Friday, October 31, 2008

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.