless disregard for the public sentiment, a few self-interested politicians conspired to undermine the will of the people.”

What we see here, is the potential for the kind of perfect storm that will flood the mayor and his abettors right out of city hall. Maybe that's presumptuous, but in our view it's far from preposterous.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Help is on the Way: God Help Us!

The mayor-trying to demonstrate a proactive stance on the economy, as well as a bit of feigned empathy at the same time-is announcing his Five Point Plan to help out. According to the Washington Post: "To help New Yorkers weather the economic downturn, Mayor Michael Bloomberg plans to relax tax deadlines for some property owners, launch a public awareness campaign about debt and create a special Web site for laid-off financial workers as part of a package of immediate steps to ease the burden."

The mayor is alleging, at least according to NY1, that this effort is partially aimed at helping the city's small businesses: "The five point plan intends to keep New Yorkers working, strengthen small business, make sure home ownership remains the American dream..." Yada, yada yada.
What a load.

And the NY Daily News also tells us that the administration is looking for ways to help the little guys who have been impacted by the economic meltdown: "They may be small, but from boutiques and bodegas to salons and storefronts, New York's mom-and-pop businesses are in some big-time pain. Wall Street turmoil is trickling down to borough streets, where the city's 220,000 small businesses are increasingly short on free-spending customers and loans to keep them afloat."

So what's the big response? As the News points out: "Small Business Services Commissioner Rob Walsh said he's been pounding the pavement trying to listen to pressured entrepreneurs. Last week, Walsh said he walked around six different Brooklyn neighborhoods asking business owners how the city can help. Today, the city is expected to launch an initiative to help mom-and-pops - New York's other big engine of job generation besides shrinking Wall Street. City Hall supports a $700 million small business stimulus package that Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is championing. It calls for increased funding for federal loan guarantees and an expansion of the U.S. Small Business Administration."

Now we're not knee jerk fans of Ronald Reagan, but we're reminded of his admonition about not believing the following: "We're from the government, and we're here to help you." If the mayor really wanted to help small businesses and homeowners, he could begin by simply reducing the cost of living and doing business in NYC. We remember vividly how the Bloomberg property tax increase sent homeowners packing in 2003; an exodus that was only stemmed when the irrational housing bubble took off.

The exodus wasn't limited to homeowners. As the Times reported earlier this year, minority supermarket owners have begun the out migration because of the city's out of control costs: "In one corner of southeast Queens, four supermarkets have closed in the last two years. Over a similar period in East Harlem, six small supermarkets have closed, and two more are on the brink, local officials said...The supermarket closings — not confined to poor neighborhoods — result from rising rents and slim profit margins, among other causes."

It's not only the rents, it's the city's commercial real estate tax-increased by 20% under the mayor's impetus-regulatory blitzes and a bottle law that turns stores into waste dumps. Add to this the cost of light, heat and power, and the absurd workman's comp laws-not to mention the slip and fall lawyers who target the markets-and you get one lousy business environment for a sector, small business, that's touted as the city's other economic engine.

So if the mayor and his small business guru want to help, they have a sure fire way to proceed: simply lower the costs of doing business. But wait, there's a problem with doing that because it would lower the revenues that the city claims it needs for "vital services." Which reminds us of how the mayor approached the cigarette black market,

Back in 2003 when the mayor went on his tax hike binge, he raised the cigarette tax by over 1800%! At the time we complained, pointing out that the city's bodegas, green grocers and news dealers, would lose over $250 million a year to a black market driven by illegal sales from Indian retailers. The mayor's response? He called it a "minor economic issue."

But fast forward to 2008, and we find Mayor Mike suing the very same Indians: "Officials estimate that untaxed cigarette sales by the eight dealers have cut city revenues by nearly $195 million a year, an amount the city can ill afford during a financial crisis." Oh, so now we see, it's an issue only when the city's revenues are threatened.

New Yorkers are living in the most hostile business climate in America. The mayor's faux concerns about the little guy are really disingenuous because they divert attention away from the real source of the problem: the man in the mirror.

State Senate Poll Positions

Liz has the new Siena Poll results for four state senate districts-and the evidence here, it seems to us, is that an Obama tsunami is unlikely to surge marginal Dems into a large majority. Turnout-the great unpredictable factor-could upset the apple cart, but in all likelihood, the battle to control the Senate will remain very close.

Slippery Slope?

Another item in the Crain's Insider caught our eye-it had to do with the beginning erosion of the mayor's popularity: "Amid the fight to extend term limits, Mayor Bloomberg’s unfavorable rating soared to 27%, according to a Siena Research Institute poll. It was 16% in September. Minorities account for much of the jump. A third of African-Americans and Latinos now disapprove of Bloomberg."

And the poll in question was conducted before the council vote on the 23rd-and before the likely swirling of the legal ramifications of the challenge to the vote that will begin after the mayor signs the bill this Monday. As Newsday reports: "Adversaries of the bill extending term limits vowed yesterday that the fight will continue, calling on Mayor Michael Bloomberg to not sign what they described as a self-benefiting piece of legislation."You have a chance to redeem yourself and respect the people's process," Councilman Charles Barron said. "Don't sign it. Don't sign your bill."

