Monday, November 24, 2008

Leadership Holdup

We've been accused on occasion of verbal overkill, but we're not even in Bertha Lewis' league when it comes to rhetorical excess; as Liz Benjamim reports this morning in the NY Daily News: " Working Families Party official has accused a renegade Democrat of "palling around with Republican terrorists." She's also warned state Senate Democrats there will be "hell to pay" if Sen. Carl Kruger of Brooklyn is given a key committee chairmanship in exchange for his leadership vote."

Now, intense partisanship is definitely one of the most identifiable features of the American democratic tradition, but every so often it spills over into something ugly; and that's what Ms. Lewis has done. Labeling anyone a terrorist, particularly when they are simply in disagreement over one public policy, is to poison the political debate in our state-and to the blur the line between those of us who are simply political opponents, and those really dangerous groups and individuals who threaten are way of life. Keep in mind as well, that there are those who believe that the platform of the WFP poses a threat-to the very solvency of our state's finances.

New York State is facing its most severe fiscal crisis in over 70 years, and the solutions proffered will require bipartisan negotiation and accord. In addition, we believe that part of these solutions will need to address the fact that New York is rated 49th out of 50 states when it comes to the hospitality of its business climate. Needless to say, the state's hard working citizens, many of whom are represented by Kruger and the so-called terrorist Republicans, are suffering from ruinous tax rates at all three levels of government.

It is in this context, that the WFP has called for further increased taxation in order to insured "shared suffering." This view is less likely to include paring the state's bloated payroll in order to relieve homeowners and businesses of the burdens that make New York a challenging place to live and do business in. We believe that it isn't in the interest of the Democratic leadership of the state senate to allow itself to be held hostage to any interest group; and especially one that believes we can tax our way out of the current crisis.

In any case, putative leader Smith should speak up here and make it clear where the party stands vis a vis allies and supporters that step over the rhetorical line and issue unseemly and anti-democratic threats. President Obama has embarked on a sensible and pragmatic course, one that is irking his more frenzied partisan ideologues; Governor Paterson and the senate democrats need to follow his example. New York voters still occupy a sensible middle ground, and the response that the party gives to Berth Lewis' outrageous accusations will send a signal as to where the Democrats stand, and what they believe is appropriate political dialogue.

As an aside here, it's interesting that someone has apparently shot Lewis out of a cannon on the issue of who chairs the housing committee. To our knowledge Senator Kruger (Carl, that is) has never asked for chairmanship of that committee, or any other, in exchange for his vote. There is, however, someone who's deeply concerned about the housing chair: "The rent laws don't expire until 2011, but the Senate Democrats have said they'll seek to repeal the Urstadt Law. That would take control of rent regulation out of Albany and give it to city lawmakers, who are closer to the issue and potentially harder for anti-regulation interests to influence. The ranking Dem on the Housing Committee is Sen. Liz Krueger, an upper East Side lawmaker seen as pro-tenant."

If any one's fingerprints are on the Lewis outburst, they would belong to Liz Krueger; and the Lewis charges against Carl Kruger can be seen as a preemptive strike-one that sets the stage for a potential showdown that can severely hurt the electoral roll that the Democratic party has been on in the state: Kruger insists he has "never had any conversations with anyone concerning any committees" in exchange for his support. He called Lewis' terrorist comment "an overstep in this day and age." Senate Democrats, he said, are being "manipulated and held captive" by Lewis and the Working Families Party - and he suggested she "butt out."

The Lewis outburst, then, lays out a gantlet to the leaders of the party. Whatever one can say about Kruger, he's always been a loyal Democrat; he even supported Freddy Ferrer in 2005 when folks like Malcolm Smith were abandoning the party to support Mike Bloomberg. He's also been close to Governor Paterson, and has made substantial contributions to both the governor and the state party.

The governor's response, and those of other party leaders will say a lot about where Democrats stand-and the manner in which the senate leadership battle will get resolved in the coming weeks. It would be sad indeed, if a loyal Dem like Kruger was isolated to such an extent that it would force him in a direction that the Bertha Lewis' of the world wouldn't like. Senator Kruger gets the last word here: "He also warned that Lewis' tactics could backfire and lead him to support a GOP majority leader, which would lead to a GOP housing committee chair."She should butt out and let the professionals who were elected to lead their constituencies make these decisions," he said."