Friday, February 27, 2009


The NY Daily News' Juan Gonzales takes a look at the Harlem charter school work of former councilwoman Eva Moskowitz-and focuses more on what she's getting paid than on what the schools under her command are actually doing for the students: "Eva Moskowitz, the former City Council member who founded a small chain of nonprofit charter schools, is a passionate and abrasive champion of the charter school movement. She's also making a bundle."

Our response? A qualified, "good for her." The qualification, of course, devolves from an evaluation of the schools that Moskowitz is being paid to guide to better performance. Way towards the end of the article Gonzales tells us: "Parents from Moskowitz's schools vehemently defend the Harlem Success Academy and say their kids are making phenomenal progress. That could very well be true, but the DOE has not posted independent test results for any of the Moskowitz schools."

If true, Moskowitz may be underpaid. Thousands of school personnel have been paid hundreds of millions of dollars over the past couple of decades to basically leave students unprepared to compete in the larger society; so if Moskowitz has found a way to buck this lamentable trend, pay the woman! And while you're at it, find ten more like her. Juan should have spent more time evaluating the schools under Moskowitz's control, instead of being snarky about her compensation.

We have remained complacent for years while public money has been squandered miseducating local school children; and our only response has been to demand that more money be thrown at the problem. The choice that Moskowitz provides is an essential antidote to our addiction to the public education money pit. Just as the parents and children from the Harlem Success Academy.

Mayoral Incoherence

You'd think that with all of his money Mike Bloomberg could afford to buy a set of coherent principles. Instead, we get to witness the spectacle of the mayor speaking incoherently out of both sides of his mouth when it comes to the concept of partisanship in political life. Liz Benjamin brilliantly exposed this "Who's On First" routine yesterday: "Mayor Bloomberg really gave his bipartisan muscle a workout today as he strove to explain to reporters how he is a big fan of the two-party system and also a supporter of both Barack Obama AND John McCain."

If you find it hard to grasp where Bloomberg is coming from on this issue, you are definitely not alone; and to hear him discuss party politics brings back echoes of the eloquence of George Bush: "Asked to clarify reports that he told the GOP county chairs he supported John McCain for president, Bloomberg replied:

"I didn’t say that all. I’ve never said who I voted for. I did vote for one of the major candidates. I have to work for everybody in this city and work with whoever got elected - in this case, President Obama, who I did say yesterday I thought had the potential to be a very good president."
"I think everybody on both sides of the aisles should hope that he is. We need a good president. This country is facing some very serious problems. I did say that John McCain is a friend of mine. He campaigned for me in 2001 and I’ve always respected him. He and his family are the quintessential American family...But I certainly did not say who I supported, nor will I."

Of course, to come right out and say that you voted for McCain wouldn't be politically expedient; except when speaking in private to the chairs of the Republican Party. Which is why we get the mayor acting as if he wanted to replace Lou Costello in that famous rhetorically contorted comedy routine: "On the subject of whether he believes Rudy Giuliani would make a better governor than David Paterson - another claim the GOP county chairs say he made during yesterday's meeting - the mayor said he doesn't think "you can do those kinds of comparison" because the 2010 race is "way down the road." "Right now, I'm supporting David Paterson," Bloomberg said. "I’m going to do everything I can to help David Paterson be the best governor that we have ever had, and I hope that he will be. And if you don’t think that he should be the best governor than I think there is something really wrong. We need a really good governor and David Paterson has been standing up and making the tough decisions."

Somehow we don't think that's just how Bloomberg framed the governor's race when talking in private to the likes of Phil Ragusa, do you? And when it comes to his rather famous-and ill informed-view of the role of political parties, Mike's backpedaling furiously as his political context shifts: "He said he has "always been in favor of having two parties so that there is healthy dialogue and everyone gets representation." (This is a bit of a departure for a man who is one the record as calling political parties "a swamp of dysfunction")."

Which is precisely why we labeled Bloomberg, "The Great Impostor." He'll play whatever political role that expediency requires-anticipating that he can overwhelm the voters' clarity of perception with an avalanche of expensive disinformation. In this, PT Barnum's observation comes to mind: “you never go broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people."

Benjamin ends her post with the following flourish: "Bloomberg then recalled that Rudy Giuliani had crossed party lines in 1994 to endorse then-Democratic Gov. Mario Cuomo for re-election when he ran against then-GOP Sen. George Pataki - a move that led ex-Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno to call Giuliani "Judas" and for which some Republicans still haven't forgiven the former mayor. Kind of an odd thing to bring up when you're trying to convince the Republicans to let you run on their ballot line."

This should act as a potent reminder to those Republican chairs who are asking Mike Bloomberg to once again hold the political football so that the party can kick a winning field goal. If you go ahead along this path, our advice is don't be mad when you find yourselves flat on your backs-complaining about the lack of Republican jobs and principles in the third term of a dissembler who can only be counted on for one thing: a failure to keep his word.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Crying in Their Beer, er, Wine

The "Retail Alliance," the group advocating on behalf of the liquor store monopoly came to Albany yesterday with its Chicken Little act: "If the legislation passes, roughly 1,000 liquor stores will close, causing between 4,000 and 5,000 jobs to be lost, predicted Jeff Saunders, president of state Retail Alliance. "We feel that if one bottle of wine is sold in a supermarket, that's one bottle that comes from our stores," Saunders said. "At a time when the unemployment is at the highest rate ever in the history, why would anyone want to do anything to add to those numbers? We don't know."