And since it appears that this issue has had a disproportionately negative impact in the minority community, the self-imposed-and likely purchased-silence of Al Sharpton is becoming deafening-particularly when elected officials like Bill Thompson are making this a voting rights issue: "We've seen in history when voters' rights have been ignored, we've gone and turned to the courts," Thompson said. "We are standing again together to say we are going back to the courts for justice."

When the Bush Justice Department turns down the challenge ("After Bloomberg signs his bill, it has to be approved by the U.S. Justice Department, which will determine whether it violates the federal Voting Rights Act"), can Sharpton stay on the sidelines. We'll see; but we might want to bet that when the time comes, Bloomberg's going to find himself in the position of the frog who reluctantly gives the scorpion a ride across the river only to wind up fatally stung. Before his demise, the frog asks the scorpion why he would do such a thing, since it dooms the both of them. The reply: "Because that's what scorpions do."

Term Limits Twist and Shout

In this morning's NY Daily News, Errol Louis focuses in on the arm twisting that preceded last week's vote: "The wrongness of the term-limits power grab by Mayor Bloomberg and his bought-off City Council majority was made clear by the dissembling, bribery, cowardice and coercion that went on at City Hall during the farcical hearings and rushed vote to overturn what voters twice approved by referendum.

He's particularly disappointed with Jimmy Vacca: "Jimmy Vacca of the Bronx, who'd vowed to vote against a change to the law, babbled and shook like a leaf as he caved in and changed his vote, looking for all the world like Fredo Corleone, the dim-witted pawn in the "Godfather" movies." People wonder what the deal was here.

As they do with the nauseous Darlene Mealy: "Councilwoman Darlene Mealy of Brooklyn reportedly had what might be the most understandable reaction to the whole sorry spectacle: She threw up. Placed under unrelenting pressure that sources tell me included threats of legal action against her, Mealy - who had publicly promised to oppose any tampering with term limits - quietly changed her vote, then left the chamber to vomit."

While it's unlikely that the popular Vacca is threatened with removal by the voters next year, Mealy is extremely vulnerable, as is-at least according to the Crain's Insider-Tom White: "A political operative says Tom White of Queens should be added to the list of City Council members who will be vulnerable next year because they voted to extend term limits. “He’s going down,” the source says."

All of which will make for an interesting year, with everything transpiring under the glare and gloom of a growing budget deficit and predictable service cuts. In the course of next year's drama we will really discover the extent to which NYC is a paragon of voter sophistication-and a place where the will of the people is considered sacrosanct.

Bloomberg, Bloomberg, Pants on Fire

When Clyde Haberman wrote last week on the mayor and the term limits debate, he pointed out-referring to the complete about face that Bloomberg had made on the issue-that: "Having legislatively muscled his way into a possible third term as mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg now faces what may be a more onerous challenge: How to convince New Yorkers that they can believe a single thing he says."

Well, it didn't take long to find an issue that further erodes the mayor's rather flimsy credibility. It now appears that Mayor Mike, eager to bum rush his extension coronation, purposefully mislead New Yorkers about the size of the city's current deficit. As the NY Times reports this morning: "On Oct. 21, two days before the City Council voted by a thin margin to allow Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg to seek a third term, the mayor sounded an alarm on the city’s economy. New York City’s annual budget deficit, he said, would swell by $500 million during the current fiscal year because of weakening tax revenues. At the time, the worsening picture seemed to strengthen his central argument for changing term limits — a vulnerable city needed his steady hand and business background for four more years."

But the dire warning turns out to be, at least for the current year-what a shock-simply false: "But some of those inside and outside the administration say that Mr. Bloomberg’s remarks were inaccurate and may have painted a more dire financial situation than was warranted. Interviews with these people show that the city does not expect any budget deficit in the current fiscal year, which began July 1."

So Michael Bloomberg, the above special interests statesman, is acting just like any other glibly prevaricating pol in support of the politician's time honored favorite special interest-self-aggrandizement: "In fact, data that was provided to the city about the same time the mayor was speaking showed the city’s tax revenue grew at an unexpectedly brisk pace during July, August and September. During that time, the city took in at least $200 million more than it had planned for, data and interviews show. Much of the unexpected revenue stemmed from sales, personal income and property transfer taxes."

So why did he lie Mr, Loeser? "Asked why the mayor said the city faces a deficit this year, aides said that Mr. Bloomberg may have been referring instead to his expectation that revenues would be lower than the city forecast. But even if the mayor were referring to a potential falloff in this year’s tax receipts, the $500 million number is a greater decline than what many city officials and economists predict."

