Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Council Kabuki

One can almost feel sorry for Speaker Quinn as she approaches her, "damned if you do, and damned if you don't," moment in the city's spotlight. Faced with making a decision on the mayor's term limits extension-and her own as well as her colleagues-she will be excoriated either way she goes; either by the public that has made its feelings rather well known on the topic-and its low view of the city council as well, or by her colleagues who would likely find little use for a leader who exhibits such disregard for their self interest.

This Hamlet on the Hudson moment is captured this morning in the NY Times. The paper sees Quinn's delayed response as a conflict between her ambition and her own past unequivocal stand against any legislative change of the term limits law. But, as they say, that was then, and this is now: The curious quiet highlights the awkward decision the speaker faces; it is a decision complicated by her ambition to be mayor, by her singular power as speaker to influence legislation, and by her previous public statements in which she has said, unequivocally, that she would not tinker with term limits."

Make no mistake about it-Chris Quinn has only one choice here-to move the bill or face ouster as leader from a body whose members are gladly reaching out to grasp the mayor's life line: "Publicly opposing any change to the law could strengthen her reputation as a principled leader, especially since voters approved term limits twice. Opposition is likely to rankle some of her colleagues in the Council who want to seek a third term and might upset Mr. Bloomberg, whose support she covets and whose wishes she seldom defies."

So all of the public quiescence is merely done to avoid, for as long as possible, taking a public position that will open her up to widespread, and vehement, opprobrium. For as popular as the mayor may be, the city council surely doesn't share it; and Quinn as its leader would quickly become the symbol of the council's perceived self aggrandizement.

And the danger here lies, to some extent, with the potential lethal combination of good government scorn and Ron Lauder's money: "Ms. Quinn has another reason to avoid taking a stand just yet: Ronald S. Lauder. The billionaire cosmetics heir, who helped pass the current term limits law in 1993, opposes the mayor’s plan to change the law permanently. After coaxing from Mr. Bloomberg’s allies and aides, Mr. Lauder was supposed to stay out of the fight, but he is now telling friends he could jump back into the battle, spending money on commercials that defend the law."

So this moment is likely to be a political cul du sac for Quinn-with her only decent exit a term extension and the hope for a certain amount of public amnesia four years hence; time hopefully healing all wounds. The following, therefore, is simply nonsense: "People familiar with Ms. Quinn’s thinking said she did not subscribe to the theory that a third term in the Council would help her effort to become mayor. The Council finance scandal, she has told associates, will be used against her in a campaign for mayor whether she runs in 2009 or 2013."

Well, she can't run now since she has inexorably linked her own fortunes to those of the mayor; and to disengage now would create such political dissonance that her demise might be rapidly hastened. Put simply, a break with the mayor on this issue-and the concomitant break with the majority of her colleagues-would be the kind of leap into the unknown that most politicians shun as a high stakes gamble with huge risks.

In addition, Quinn's close identification with Mike Bloomberg, her qualifiers not withstanding, make boldness the most unlikely course of action: "She has cultivated a close alliance with him, working together on legislation ranging from gun control to campaign finance reform, and appearing frequently at his side in public. Colleagues said the partnership had raised her profile and allowed her to accomplish a lot as speaker. But it has also opened her up to accusations of kowtowing to Mr. Bloomberg. Jokes about Ms. Quinn being a deputy mayor in the Bloomberg administration abound in the Council."

So this legislative slow dance will play out for another few weeks-but the plot is familiar and the outcome certain. The motto here is, survive to live and to fight another day. That day is certainly sometime in the future, it's definitely not now.