This is all just sheer hogwash. The monopolists are claiming that this is all a verifiable zero-sum game, when the facts on the ground in all other states demonstrates the exact opposite-and if the only way to protect these stores is to maintain an anti-consumer monopoly, than there's something drastically wrong with this industry.

But it beggars the imagination to see how anyone could predict a loss of 5,000 jobs if the wine measure goes through. If a supermarket sells wine, the employment in that outlet will-along with its sales-increase; and if the liquor retail niche will lose 40% of its stores because of competition, what does that really say about them?

And what to make of this? "But representatives from the wine industry and state law enforcement officials are concerned about the social and financial repercussions of the legislation.
They warned that shoppers would buy wine in supermarkets where it is cheaper than in liquor stores, and it wouldn't necessarily be New York wines."

So the monopoly admits that there is a cost to the consumer inherent in its perpetuation. Not the greatest rallying cry, is it? We can just see the sign now: "Support liquor stores if you want higher wine prices." Legislators should see through all of this self serving hyperbole and pass the pro-consumer measure that gives people real choice, while helping the state in its hour of budgetary need.

Bubbleheads at the Times

The NY Times endorsed the expansion of the state's bottle bill today; and, in what we have come to expect from the out of touch editorial board, failed to address any of the concerns expressed by beleaguered food retailers in New York City: "Only rarely does one solution solve a lot of problems. One that does — or at least could — is New York’s Bigger Better Bottle Bill...The bill would reduce litter in rivers and on highways, encourage recycling, save on natural resources and help replenish environmental programs whose budgets have been cut during the economic downturn."

So apparently the move over to Eight Avenue hasn't improved the perspective of these ivory tower elitists; and we're waiting for the first Times editorial to address the fact that the city is hemorrhaging supermarkets and bodegas-depleting neighborhoods of sorely needed food outlets. We can't understand why they remain so out of touch; after all, their own David Gonzales laid out the severity of the problem in the paper last year.

In that piece, Gonzales pointed out: "A continuing decline in the number of neighborhood supermarkets has made it harder for millions of New Yorkers to find fresh and affordable food within walking distance of their homes, according to a recent city study. The dearth of nearby supermarkets is most severe in minority and poor neighborhoods already beset by obesity, diabetes and heart disease."

A large part of the underlying cause of this decline is the cost of doing business here in the city; and the bottle bill is one of the most costly of the regulations foisted on supermarkets in NYC-where space constraints make it difficult for stores to generate robust profits. None of this has penetrated the editorial miasma at the Times.

The paper even endorses the taking of the unredeemed deposits, saying that; "Right now, when consumers pay a nickel per bottle upfront and then fail to redeem that bottle, the forgone nickel goes to the beverage industry. The stores obviously deserve a reasonable handling fee, but the beverage companies, which have powerful friends in Albany, deserve less than the windfall they are getting now."

Well, the stores may deserve a higher handling fee, but that fee-and is increase, of course-will be passed on to the already strapped consumers. And, if the nickels are taken by the state, an even greater cost increase will be passed on; and the nickels will prove to be an undependable revenue stream for any environmental purpose. And where does the Times stand on the soda tax? How much is the Times willing to have the consumers of New York absorb just to satisfy its ideological penchants?

The bottle bill acts as a duplication of effort-competing with the city's costly curbside program for the same material. The containers-garbage that generates rodents and insects-doesn't belong in the city's food stores. Increasing the number of eligible containers only exacerbates the problem. At a time when the city needs to protect and nurture its supermarkets, following the NY Times is a recipe for disaster.

The Great Imposter

Adam Lisberg asked a great question yesterday: "After Michael Bloomberg's meeting today with Republican leaders, Adam Lisberg of the Daily News asked the mayor's spokesman if the mayor "is still a liberal, and if not, when did that change." Howard Wolfson, the spokesman, smiled and laughed. Lisberg persisted. "It’s a serious question," he said. "Well, look," said Wolfson. "I think people can judge for themselves what the mayor’s ideology is.”

Judging the mayor's ideology isn't any easy task because, just like Tom Lehrer's Werner von Braun, he's a man whose allegiance is, "ruled by expedience." Yesterday the mayor met behind closed doors with the five leaders of the city's Republican Party to try to demonstrate just why he would make a good GOP standard bearer. What he demonstrated to us, however, was that he should be playing the Tony Curtis role of Fred Demara in the remake of the Great Impostor.

Some of this contortionist act is captured by the NY Times report this morning-and from some of the comments it appears that Bloomberg has a long way to go before these folks buy into his Act III. Still, the need for Mike Bloomberg to beg has its piquant aspect: "For 90 minutes on Wednesday, during a lively, at times tense closed-door meeting in Manhattan, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg pleaded his case, trying to persuade five Republican chairmen to let him run on their party’s ballot line this fall.The scene seemed riddled with contradictions: a mayor who had ditched the Republican Party and stressed his disdain for party politics, beseeching the Republican Party to embrace him."

And malleable Mike seems to have made a valiant effort at accommodation. As one off the record commenter told the Times: "He kind of sounded like a Republican,” said one party chairman who participated in the meeting at the Manhattan Republican headquarters on the Upper East Side. The reality, however, is that he’s not — a fact that still gnaws at the five chairmen, who have spent years trying to build their party into a force in a city where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly five to one."