And the mayor's words carry consider weight, especially in the fawning pages of the city's tabloids: "Mr. Bloomberg’s Oct. 21 remarks carried significant weight, and prompted articles in The Daily News and The New York Post about the city’s worsening economy. Both articles reported that the city’s budget deficit would swell by $500 million, and mayoral aides never sought to correct those stories. “I can tell you,” the mayor said, “that our deficit — we originally had ’09 balanced. Now we’ve got a $500 million hole in it.”

So we're back to Haberman's observation on the mayor's evanescent credibility and the still roiling issue of term limits. As he mused yesterday: "On the radio, Mr. Bloomberg left little doubt about his distaste for going that route. He cited the complex nature of city government. “You don’t run that by taking referendums on everything,” he said. His comment misrepresented reality. New York hardly holds referendums on everything; we’re not California. We have referendums on very few things."

So the upcoming 2010 referendum is certainly not a sure thing-and certainly not so given the lack of weight we're able to assign to whatever comes out of the mayor's mouth: "But in one such instance, five years ago, the voters soundly thumped Mr. Bloomberg when he sought their support for nonpartisan elections. That experience seems to have soured him on plebiscites. A reasonable inference from his latest remarks is that he is not interested in any kind of referendum at all."

The wise Timesman ends by highlighting the observations of the villainous "Chinatown" character, Noah Cross: "Mr. Bloomberg knows that his reputation has taken hard blows in the fight over term limits. But he is apparently betting that the passage of time will restore whatever he may have lost in respectability. Noah Cross would have counseled him to hang in there. “Politicians, ugly buildings and whores,” he said, “all get respectable if they last long enough.”

This hope-and $100 million-is what motivates Bloomberg; and he's someone who probably follows PT Barnum rather than Noah Cross. The old circus dude's motto certainly must guide the mayor: "There's a sucker born every minute,"

Bye Bye Biaz?

According to the West Bronx blog (via Liz B), there will be at least two contested council races in the Bronx: "Many local insurgent candidates launched Web sites and have been fundraising for months. Now faced with the probability of facing well-financed, well-known incumbents, candidates are reassessing their campaigns. A couple have already dropped out or signaled their intention to do so. But after surveying the post-term limits political landscape in the 11th and 14th Council districts, it appears most candidates have not been cowed, meaning some spirited and competitive races may be coming next fall."

While we think that challenging long time Riverdaler Ollie Koppell will be formidable indeed, Maria Ausente Biaz is another story altogether: "In the 14th District (Mount Hope, University Heights and Kingsbridge Heights), none of Maria Baez’s previously announced opponents seem scared off by the prospect of facing the incumbent." Nor should they, considering the fact that the evanescent Biaz is never around enough to establish any sold presence.

We did, however, get a kick out of the Biaz comments: "Baez told the Mount Hope Monitor recently that she will run again and that the term limits extension will “give an opportunity for members like myself to finish projects.” What it will do, if she ever did serve three terms, would be to enable the tardy Biaz to actually get the chance to serve two full terms.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Gaming the Schools

In the NY Post this morning comes this: "A group launched more than a year ago to conduct independent research on the city school system's practices is - well - re-launching.
Since its inaugural conference on Oct. 7, 2007, the Research Alliance for New York City Schools has disappeared into a fund-raising, leadership-seeking cocoon...Some have voiced concern about the alliance's ability to remain independent, since Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and UFT chief Randi Weingarten will sit on its board."

Yuh think? Which takes us back to another Post missive by Marcus Winters-an editorial in favor of maintaining mayoral control a few days ago: "The issue of mayoral control is much bigger than any one mayor. The real question is what setup makes the most sense for governing a large urban school system. In that light, most arguments against reauthorization just crumble."

And what arguments are those? It seems that the debate over what form of governance system should be maintained hasn't even begun-although there have been some trenchant criticisms of the Bloomberg era. So while the Op-ed author is right-"Under mayoral control, by contrast, no school reform sees the light of day without at least the mayor's implicit approval. If voters and parents don't like what's going on in city schools, they know whom to blame. If they approve, then they know whom to praise"-there a big gulf between a critique of how the Bloombergistas have utilized their control, and complete reversion to an older system.

It all comes off as another Bloomberg-driven straw man. And severe crticisms continue to pour in. In this morning's NY Daily News, Juan Gonzales dramatizes additional waste at the DOE; and underscores the fact that contracts are being let with absolutely no accountability to the tax payers-other than the nuclear option of throwing the mayor out on his pencil holder: "Send it by courier" has become a favorite catch phrase at the school system's Tweed Courthouse headquarters these days. Tweed educrats are on track to spend $5 million this year for private couriers - more than double the messenger tab before Schools Chancellor Joel Klein took over in 2002 - a Daily News review of city budget records shows. The biggest share of that increase is coming from Klein's office of assessment and accountability, the controversial new division that oversees student testing."

And as one Tweed critic points out: "The Department of Education is out of control," said Leonie Haimson, head of Class Size Matters, a parent advocacy group. "It's unrestrained by reality," she said. "Here we're told there's a financial crisis and schools will have to cut budgets, but this element at Tweed keeps mushrooming with spending. "They're bringing stuff in my school by courier from downtown," one principal said. "Bulletins, memos, fancy color brochures, sometimes they come in on hand trucks. It's astounding because none of this stuff helps us teach our students."

