Monday, October 20, 2008

Unfunny Money

The NY Times published an important article on Saturday that focused on Mayor Mike's Bloomberg's use of both public and private money to gin up support for his continuance in office against the public's wishes: "Michael R. Bloomberg, who says he strictly separates his philanthropy from his job as mayor of New York, is pressing many of the community, arts and neighborhood groups that rely on his private donations to make the case for his third term, according to interviews with those involved in the effort."

What we're seeing is not only an extraordinary abuse of power, it is also a blatant example of the corrosive use of money to game the democratic process. Fred Siegel captures this: "Fred Siegel, a professor of history at Cooper Union who has studied New York City politics for decades, said Mr. Bloomberg had cynically “reversed the flow of money” in politics to build the illusion, if not the reality, of widespread support. “The traditional politicians are bought by special interest groups, but Bloomberg buys special interest groups,” he said."

And of course he does so on behalf of the most special of interests-his own political power. So when we ridiculed the mayor's astro turf display at last week's term limits hearings, we really were only touching the surface of how Mike Bloomberg corrupts the local political process.

In fact, Bloomberg's angling for another term, and utilizing the influence of his vast fortune, is a perfect expression of his padrone mentality. Here's how it works: "Officials from five groups that have received significant charitable contributions from the mayor testified on behalf of his bill — the Doe Fund, the Harlem Children’s Zone, the Public Art Fund, the Alliance of Resident Theaters and the St. Nicholas Neighborhood Preservation Corporation. In addition, other recipients of his philanthropic funds, including Safe Space, a charity that works to keep children out of foster care, and Jazz at Lincoln Center, have been lobbying council members behind the scenes."

So we get the display of all of the groups on the pad showing up to boost the mayor's effort, while failing to disclose their subject status-claiming all the while that they would have been glad to regardless; sure they would: "Officials from other groups also said they would have backed Mr. Bloomberg’s plan whether or not he had given them money or solicited their support. Susan K. Freedman, who heads the Public Art Fund, which has received more than $500,000 from Mr. Bloomberg, testified for his bill and praised his record of promoting projects like Olafur Eliasson’s “Waterfalls,” the East River cascades that were dismantled this week. “The mayor believes in what I believe in,” she said."

This is one vast display of the old adage that the customer is always right; and the mayor adds to the corrupt farrago by co-mingling public funds in the carrot and stick lobbying effort. Our old advisor gets it just right: "Kenneth Sherrill, a political science professor at Hunter College, said it was inappropriate for the mayor to be asking the groups that are so dependent on his good graces to take a position on his legislation. “It’s distasteful. And what’s distasteful about it is leaning on weak people — people who are vulnerable,” Mr. Sherrill said. “The problem is in the implicit threat that if you don’t help, we’re going to remember.”

It's time for the NY Times to stand up for its own principles. After having for years inveighed against money corrupting the political process, the paper is now faced, right in its own back yard, with the most blatant example of its abuse; and the paper's reporting, which has been excellent, needs to continue to document just how Mike Bloomberg uses his great wealth in his own aggrandizement. Unless, of course, the Times believes that the interest of this slick self promoter was coterminous with that of the public.