Expedience disctates, however, that he appear to be as Republican as he possibly can-and Mike Bloomberg is nothing if not someone who will go to great lengths to avoid being seem as unseemly: "Despite ample prodding, Mr. Bloomberg did not apologize on Wednesday for his decision to leave the Republican Party in 2007, three participants in the meeting said, speaking anonymously because the meeting was considered confidential. Indeed, asked if he had any regrets over the last four years, Mr. Bloomberg answered with a firm “no.” Instead, the mayor took pains to sketch out common ground between his administration and the Republican Party, from a school system that is more accountable under his watch to much-praised antiterrorism measures that have kept the city safe since the attack of Sept. 11."

But on some of the core Reublican issues there could be little common ground; because when it comes to taxes and governance style Mike remains as liberal-and as clueless-as he was since the first day he came into office: "When asked to justify policies that ran afoul of Republican orthodoxy — like raising property taxes and increasing government spending — Mr. Bloomberg responded that leadership required tough, even unpopular decisions. At one point, he described his efforts to avoid installing tolls on the East River bridges in New York City to bail out the financially troubled Metropolitan Transportation Authority — an idea that was an anathema to Republicans. He told the chairman that he had instead proposed a “revenue generating alternative.” “You mean, congestion pricing,” one chairman interrupted, evoking another fee, on cars traveling in Midtown, that had inflamed the Republican Party."

Bloomberg's apparent response here is instructive-because it reveals the extent to which is thinking fails to transcend some very narrowly conventional liberal parameters: "Mr. Bloomberg shot back. “You can’t just be against everything,” he said, according to participants. “You have to propose new solutions.” As if the mayor's faux campaign against asthma, or global warming-whatever-was a compelling municipal need and not simply a conjured political gimmick in his quixotic independent run for the presidency.

So what we're left with here is a man on the make-and when you have billions to spend the success of the courtship ritual should be a foregone conclusion; read Marx's essay on the power of money in a bourgeois society. Still, the Republicans remain coy, and the question that remains is; will they love him in November as they did in May?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


According to the NY Times, there is momentum gathering in Albany to pass legislation to rescind the term limits extension that Mike Bloomberg purchased last fall from the city council: "In what would be a rebuke to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, legislative committees in the State Senate and Assembly are poised to approve a bill that would effectively undo the law that allows the mayor to run for a third term this fall."

Passage in committee. however, doesn't insure that the full legislature would be able to pass the measure into law: "While the speaker of the Assembly, Sheldon Silver, and the Senate majority leader, Malcolm A. Smith, have both said they would allow the bills to advance through the legislative process, it is not clear if a broader appetite exists to take the issue on. Approval in the Senate will prove particularly difficult because Republicans, who occupy 30 of the 62 seats, have solidly backed the mayor in the past. "

In essence, the senate Dems would need to be able to muster a complete party line vote for this bill to be enacted-because if only one senator from the majority held out-and the Republicans voted as a block-the bill would stall. And the governor would have to sign the bill. Still, the idea of making Bloomberg sweat does have its appeal, no?

Which, apparently is what is happening locally; as the city's Republicans-less amenable to to the mayor's monetary blandishments this time around-are poised to met with Mike today. We can hear Lesley Gore singing in the background: "Worried that Mr. Bloomberg is trying to “rent” the ballot without adhering to the party’s principles, Phil Ragusa, the Queens chairman, said he would ask the mayor to register as a Republican — right then and there. Mr. Ragusa said he even planned to bring the registration forms — and a pen — to the meeting, to be held at Manhattan Republican headquarters on East 83rd Street. “If the guy wants to be a Republican, he should register as a Republican,” Mr. Ragusa said. “It’s as simple as that.”

That's unlikely to happen; and Bloomberg, normally a buyer, is probably looking for an expensive rental this time around: "Matthew Mahoney, a Republican aide on the Bloomberg campaign, said the mayor would not change his party affiliation to Republican." Not to worry, however, the mayor in reality has rented us all out.

In what will likely be his most expensive effort ever, Mike Bloomberg will shuck and jive to the tune of $100 million to tell New Yorkers to simply, "Get Over It." And for that kind of money there will likely be enough of the gullible to allow him to serve for another term. But, Miguelito, be careful what you wish for; the third time will not be a charm. The last four years will see the long knives definitely out for someone for whom charm has always been in short supply.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Not Feesable

As if the soda tax isn't bad enough, the governor also wants to raise the tobacco registration fees for all retailers across the state-a hike that would hurt all of the city's bodegas and newsstands already reeling because of the economic downturn. As this report indicates, " There are staggering tax and fee increases for New York convenience stores in Governor David Paterson's proposed 2009-2010 state budget released Monday, said James Calvin, president of the New York Association of Convenience Stores (NYACS). "In trying to balance the budget amidst multi billion-dollar deficits, the administration seeks to tax, re-tax and up-tax everything we sell, transforming our stores into nothing more than tax collection vehicles for the state," he said."

What this means, is that the average bodega in New York Cit that grosses under one million dollars a year will see its license fee rise from $100 to $1,000-a 900% increase. Keep in mind that tobacco sales at these outlets have plummeted because of the confiscatory taxes at all levels of government-with the losses at the local level at more than $250 million a year-a 60% drop in sales! And the city will also have a commensurate increase in its fee as well.

The New York Association of Convenience Stores (NYACS) has taken the lead on the counterattack, and in a brief for legislators points out the following:

"Registration fees should reflect the State’s administrative costs, not business volume, and certainly not sales of products unrelated to the license. Such fees should not be designed to punish the licensee for selling a legal product in accordance with regulations governing such commerce. These obscene increases would come at a time when our cigarette sales have dropped 65% or more over the past eight years, mainly due to the epidemic of cigarette tax evasion sanctioned by the State of New York. Essentially, the administration wants to charge us 900% to 4,900% more for the privilege of selling one-third as many cigarettes as we would be selling if they were enforcing the Tax Law equitably."