Unaccountability at the Office of Accountability-priceless: "They've got all these people feeding information into computers, tweaking numbers to produce a grade for a school that is totally useless," another principal said. "It's like some Kafkaesque novel."

Information is power in evaluating school performance. Here's how Winters diminishes this argument: "Still others argue that the mayor shouldn't have control over so much information pertaining to the schools. They charge that the Bloomberg team manipulates data via a sophisticated marketing operation and worry that future mayors could do so as well. They say that we shouldn't reauthorize the law unless it includes the creation of an outside organization, similar to the federal General Accounting Office, that would be the official arbiter of "truth."
An outside auditor might not be a bad thing, but it's hardly required. Exactly what data isn't available now?

Winters goes on to point out: "Yes, the administration has trumpeted somewhat misleading numbers, such as gains in the percentage of students meeting particular benchmarks. But press releases from the Department of Education are hardly our only source of information. The state and city report mean test scores overall, by subgroup and by school, and provide this information to parents, researchers and journalists on the Web or by request. Researchers at a variety of think tanks and universities have independently gained access to student-level data and are using it to study the city's schools."

But the fact still remains that the DOE is spending millions to not only tweak the numbers, but to also spin results in a blizzard of misleading statistics-which is precisely why the monitor, and a truly independent one at that, is needed. Most folks can't keep up with Tweedle Dee; and the unmonitored spending is inexcusable in this fiscal climate.

Winters ends with the continuing resort to his straw man argument, and goes after unnamed educational critics in the most unprofessional fashion: "Yet most people believe that the reforms are working - that is, they are unconvinced by the dissenters' arguments. The dissenters point to this fact as proof of a coverup - a claim that defines arrogance.That said, naysayers are welcome to argue that this administration is unresponsive and that the recent reforms have been unproductive. The benefit of mayoral control is that such people know exactly where to address their displeasure. Their issue is with the mayor, not with mayoral control."

So bring on the review process-with all of the attendant zeal that is needed to combat the true source of arrogance-Tweedle Bloomberg and Tweedle Klein.

Hammond Eggs on Legislature

In this morning's NY Daily News, the paper's Bill Hammond lauds Governor Paterson on his budget realism, while attacking pandering state legislators for a head in the sand attitude: "Facing its worst financial crisis since the Depression, New York State needs more courageous leaders like Gov. Paterson who are willing to confront reality head-on. What they do not need is state lawmakers who pretend Albany can plow ahead with big-spending business as usual. Yet, that's exactly what they saw Tuesday."

The problem is simple; a pre-election necessity to keep the allies in place in order to maintain power: "At a time when New York is billions in the red, four Republican senators - Marty Golden of Brooklyn, Serphin Maltese of Queens, George Maziarz of Niagara County and Catharine Young of Cattaraugus County - complain about a modest $50 million trim in Medicaid spending on prescription drugs...Meanwhile, Skelos restated his probably empty promise not to touch a dime of school aid this fiscal year - a pander that secured his members support from the teachers union as they struggle to save their vanishing Republican majority. Senate Minority Leader Malcolm Smith (D-Queens) cut the same cynical deal. These and other lawmakers obviously think the best way to get reelected is to make a lot of spending promises they can't keep."

So, while Hammond is right and-"Lawmakers have a responsibility to be honest with voters before Election Day - to spell out not just what parts of state government they want to keep, but also what they're ready to trim back."-the reality here is that the governor isn't facing the voters until 2010. Still, as the News' editorial today underscores, the state is going to need real creative action: "The day of reckoning, and hopefully revolution, has arrived for New York's top elected leaders. The long era of gorging on tax revenues thrown off by Wall Street is over, and the time is at hand to overhaul and dramatically streamline state government. With Albany facing a $1.5 billion deficit through April and a $12.5 billion deficit the next year, the task is as gargantuan as it is inescapable."

With the state senate leadership in the balance, and with a potential paralysis ahead, we're going to need a whole lot of creativity and courage as we approach the day of budget reckoning. Let's hope that whoever emerges from the leadership battle understands the seriousness of what we face.

The Pointed Knife of Willets

In yesterday's Crain's Insider (subscription), there's an item about Willets Point that was as predictable, as it was disturbing: "Councilman Lew Fidler, D-Brooklyn, says his colleagues, who usually follow the local member on land-use decisions, could buck tradition when they vote on the Willets Point plan Nov. 12. Queens Councilman Hiram Monserrate will oppose the project unless the city adds affordable housing and minimizes condemnations. But Fidler says Willets Point has benefits for the entire city, which could lead to approval even if Monserrate votes no. Flushing Councilman John Liu agrees that members don’t see the project as a local issue. Fidler, who hasn’t taken a position, believes the city and Monserrate will compromise."

