Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Into the Valley of the Shadow...

As the city council showdown on term limits approaches D-Day, with all of the internal lobbying going into its final intense phase, everyone assumes that the votes are there for a narrow Quinnberg victory. The only question remaining is: Will it be a Pyrrhic victory? As the NY Times reports:

"The vote would come just three weeks after Mr. Bloomberg announced his plan to change the law, saying he wants to steer the city through the economic troubles resulting from Wall Street’s crisis. Opponents have complained that Ms. Quinn is rushing the measure through for the mayor. Late last week, two days of public hearings attracted standing-room-only crowds, and most who spoke argued against the bill...But if the bill fails, it would be a stunning defeat for a popular mayor who has rarely failed to sway the Council to his side of an issue."

Well, they do say that haste makes waste, but in this case the choice wasn't pretty-as the latest Q Poll indicating a rapid erosion of support, even for the popular mayor. Any further dawdling, and the public pressure on undecided council members would have been too heated to ignore-hence the rapid move to a vote: "Councilwoman Letitia James of Brooklyn said that since Mr. Lauder was casting doubt on the assurances the mayor and the speaker have given to first-termers, “freshmen are beginning to feel very uncomfortable. There are no guarantees that they are protected.” Ms. James was among those council members heartened by a Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday morning. By 89 percent to 7 percent, city residents prefer changing term limits by referendum, according to the poll; 51 percent oppose extending term limits altogether, even if it means denying Mr. Bloomberg a run at a third term."

This morning's NY Daily News also focuses in on the dramatic shift of public opinion: "The news came as a Quinnipiac University poll found New Yorkers are souring on the plan to give the mayor, Council members and citywide officials a chance at a third four-year term. "It's a bluff," said Councilman Bill de Blasio (D-Brooklyn), one of the leading opponents. "If, God forbid, it passes, there will be lawsuits the next day."

So no matter what the council does tomorrow, there will be a continuing focus on the legal issue, and the public's dim view of the proceedings will grow even further. Into this growing disgust will be the expected Bloomberg knee jerk tax raising. As the NY Post reports: "New Yorkers got a preview yesterday of the impact of the Wall Street meltdown on local government revenues as Mayor Bloomberg predicted the city's budget gap over the next two years would be $1.5 billion larger than forecast in June. Bloomberg also indicated that, one way or another, taxes are going up. "Taxes are clearly one of the things on the table - going to be for us, going to be for the state, going to be for the federal government, I think," he said."

The mayor's fiscal acumen is beginning to sound more like Jimmy Buffet, not Warren; but his political predictions are less uncertain given his past performance. What this means, however, is that the mayor's popularity will continue to be buffeted and bruised-with the contentious school governance issue coming up shortly after the new year.

For the council, we predict that whatever happens there will be leadership challenges. It's hard to rule a body where disagreements and animosity are as pronounced as they are-and where the split is so close. This will be exacerbated by the ongoing legal battle. Of course, if the suits are upheld, all bets are off.