At a time when the state and city have still failed to properly interdict the illegal black market sales-particularly from Indian retailers-it is unconscionable to punish the law abiders even further; as if these fees in an economic recession were ever justifiable. The reality is that the city's 13,000 bodegas are hurting badly-with many on the verge of bankruptcy. To propose such a fee hike now means that the governor is simply out of touch with the very same streets that he grew up in-and the retailers who insure that neighborhoods remain vibrant and stable.

Mike Lurches Left-and Right

In yesterday's NY Post, Jacob Gershman commented on the incoherence of Mike Bloomberg's political efforts to find a political home for the upcoming mayoral election that he himself engineered. The article's subhead was: "HOW MAYOR LOST HIS PRINCIPLES ." The only problem with this analysis? It assumes facts not in evidence; principles never owned can never be lost.

The real story here is that Mike Bloomberg has always been lurching both left and right-and in a manner that suggests that he needs to take a political breathalyzer test; as he staggers to walk any principally consistent philosophical line. He came into office without any real concept of governing-aside from the apparent belief, unlike Reagan for sure, that the government was here to help us-and that Mike Bloomberg was just the man to see to it that the folks were properly cared for.

As a result, there hasn't been a single thing that the mayor has done, to either make the government more efficient in its delivery of services, or to rein in its size and scope. What Mike Bloomberg has consistently done is to promote his own political interests; and as those interests have altered, he has zigged and zagged accordingly-so all that is left is pure distilled ambition: "A little more than a year ago, Mayor Bloomberg starred on the covers of Time and Newsweek, poised to lead an independent movement to the White House. Now, he's fighting off comparisons to Venezuelan strongman Hugo "El Loco" Chavez and finds himself groveling to a fellow some call a cult leader."

As Gershman points out, the mayor's independent march to the White House stands revealed as little more than a "marketing tool." As does his so called principled stand for clean air that was conjured up in the last few years, it seems to us, out of thin air-with no philosophical antecedent to indicate that this was ever a motivating principle of the man. After all, the mayor who claimed he was out to become the scourge of asthma, had helped to midwife the sale of the Bronx Terminal Market to a close friend of Deputy Mayor Doctoroff in order to, we kid you not, build an auto dependent mall on-of all things-the patch of the South Bronx known as "asthma alley."

In all of this independence posturing about post partisanship what was lost was the fact that, for Mike Bloomberg, post partisan had absolutely nothing to do with any philosophical principle-it was, much as the Chavez phenomenon, simply another method for self-promotion; which is why Bloomberg is looking to purchase a political line now-any line will do, thank you very much: "Problem is, Bloomberg has treated political parties and ideology the way some atheists treat religion - convenient for weddings and funerals, but otherwise expendable. He's assuming that he'll be able to smooth over awkward contradictions with enough money, as he always has before."

And money remains the underlying factor of this entire St. Vitus Dance. After all, who but billionaire Bloomberg could have transformed charitable giving into a steroid version of street money? And what we got was the most corrupted system imaginable: "After touring the country decrying the political party system as undemocratic, the mayor toppled voter-approved term limits without a referendum. And (as historian Fred Siegel noted) he did it by warning City Council members that he would no longer shower "anonymous" donations on their favorite nonprofits."

So now Mike Bloomberg has his check book out and is ready to buy the support he needs to win once again in November. And we actually find ourselves rooting for his success in the most perverse manner. With the city's economy cratering, and taxes and fees on the rise, we are entering the kind of political environment where suffering will inevitably intensify. It is the kind of backdrop likely to expose the Myth of Mike-leaving his legacy both tattered and revealed: "But along with his poll numbers and the city's economy, the mayor's stature is shrinking. His mockery of the political process is wearing thin among voters who were more tolerant during the good times. A Democratic lawmaker framed it like this: "The man thinks he can buy anything, and to large degree he's been right. He's not a Democrat or a Republican. He's a rich guy. That's his party."

Rich he may be; but Mike Bloomberg will not leave us with a rich governing legacy. He stands exposed as another parvenu who knew the price of everything, but the value of nothing.

Monday, February 23, 2009

There Goes the Neighborhood?

Just as we have been reflecting on the rapid decline of Main Street economies all over the city, comes the news that Wal-Mart may be interested in a location on Union Square. As the Villager reports: "Electronics retailer Circuit City, which filed for bankruptcy late last year, will shutter its location on 14th St. at Fourth Ave. at the end of next month as part of plan to auction off all its properties and leases nationwide. A sales associate at the store said that Walmart was interested in the space, which is owned by developer The Related Companies, although a New York-based spokesperson for Walmart said the big-box chain currently has no announced projects in the city."

Frankly, we can't see the Walmonster in this cramped location-and it would certainly be breaking the mold for the retail giant to go into this kind of urban spot without any parking. Still, we did get a kick out of some of the comments posted in New York Magazine about the potential entry. As one pointed out: "If this happens, then it would be the end of NYC forever. And don't say it couldn't happen. Circuit City shares the building with Virgin megastore, which will also be closing in a year -- making a Wal-Mart box store very possible. Union square is already too crowded, what with the NYU students, street vendors and tourists clogging it. Bring back the junkies, I say."

For our part, we believe that if Wal-Mart does make the move, it will; be to the kind of large location-with parking-that would give the store the opportunity to draw folks easily from a wide geographic area. But then again, they've already tried that here, here, and here, without much success; so maybe they will opt for the cramped Union Square spot as a last resort. It is, after all, as-of-right.