Now, let's be clear, almost any land use item can be seen as having city wide implications, and the Fidler Ultimatum-after all, what else can it possibly be?-is designed to pressure Monseratte to compromise. But what is Fidler doing making this statement? Where's his involvement or interest-other than becoming the mayor's cats paw? And what about the 33 members who joined with Monseratte to oppose the plan?

All of which indicates to us that the council may well become divided along mayoral/non mayoral lines; or perhaps Fidler is wearing the labor banner on this. One thing's very clear, however. The council is making a mistake to approve any plan without a developer-EDC says it will now re-bid the project-or any concrete development plan. That, on top of the local member's disapproval, should be enough. If it isn't than another shame on the body.

Without Reservation: Show Us the Money

The Bloombergistas have finally figured out what local small businesses have known for the past seven years; buttlegging of cigarettes is costing local retailers-and the city/state tax payers-hundreds of millions of dollars a year. With record deficits facing both governments, drastic enforcement action is needed since estimates indicate that up to $1billion can be found to help balance the state budget, and nearly $200 million alone can be obtained for the city.

As the NY Times details this morning: "Bootleg cigarette traffic from Long Island’s tiny Poospatuck reservation to New York City is brisk, so much so that some cigarette dealers on the reservation don’t even bother to set up storefronts, according to a motion filed in federal court on Tuesday. Instead, the dealers take telephone orders for bulk shipments of untaxed cigarettes. Millions of them are delivered to the city by van and distributed through an underground network that dramatically undercuts tax collection, the city alleged."

When we first brought this up-and pointed out the lost black market sales to city bodegas, green grocers and newsdealers-the mayor labeled it a, "minor economic issue." He was trying to downplay just how much his record cigarette tax increase had walloped retailers-forgetting that in the long run the city was also a big loser: "Officials estimate that untaxed cigarette sales by the eight dealers have cut city revenues by nearly $195 million a year, an amount the city can ill afford during a financial crisis. In addition, bootleg cigarette traffic undermines a Bloomberg administration anti-smoking campaign."

So while the Alliance is happy that the administration is finally getting into the enforcement business we're displeased, to say the least, that the city didn't feel the need to act on behalf of its businesses-only when its own ox was so obviously being gored. And the activities of the phony Indians is too obvious for anyone to ignore: "In making off-reservation sales, including bulk transactions in which defendants sell van loads of cigarettes on a daily basis, which are then trafficked into New York City for resale, defendants grow rich at the expense of tax-paying retailers and city and state taxpayers,” lawyers for the city said in the 43-page memorandum requesting a preliminary injunction against the tribal dealers."

There are only 279 people living on the Poospatuck reservation, yet there are 49 businesses entities selling smokes-an obvious attempt to end run legal limits on bulk sales. The vanning of cigearettes into the city-and the backpacking of resellers-has been documented from the beginning of the Bloomberg tax increase in 2002; so its nice to see that we have been vindicated: "Another defendant, TDM Discount Cigarettes, does not maintain a storefront, a fact that indicates that TDM “engaged entirely in bulk sales,” the court papers said. A confidential informant said that TDM made deliveries to a storage location in Queens owned by cigarette resellers in the city, according to the court papers. A lawyer for TDM could not be reached for comment."

Now if Governor Paterson would get into the act, another important source of new state revenue could be found to close the state's record budget gap: "Mr. Paterson said that a gap of $12.5 billion has already opened between projected revenues and spending for the 2010 fiscal year, which begins on April 1. He expects deficits of $15.8 billion for the following fiscal year and $17.2 billion in fiscal year 2012. “We will face massive deficits in this state,” the governor said at a news conference in Manhattan. “And we’re going to have to take bold and urgent actions to try to accommodate them.”

Like how about enforcing the law on lawless Indian retailers by charging the taxes upstream, so that the city's enforcement efforts would be streamlined. Given the record deficit, the governor's excuses for inaction-much like those of his predecessers-can no longer be accepted. As the NY Post points out this morning, drastic budget cutting is going to be needed: "But the challenge will be to do so in a way that minimizes damage to the economy, upon whose health Albany relies. That means cutting the fat, saving core services - and holding down taxes. Is Albany up to the job?"

Unwilling to Budge(t)

The stuff is just about ready to hit the fan-with a huge state budget shortfall ready to have a major negative impact city finances. As Daily Politics reports: "With the state in increasingly dire fiscal straits, Mayor Bloomberg began calling City Council members today to warn them the city's suffering will likely worsen due to Albany’s budget fiasco, the DN's Kate Lucadamo reports.
“He called me before and said we are going to have a tough time and Albany is not going to help and we are going to have to act sooner rather than later,” said Councilman David Weprin, the head of the Finance Committee." That could mean a mid-year property tax hike or further budget cuts, but will largely depend on how much aid the state ends up withholding."

