Monday, October 13, 2008

Christening a Farce

As we have been saying-and yes it does feel ad nauseum, doesn't it?-the term limits deal fluctuates between tragedy and farce; the tragic aspect is that it reveals Mayor Mike as just another pol clinging to power with all of the usual thinly disguised public interest rationales. The farce involves the hapless Ron Lauder. Our old friend Bob Laird captures this in an Op-ed piece in this morning's NY Daily News:

"What is baffling is that if you really believe in term limits but also want Bloomberg to remain in City Hall during these tough economic times, you have an irreconcilable dilemma. Those two positions cannot logically co-exist. That is precisely the fix that Ronald Lauder, the father of term limits, has found himself in. He wants to keep his baby, but he also wants to keep Bloomberg. So first he was with the mayor, then against him, and now he is in the awkward position of saying he'll accept the termination of the law only if he can serve as chairman of a Charter Revision Commission that will reinstate it."

The farce here is the fact that term limits, if you really believe in the principle, is not something that can be set aside for an exception-no matter how good that exception may appear to be:

"This is a farce worthy of the Marx Brothers. If term limits are right in principle, then they are always right and should never be suspended. We don't pick and choose with other laws, deciding to set them aside when someone we admire is involved, then reinvoking them for everyone else. The argument for doing such a dipsy-doodle with term limits is that this is a one-time incident necessitated by the fact that Bloomberg is a keeper. Never again, say the proponents. But how do they know that? Suppose 12 years or 20 years or at some other time in the future there is another acclaimed mayor who is reaching the end of his or her second term. Will term limits be set aside yet again amid assurances that this time we really, really mean it and we won't ever do this again? That's addict talk."

All of which makes this whole episode really a black comedy-with politicians on both sides of the debate struggling to clothe their arguments in the rented garments of the general good. To wit Chris Quinn, gambling with her future, and making the following statement: "In difficult times, I believe voters should have the choice to keep current leadership. If voters are not happy with any of us, they have the right to vote us out of office next November"... One of the reasons she came out in support yesterday, she said, was "to demonstrate leadership on issues that are truly controversial where you can't find consensus."

And a gamble it is, since neither she and the council maintain anywhere near the public approbation enjoyed by the mayor. Liz Benjamin captures Quinn's roll of the dice: "Mayor Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn have finally consummated their political marriage of convenience. He needs her to realize his dream of extending term limits legislatively and seeking reelection next year. She wants to be mayor, but needs time to rebuild her reputation after the slush fund scandal - and protection in the event of a City Council leadership coup."

The path ahead is fraught with many potential dangers because, as the NY Times points out this morning: "Two weeks ago, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg boasted to his aides that he would easily win passage of a measure to give himself the chance to run for a third term. But now, facing an unanticipated backlash against a plan that was hatched with a handful of fellow billionaires and business moguls, the mayor is having to work much harder to assemble the support he needs to extend his stay in office."

And as this drags out into the courts, the dangers will escalate as reputations get put to the test; the power grab being a new and different lens with which to evaluate the actions of our elected officials: "The campaign, which has drawn sharp rebukes from a collection of grass-roots groups, has reinforced Mr. Bloomberg’s image as a sometimes imperious leader who may be in sync with a world of business executives but less attuned to the attitudes of ordinary New Yorkers."

Mike Bloomberg has never really been challenged; and it will be interesting to see how he reacts if real mass opposition galvanizes against the royal putsch. Up until now he's been able to skillfully camouflage what we believe is his essential nature of arrogant entitlement. Chris Quinn is an invaluable ally in the mayor's effort to avoid becoming the cynosure of the opposition's wrath.

But, as the next two weeks unfold, this may become more complicated for both the mayor and the speaker. To paraphrase Karl Marx's comments on the philosopher Proudhon, the mayor, in linking himself with Quinn, seeks synthesis, but may only achieve composite error-only time will tell here.