Pain Street Economics

Congressman Anthony Weiner has shed some light on a problem that we've been highlighting for many months-neighborhood stores are in deep trouble. As City Room first reported: "Wall Street’s woes, complete with bankers toting boxes out of their old offices, are well known and even well televised. But away from the spotlight, more insidious departures are under way in Queens and other boroughs. A census by Representative Anthony D. Weiner shows a troubling list of avenues in Queens with a growing number of empty storefronts.According to the survey of 1,730 stores in Queens, 211 are closed or about to close. In all, 12 percent of what Mr. Weiner calls “community stores” are vacant in Queens, twice the rate of a year ago."

And things will probably get worse as some of the high rent paying chain stores that replaced many small retailers go into bankruptcy and close their doors-like Circuit City has done; leaving more commercial strip vacancies. This trend, also highlighted by the disappearance of local supermarkets, has been exacerbated by the recession-but let's be clear, it didn't start with it.

Government policy-particularly the Bloomberg tax attack on commercial real estate, and his regulatory onslaught on local retailers-has made doing business in the neighborhood difficult. And this difficulty, in turn was itself exacerbated by the invasion of chain drug stores and banks that spiked local rents beyond the reach of independent, Mom and Pop, store owners.

So what does the fiscal maven do in response? Mike Bloomberg comes up with some kind of government entrepreneur program that appears to be directed at laid off Wall Streeters. What we certainly don't need is any government program to jump start the local economy. What we need is for the mayor to dramatically lower tax rates for store owners-and even offer small business tax incentives for hiring local folks.

Some of this we laid out in our critique of the draft supermarket initiative; lower the cost of doing business is the key to spurring small business growth. Or, alternatively devising policy initiatives-like allowing food stores to sell wine-that will advance the profitability of local retail outlets.

But even Congressman Weiner doesn't get this-his philosophy in this regard acts as an impediment to clear thinking: "Mr. Weiner said New York City has more than 200,000 small businesses, 96 percent of which have fewer than 50 employees. These businesses employ two-thirds of the workers in private-sector jobs. Mr. Weiner said the $787 billion stimulus package signed this week by President Obama would help businesses in Queens get back on their feet. The plan includes $750 million to improve existing Small Business Administration loan programs and to create new loans. Another $375 million is available to eliminate or reduce government fines and fees for borrowers and lenders with existing S.B.A. loans."

Loan programs are okay, but they aren't the key to true economic stimulation-only ancillary to a real growth policy that lowers tax and regulatory burdens. The stimulus money should have been directed to lowering tax rates for small businesses-bypassing bureaucratic red tape and government boondoggles. So, hats off to Weiner for highlighting the problem; but now we need an appropriate response so that the backbone of the local economy can recover and help the city in its time of need.

Mike's No Homey

Mike Bloomberg's reputation for being tone deaf and out of touch with the concerns of average New Yorkers was reinforced the other day when he met with a group of strapped homeowners. According to the NY Daily News: "Mayor Bloomberg is running for reelection as the only man who can save the city, but a roomful of worried New Yorkers at a recent Brooklyn forum weren't convinced. They were homeowners worried about losing their homes, taxpayers who can't pay their taxes and hardworking people who can't find work. But, when they asked the mayor for help, he cracked jokes, talked golf and offered vague platitudes."

This is the ultimate "mind over matter mayor;" he doesn't mind, and the you don't matter: "In response to complaints about the Housing Authority not providing a plumber, Sylvia Whiteside, president of the residents association at the Bay View Houses, was told: "Two things: One, we will try to fix that," Bloomberg replied. "And then I'm going to tell you my plumber joke. I have a great plumber joke."

To us, there hasn't been much to laugh about in the rein of Bloomberg-and his toppling of the term limits barrier for his own self perpetuation was only funny if you consider that the joke's on us. And certainly the idea of Mike Bloomberg's indispensability is hilarious when you think about how the mayor has padded the city payroll while raising taxes and fees on the very homeowners who he's now trying his stand up act on.

And the crowd felt the same way: "The joke drew polite laughter from the 200 people crammed into Temple Shaare Emeth for the Friends United Block Association meeting, but Bloomberg's aides admitted afterward his carefree attitude seemed out of touch. At another point, he asked how many in the audience were golfers, drawing quizzical stares. "Less jokes, more compassion would be much better," one of his advisers said the next day. The overwhelmingly minority crowd repeatedly asked how they could pay their rising taxes and water bills, save their homes from foreclosure or find a job."

What the meeting really underscored was the fact that the mayor is ill-equipped to lead us in this time of trouble-combining cluelessness with a tone deaf callousness to the peoples' suffering: "A man whose father had had two heart attacks and couldn't pay his mortgage was referred to a commissioner who suggested job retraining. A woman whose husband had lost his job and couldn't pay the mortgage was referred to the city's foreclosure-prevention clinic. Less than nine months before the election, some New Yorkers thought Bloomberg had crossed the line from tough talking to tone-deaf. "I don't think he was really serious," said senior citizen Dorothy Meade, who said she voted for Bloomberg four years ago. "I did. And I won't do it again."

Mike Bloomberg is really wealthy; and will spend tens of millions to suggest that he is indispensable. But when seen in a clear light-and up front and personal-his
vaunted indispensability is revealed for what it is: simply a power grab by another politician who doesn't want to leave the limelight when his time is up.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Mayor Disdains Driving a Hugo

As Clyde Haberman writes today in the NY Times, Mike Bloomberg and the Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez do have something in common-even though Chavez clings to the trappings of democracy with greater assiduousness than the imperial mayor does: "In our city, the political leadership does not return to the voters on a matter already decided by plebiscite — like limiting elected officials to two consecutive terms. In our city, the leadership acts on its own, as the mayor and a slender majority of the City Council did to give themselves a chance to hold onto power for a third consecutive term. They simply overrode the results of two referendums and reworked the rules to their advantage."