Are you ready for this? The state is facing a $13 billion shortfall of its own-with school aid scheduled to rise by $2 billion in the next fiscal year, along with a $1.8 billion Medicaid rise. Drastic savings are going to be needed; and yet we read that the state payroll has actually increased. Here's Liz's earlier post: "Calling the fiscal crisis facing New York "unprecedented," Gov. David Paterson today called on legislative leaders to whack another $2 billion from the current budget when they return to Albany Nov. 18 for their second emergency session in three months and stressed that nothing is off the table when it comes to cuts. "Don't get me wrong," the governor said, "there will be hard and painful cuts. There is no segment of this budget that will not be cut."

It is precisely in this environment that we can ill afford legislative gridlock-and we'd like all Obamafiles to keep in mind that the Senator's tax plan would likely cost this high income state around $500,000,000 a year; just when we can least afford it. At the same time we need to find ways to grow other areas of the economy in the face of the Wall Street retrenchment that will only get worse. Up until now Wall Street, only 2-3% of the area jobs, has accounted for around 18% of the taxable wage revenue to the state.

Given this heretofore out sized role for the financial sector, it seems to us that the state and the city is going to need to address-and remedy-the high cost of doing business here. If, as Mike Bloomberg has said, New York isn't like Wal-Mart and is more of a luxury item, then we need to be mindful of how luxury items are the first things that folks sacrifice during hard times.

And the schools, particularly school aid, will be right in the budget cross hairs. NY spends about 30-40% more per pupil (around $13,000) than the national average. The state spends $24.3 billion a year in school aid to localities. Can anyone argue that we're getting the right bang for these bucks? And more school aid is warranted because? However, cutting these funds in the face of teacher union opposition will be the budgetary equivalent of passing a kidney stone.

In the face of these budget and governance realities, Mike Bloomberg has been a minimalist. As Nicole Gelinas comments: "But although Mr Bloomberg was preparing for the downturn, the one hitting the city now is likely to be much worse than anyone expected. Some argue that he has missed an opportunity to deal with the size of the budget in good times, and allowed spending on debt servicing, pensions, healthcare and Medicaid to spiral. “The only thing that stood between us and a fiscal crisis five years ago was a Wall Street business model that is clearly
unsustainable,” says Nicole Gelinas of the Manhattan Institute. “We have just finished with the biggest boom ever seen in modern history and we have not used that time to get costs under control.”

It is the governor who is appearing to be the model of fiscal probity; and, aside from threatening the city with a tax increase, the mayor has been quiescent. His approach is, however, exactly wrong. Once again, here's Gelinas: "Gelinas said Bloomberg could go a step further by cutting income taxes across the board, which would encourage job growth on Wall Street as well as work toward diversifying the city’s economy."

And pigs could fly. These are tough times that demand tough leaders; but toughness alone isn't enough. Mayor Mike has coasted for the past six years, with the Wall Street gale force wind at his sails. With the winds shifting, a good sailor learns to tack; but this mayor is a paint-by-the-numbers one note. We need innovative responses on both the state and city levels. Mike Bloomberg isn't going to provide this, his clack of cheer leading billionaires, notwithstanding.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Kapping the State Senate

Bob Kappstatter has picked up on the battle for leadership of the state senate:

Unholy alliance

"Watch out for lightning around these guys. Mortal political enemies Bronx State Sen. Ruben (The Rev.) Diaz Sr. and state Sen.-elect Pedro (The Wascally Wabbit) Espada Jr. have kissed and made up. On top of that, The Rev. and The Wabbit, seen huddling over lunch last week at the Caridad Restaurant in Westchester Square, have formed an unholy alliance with two fellow Dems, Brooklyn state Sen. Carl Kruger and Queens Sen.-elect Hiram Monserrate, to throw their collective weight around in the closely divided Senate, maybe even playing in the Republican sandbox for district largesse."

And Kappy sees the alliance possibly bearing fruit: "The Downstate Bad Boyz will likely want to have a say in whether Malcolm Smith or someone else should be majority leader if, as expected, Dems wrest slim majority control. We're told the DBBs will go public shortly after next Tuesday's election - if they can keep from stabbing each other in the back that long. ..."

The plot definitely thickens-and we eagerly await the returns next week. It just might not be business as usual.

Heavens to Betsy!

As the NY Times is reporting today, Betsy Gotbaum will not run for a third term as the city's Public Advocate: "In the interview, Ms. Gotbaum, who was elected in 2001, said that she could not in good faith seek re-election, given how vociferously she had opposed the term limits legislation pushed by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and approved by the City Council. The measure extends the number of four-year terms city elected officials can serve from two to three...“It would be very hard for me to benefit from something that I fundamentally disagree with,” she said."

Good for her, and as Shakespeare once said (we paraphrase): "Nothing so much became her as her leaving." Gotbaum, who we have felt has been much too quiescent in her role-particularly since this mayor was badly in need of a hair shirt-leaves with as principled a stand as we've seen lately in city politics.

But we would be remiss if we failed to mention her work on school governance, where Gotbaum exposed a number of problems and fallacies of the mayor's school stewardship. If there were more such actions, we would be reporting her departure with a great deal more sorrow.