Chavez, however, appears to have a greater sensibility for appearances than Blomberg and his court retinue at the city council does: "The man who went back to the people was President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela. Though widely reviled in this country as a despot and even a buffoon, Mr. Chávez did something that New York’s mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg, would not bring himself to do."

Bloomberg, for his part bristles at the comparison: "The mayor was asked the other day if Venezuela’s experience gave him second thoughts about how he went about changing the city’s term limits law. The question made Mr. Bloomberg cross. Peevishness at news conferences is often his default position these days. “What on earth do we have to do with Hugo Chávez?” he snapped."

The peevishness in this case is apropos because the torch of dictatorial buffoonery has been definitively passed-one of the few things that Mike Bloomberg didn't have to buy prior to the city council vote; or in the upcoming election cycle. And the final say on this is still awaiting the actions of the Justice Department: "Perhaps the most intriguing test of the revised law lies with the Justice Department. Under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, it must give its blessing to election-law changes, to make sure that no harm comes to racial and ethnic minorities." And, of course, the mayor's usurped third term run will likely Trump-as in tens of millions of campaign cash-the efforts of an African-American to win the mayoralty.

And Haberman underscores our comments about the mayor's new found partisan political ardor-angling it would seem for the kind of marriage of convenience that many folks in his class have been known to tolerate as understandable monetary arrangements: "He had thumbed his nose at all political parties, pronouncing himself far too lofty for such riffraff. That was before he decided to run for a third term. Now he needs them — some of them, anyway — to get a decent spot on the November ballot."

Will the Republicans take the money and let Bloomberg run? As Haberman says, it comes down to pride-or perhaps political belief-or money. People are betting that Mike Bloomberg, having purchased everything else, will be able to drag the less than grand old party into that final altar-ing experience. Hopefully not; nothing would be more deserving than Bloomberg-on the Bloomberg Forever Party-running for the term altered term on Line H.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Supermarket Retention and Public Policy Equity

New York City is facing a supermarket crisis, as published reports indicate that one third of the city’s larger food stores have disappeared in the past few years. This is a dangerous trend on a number of different levels, and if the trend isn’t reversed there will be some serious economic as well as health repercussions that will have to be addressed.

The Bloomberg administration, in recognition of this crisis-and with some prompting from UFCW Local 1500, as well as the RWDSU- is looking to develop a policy to promote the building of supermarkets in undeserved areas; and they've come up with a number of intriguing ideas that are currently being circulated with the industry-and with the supermarket unions that have been pushing the city to intervene to strengthen local markets presence.

We welcome the attention since we have been the most consistent voice on this issue-and have hectored the city to get moving on the development of a coherent policy of, that not only encourages the building of new supermarket, but also addresses the retention of supermarkets that are now servicing the neighborhoods of the city under a set of challenging conditions.

The city's draft plan only addresses the new construction side of the equation-offering a set of zoning and tax incentives that are worthy of consideration. One missing ingredient here, however, is the absence of an land acquisition policy for supermarkets looking to build on city-owned property. This is a significant lacuna, since acquisition costs are a key variable that gets in the way of new supermarkets in undeserved areas.

The reality is, that the ideal protocol for local supermarket development can be devised when the project involves publicly owned land. Too often with the current administration, city owned property has been put out to bid with little or no thought given to whether the publicly sponsored development could be utilized for the siting of a new supermarket.

Instead of proceeding in this manner, what the city needs to do is to set aside city owned property for conveyance to a local joint venture; at a nominal cost in order to insure that the ultimate supermarket end use can be affordable for both a supermarket operator, as well as the community that would avail itself of the groceries sold at the new market.

Once the conveyance is arranged-and the transfer of ownership could be either through a direct sale for a small consideration, or through a long term ground lease of, let’s say, 50 years; also at nominal cost, the LDC would create a partnership with an entity that would provide it with the real estate and financial expertise to properly manage the joint venture-the new entity would also monitor all land use issues, and environmental issues of the development.

That being said, even if this policy were to be developed-and Williamsburg, East New York, the Lower East Side and East Harlem all have areas where this protocol could be put to good use-it leaves the issue of retention unaddressed; because the most serious aspect of the supermarket crisis is the loss of existing markets because of high rents, taxes and unnecessary regulatory burdens.

In addition, the public subsidizing of new markets raises equity issues if the new markets are introduced into areas where existing supermarkets have been struggling for many years with no (positive) government intervention whatsoever. The new subsidized markets would create an unlevel playing field-and may exacerbate the survival difficulties that are being experienced by the local markets.

In some ways this conundrum is somewhat similar to what is facing the Obama mortgage bailout policy-where folks who have struggled while playing by the rules are going to be passed over for others who haven't. So, if a truly equitable and successful supermarket policy is to be developed the retention side of the equation.

So before, or at very least coterminous with, devising a growth strategy, the city must develop a retention plan. What would such a plan look like? In the first place it would look to create a real estate tax abatement program that would treat neighborhood markets as a public health facility. By doing so-and the abatement must be significant-the city is acknowledging that these retail outlets are essential city services and need to be subsidized so that they can profitably remain in the city’s most underserved neighborhoods.

Secondly, the city needs to devise a program that will relieve these markets of some of the burdens of high cost energy and garbage disposal. Perhaps energy providers can be given tax credits for lowering electric rates to its supermarket customers. In addition, the city needs to devise a commercial waste disposer pilot program for supermarkets-an initiative that will lower market disposal costs by up to 90%.

And one last point; if a new supermarket is promoted and subsidized in an underserved area, there needs to be an expressed mitigation strategy for supermarkets doing business in the trade area, markets that are paying the full complement of taxes and fees. This mitigation should go beyond the suggestions already made, and should be expressly designed to level the competitive playing field.

But let's give credit here where it is due-the administration and the unions have stimulated an important discussion of a crucial public policy issue. Now the policy needs to be fleshed out in more detail-and the possible unintended negative repercussions need to be ameliorated before the final policy is unveiled. We look forward to the continued negotiation, and are hopeful that good policy can be devised before scores of more markets disappear.

Bloomberg's Line Dance

The era of post-partisanship has ended-at least it has for Mike Bloomberg, whose third term bid has left him bereft of a political perch from which to run from. As the NY Times reports this morning: "Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has denounced political parties as a “swamp of dysfunction,” has bankrolled a campaign to eliminate them from the New York City elections and has dismissively cast off his own party affiliations like ill-fitting garments. (Democrat? Been there. Republican? Done that.) But now, in what may rank as the most humbling experience of his mayoralty, Mr. Bloomberg is pleading with those same scorned parties to put his name on their ballot lines this fall, dispatching aides to apologize for past offenses and arguing that he cannot win re-election without their support."

What are his chances? In our view, putting aside our deepest hopes and wishes, the cash nexus will once again rule; put simply, Bloomberg may have to pay a little more than he wanted to, but pay he will-and with enough money being offered across the table there will be a buyer eventually. But it certainly is fun, at least for now, watching the mayor flounder.

The fun devolves from the way in which Bloomberg must reverse course into a tawdry partisanship that he claimed he was much better than: "The fierce resistance from parties that embraced Mr. Bloomberg in 2001 and 2005 highlights the unexpected pitfalls of his efforts to operate above politics. After hopscotching the globe during his second term, expounding on topics like international health and climate change, he is now left to explain why, for example, he never thanked some local party officials who gathered signatures for his last campaign."

Of the three parties that are truly in the mix-Republicans, Working Families, and Independence-it is the Republicans that are the most aggrieved: "He has so much disdain for political parties and now, all of a sudden, he needs us,” said Phil Ragusa, the chairman of the Queens Republican Party, which is still fuming over the mayor’s decision to bolt from the party in 2007 to become an independent (after he ran for mayor as a Republican — twice.)"

And his governing philosophy hasn't endeared the mayor to the rank-and-file Republican voter: "At the same time, Mr. Bloomberg’s June 2007 announcement that he would leave the Republican Party and become an independent as he mulled a presidential run infuriated Republicans. They were already unhappy that he had appointed so few Republicans to prominent jobs in his administration, and his policy proposals, including proposing a congestion pricing fee and raising property taxes, did not help. “He’s taken what we care about for granted,” said Jay Savino, the chairman of the Bronx Republican organization."

As far as the Working Families Party-positioned on the left side of the political continuum-the mayor is like Lucy; he's gotta lot of 'splaining to do: the term limits debacle was, after all, their baby: "When the mayor’s presidential plans fizzled early last year and he pushed through an extension of the city’s term limits laws, he managed to alienate the Working Families Party. Dan Cantor, the party’s executive director, said it was “unlikely” that the mayor would appear on the Working Families ballot this fall. “It’s like a shot from the half court line in basketball,” he added. “They sometimes go in, but it’s not exactly a high-percentage shot.”

Which leaves the wacky NYC edition of the Independence Party-who the mayor abandoned when he sided with the state party in an internal dispute; since, as the NY Post reports, there's little chance Mike gets to run as a Democrat with the Bronx and Brooklyn firmly in the Thompson camp: "But a series of court cases left the city’s party leaders in power — and livid with Mr. Bloomberg. In interviews, at least three of the Independence Party’s five county leaders expressed objections to nominating the mayor, even as they praised his record in office.
“He regarded us as a group of people he needed, could use, and then he could walk away from,” Mr. Newman said."

So Mike Bloomberg is left to beg; and our only advice here is, if you're going to make a deal, make sure its both a good one, and that all of the money is fronted-because Bloomberg's word is simply no good, and his loyalty to any principal is as evanescent as his outsized ego and mercurial self interest. As Daddy told us, in any business deal make sure you get at least a dollar up front; because that's the only dollar you can ever be sure of.

This advice goes double for any political deal with Mike Bloomberg. And while Marty Golden, the recipient of much from the mayor's campaign giving, is counseling Republicans-in Howie Mandell fashion-to take the deal, Phil Ragusa is holding out; and making a lot of sense in the process: "State Senator Martin J. Golden, a Brooklyn Republican, predicted that Republican Party leaders will come around. “At the end of the day, there is nobody who can do more for the Republican Party and the city than Mike Bloomberg,” he said. Mr. Ragusa, the Queens County Republican leader, is not convinced. Since Mr. Bloomberg has shown no allegiance to the party, “we have zero going in. So if we have zero going out, we haven’t lost anything.”