Which brings us to the race to succeed her, and we expect a lively battle: "The field of hopefuls to succeed Ms. Gotbaum will most likely include Councilman Eric N. Gioia of Queens, who has all but declared his intention to seek the job and has raised $2.5 million for the campaign; Norman Siegel, the civil liberties lawyer who lost in a runoff to Ms. Gotbaum in 2001; and Councilman John C. Liu, also from Queens. On Monday, Councilman Bill de Blasio of Brooklyn, who had been campaigning to succeed the Brooklyn borough president, Marty Markowitz, also appeared to be strongly leaning toward entering the contest."

We hope, particularly if Mike Bloomberg's coup is successful, that the Gotbaum replacement acts as the pit bull that New Yorkers need: "Scott Levenson, a consultant who has worked on many political campaigns in the city, predicted that whoever succeeded Ms. Gotbaum would be a more aggressive and confrontational critic than she has been. Among other factors, the candidates likely to run for Ms. Gotbaum’s job all opposed Mr. Bloomberg’s change to the term limits law and pointedly criticized him for it."

The campaign for advocate should help to dramatize all that is wrong with the term limits process, and should in addition help to frame the case against a Bloomberg third term. Let's hope so.

New York Checks and Imbalances

The NY Times this morning focuses in on the expensive nature of the battle for the state senate in New York: "This year’s State Senate elections are likely to be the most expensive in modern history, driven by the close battle for control of the chamber, the aggressive intervention of Gov. David A. Paterson on behalf of his fellow Democrats and unusually intense fund-raising by both Democratic and Republican candidates."

The shift of two seats could put the Dems in control of all aspects of state government for the first time in over forty years: “Senate Republicans have spent a lot without getting the results,” said Austin Shafran, a Democratic campaign spokesman. “For 40 years, the Republican Senate has failed to meet the needs of working families, and now their time is up.” So, we suppose, if the balance does shift those non working families will get screwed.

Does the issue of checks and balances remain important? That's a good question; with many observers saying that the Republican control of the state senate becoming less of a check than it has been in the past, because the body has become less fiscally frugal as its majority has shrunk. An additional component in the equation has been the support that large powerful labor unions have thrown to the controlling party-support that has pushed Republicans closer to their assembly counterparts on many major issues facing state government.

From our view, the real challenge here goes beyond the partisan make up of the body, and devolves from the incredible challenges that all of the state's governing components will be facing after the first of the year. Record deficits, the Wall Street meltdown, and a growing recession, will make the actions of state government crucial to all families. Of particular importance, is the fact that the state is already one of the most expensive places to live and do business.

So, we're going to need a degree of bipartisan cooperation on all levels like we've never needed it before. A strong measure of intestinal fortitude is going to be needed to rise above the special interests and govern from a sensible center-something that the governor has already begun to do-to the consternation of some on his party's left wing.

The control of the senate, therefore, is less important than the body's ability to act decisively and responsibly in the current crisis. Yesterday we speculated on the "nightmare" scenario of a deadlocked chamber, and observed that there will probably be forces looking to insure that this doesn't happen-and that the body will be structured to take independent action.

The need for intelligent bipartisanship isn't advanced by the acrimony we've seen from some. As the following underscores from the Times:"The Democrats’ central Senate committee also reported $10,000 in outstanding debt owed to Olga A. Méndez, a former Democratic senator from East Harlem who switched parties in 2004 and promptly lost her re-election bid. The debt has been on the committee’s books since the late 1990s. “When Olga Méndez became a Republican, she went the way of the Republican Party in New York — near extinction,” said Mr. Shafran. “We haven’t heard from her since.”

Aside from the unnecessary flippancy of the remark, it's important to add two things about our old friend Olga. She was not only the first Latina elected in New York State, she was also the longest serving; and to say that she hasn't been heard from since she switched parties is extraordinarily offensive, as she continues to wage a tough battle with terminal cancer.

This is the kind of rank partisanship, typical of campaigns we understand, that we should look to transcend since all New Yorkers are hurting and the old government nostrums may be more appropriate for a quieter time. Innovative and creative new approaches will be needed, and we're pretty sure that no one faction has a monopoly on creativity and independent judgment.


In regards to the above, the NY Daily News is reporting on the gigantic budget gap facing New York State: "The state's projected budget gap for next year has ballooned to a record $12.5 billion, a Paterson administration source disclosed Monday. The staggering 2009-10 deficit estimate, which will be included in the midyear financial plan Gov. Paterson releases today, surpasses the previous record of $11.2 billion the state faced after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks."

All of which means that the creativity and independence cited previously are going to be crucial-especially when tired bromides about working families are used to mask more of the same old, same old: "In a statement Monday, a spokesman for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) also said all options for closing the budget gap remain "on the table." He also stressed that there must be shared sacrifice. "[Silver] is committed to the proposition that the burden of New York's fiscal crisis cannot be borne exclusively by working families and the middle class," spokesman Dan Weiller said."

How about the fact that NY has over 1400 municipal subdivisions that act as expensive duplications of service delivery for New Yorkers? How about the fact that the state has over 700 separate school districts-with over fifty, we believe, in Nassau County alone? There is room for reform measures that will save millions; and let's not forget the dysfunctional public authorities like the MTA that hemorrhage money with little real oversight.

It's time to move beyond the hackneyed phrases and remember that all New York's families are working-and struggling. That doesn't mean, however, that we wreck the state's economy in the name of some bogus, and self defeating, concept of economic justice. We're already facing a potential assault on the state's treasury if the Obama tax plan is ever implemented; a replication on the state level would be a shot in the economic gut for all, and not just the wealthy New Yorkers.

Yassky in Rehab

As we wrote yesterday, it's real difficult to explain just why a very smart David Yassky voted in favor of the mayor's term limits bill; especially since so many in his district were clearly enraged by the Bloomberg coup. But, if anyone can explain the situation, it's David himself-and that's what he tries to do in a blast e-mail to friends and supporters. As the Daily Politics blog reports:

"In the e-mail, which appears in full after the jump, Yassky called the term limits vote was "the most difficult decision I have faced in the City Council - more than congestion pricing, the garbage plan, or the post-9/11 tax increase. "Like many people, my initial reaction to the Mayor's proposal was outrage. While I have always held that the eight-year term limit was bad policy, it was a policy put in place by referendum and the fairest way to change it was by a subsequent referendum," Yassky wrote. "I was saddened by the Mayor's eagerness to bypass the voters, and I strongly disagreed with his assertion that a referendum was not feasible. Most important, I knew that a Council vote to change term limits would confirm many people's most cynical suspicions about politics and politicians."

So why did he then? "But I do know that we are in a period of extraordinary challenge, and that voters may well value stability and experience in the City government. I became convinced that the right choice at this point in time was to leave open for voters the option of choosing to continue the Bloomberg Administration next November."

Does this explanation ring true? One thing we're sure of is that David's decision wasn't in any way venal. But, we ask ourselves, was it at all prudent? And if the answer is, No, then it could mean real big, and potentially insurmountable troubles, ahead for a bright and dedicated elected official. As the City Room blog reminds us: "Many in the district initially believed that Mr. Yassky, who has long described himself as being part of a progressive group of politicians in Brooklyn, would oppose the mayor’s plan to increase the number of terms that city officials would serve from two to three. They had expected that the councilman would approve of changing the law only by a public referendum, pointing out that the laws resulted from two public votes."

They certainly did; and the backdraft here is indeed incendiary. As one potential opponent, Ken Diamondstone, tells City Room: "He said that Mr. Yassky’s real intention represented “an end run around two referenda, which affirmed the people’s strong stance on limiting the city’s elected official to two terms,” and added that Mr. Yassky “clearly demonstrated that he believes his own interests trump the voice of the voters.”

Just as Marty Conner was swept out by a change wind, it appears that Yassky too will be at the mercy of the political Hawk. It will take real political skill to withstand the reaction.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Time to End Conflicts Board

The editorial in this morning's NY Daily News dramatizes a compelling need: dismantling of the city's Conflict of Interest Board. It turns out that the COIB had turned its guns on a Brooklyn Tech librarian for promoting his daughter's book: "The city's ethics cops owe an apology and a clean bill of health to a public high school librarian whom they prosecuted to the most exaggerated extent of the law for the grave offense of being a proud father. Robert Grandt, a 39-year city schools veteran now stationed at Brooklyn Tech, was guilty only of sharing a dad's delight that his daughter had illustrated a pictorial version of "Macbeth."

These Keystone Kops ought to be ashamed of themselves-but shame is so obviously not in their personality profile. After all, these are the clowns who weren't able to see any conflicts in the relationship between former deputy mayor Dan Doctoroff and billionaire real estate developer Steve Ross-even after Deputy Dan ceded the entire Bronx Terminal Market over to Ross for a song; and without any competitive bid.

It should be noted, though, that the Daily News had a bout of lockjaw over this episode, even cheer leading the development without regard to the subornation of the democratic process. And even today, it sets its sights only on the usual suspects-and only very narrowly at that: "And wouldn't it be nice if the board applied the same zeal to officials who brazenly play around with hundreds of thousands of dollars. Such as the City Council, whose members funnel huge sums to private groups run by kinfolk and political pals. The board is just fine with this blatant abuse of power. As long as a Council member discloses that he or she is sending taxpayer money to, say, a brother, sister or spouse, the Council member is free to do exactly as he or she pleases."

So, let's get this straight. Funneling a few thousand dollars to a questionable local group is wrong; but voting to give themselves, as they did in the term limits vote, an additional four years and better than $500,000 of personal income is OK? And it was the same COIB that rubber stamped this after a complaint was lodged. It's a good thing that awards aren't given out for editorial inconsistency-the News would get top prize.