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Fatuous Thinking

Just as another Q-Poll comes out to demonstrate that most New Yorker think that a soda tax is a bad idea, one of the country's premier busybodies shoots off an Op-Ed in the NY Daily News, calling on the governor to hang tough on the unpopular tax: "Last week, Gov. Paterson said his soda tax - which would put an 18% tax on soda and other sugary drinks containing less than 70% fruit juice - was in danger of officially going flat. He should find a way to rescue the idea, and quick. The tax is one of the very smartest ways to fight the obesity epidemic confronting the state and country."

Brownell's Rudd Center on Food Policy at Yale, is in the forefront of hectoring Americans to eat in ways that it feels they should; and we have little problem with hectoring-something that we resemble, as they say. Our problem comes from the belief that government, in the absence of smart choices being made by the folks, should start to dictate the way people behave. And make no mistake about it, taxation is nothing if it isn't the most coercive of government policies.

In our view, the ability of the folks to make free choices, along with the ability of the hectorers to educate them in the direction they feel best, is the most important feature of a free society. The problem that the Brownells' face, is the intractability of some of these people; and therefore the need to force them into making better choices-they see skinny sheep as the goal of public policy.

Here's her view of our dietary disaster: "It gets worse. Rigorous scientific studies have shown that consumption of sugared beverages is associated with poor diet, increased rates of obesity and an increased risk of diabetes. In studies where the same people are followed over time, and other studies where people are assigned randomly to reduce sugared beverage consumption, diets improve and subjects lose weight."

So you see, soda drinking is one facet of-"associated" is the clever correlative-of poor diet; meaning that those with the poor habits drink soda to excess-along with over-eating almost everything else. Getting them to reduce soda drinking is a good thing-but education and choice should transcend public coercion.

And just you watch how this slippery slope operates, if and when the Feds take over the health care system. Brownell and her cohort of liberal fascists will be stepping over themselves in the effort to remake the behavioral patterns of low income Americans in particular-just as the well meaning eugenicists tried to do at the turn of the last century.

So, as we sit here drinking our Diet Pepsi-the chemicals are just as bad Brownell will say next-we just know that the impulse to enforce healthy behavior is very much alive and well; and the comments of CS Lewis in this regard-cited in the last post we did on menu labeling is worth repeating as the last word: “Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies, The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

Floundering at the Top

The latest Q-Poll is abysmal news for the battered governor of New York; and is not good news for those of us who want to see the state weather the fiscal crisis through strong political leadership. As the NY Post reports: "Gov. Paterson was on the ropes yesterday after a stunning new poll showed Attorney General Andrew Cuomo clobbering him by 32 points in a primary match up. Cuomo - who sources say is eyeing a run for governor - defeats fellow Democrat Paterson by 55-23 percent, the Quinnipiac University survey found."

These numbers reflect the public's reaction to Paterson's dithering around the choice of a senate replacement for Hillary Clinton; but also his rather lackluster, and uneven performance stewarding the state during the budget crisis. And, given the attacks on his budget choices, it doesn't appear likely that things will improve: "And his administration and campaign staff have been derided as rudderless - while he has little but bad budget news to deliver in coming months."

And all Cuomo has to do is wait in the wings; because if the governor continues to flounder-and the flap over the pay raises for his staff only makes him more vulnerable-the party may simply ask him to leave: "The appropriate thing for Andrew Cuomo to be doing is to run for re-election," said Democratic consultant Hank Sheinkopf, who added that Paterson's poll numbers suggest down-ballot Democratic seats - such as the state Senate majority, the state comptroller and new members of Congress - could be at risk. "The Democrats very well at this point may ask the governor not to run," Sheinkopf said. "The governor's got to save himself."

The worst bit of poll news is Paterson's hypothetical match up with Rudy Giuliani: "Against potential GOP challenger Rudy Giuliani, Paterson - who governs a state with a strong majority of Democrat-registered voters - runs even at 43 percent, the survey shows. But Cuomo thumps Giuliani by 51-37 percent, the poll shows." These numbers will invoke the Ted Mack Amateur Hour response-a hook for performers who the audience disapproves of.

Healthy Skepticism

The Appellate Court has upheld the city's restaurant menu labelling experiment-demonstrating to us that just because something may be legal, doesn't make it smart. As the NY Times reports: "In a victory for New York City’s campaign against obesity, a federal appellate court on Tuesday rejected the New York State Restaurant Association’s challenge to the city’s 2007 regulation requiring most major fast-food and chain restaurants to prominently display calorie information on their menus."

What is clear to us is that this fight against obesity is a chimera, and the menu labelling will do more to threaten the health of local fast food outlets than it will help reduce obesity-no matter how much the city's health commissioner brays to the contrary: "This is good news for everyone,” said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the city’s health commissioner. “Nearly all chain restaurants are now complying with the law. Consumers are learning more about the food before they order, and the market for healthier alternatives is growing. We applaud the court for its decision, and we thank the restaurant industry for living by the rules.”

There is still no evidence proffered by these social science illiterates that the posting will be put to good use by those folks who are most in need of reducing their caloric intake-since the DOH had no data to demonstrate that it would; but, hey, why not experiment by increasing the regulatory burdens on local restaurants with mandates that tell owners how to conduct their business?

And there's a reason why the FDA exempted restaurants from labeling that was required for packaged manufactured food: "The three judges found that Congress intended to exempt restaurant food from the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990 and left the question of whether to require the posting of information like calorie counts to state and local governments." But the calorie rule for packaged goods had gone through a rigorous due diligence before the FDA had instituted the rule.

The city never even bothered-so certain are the health ideologues that their quixotic ventures are for the public good. Which is similar to Frieden's "site them and they will come" philosophy behind his produce peddling initiative; an abysmal failure that failed to get more than 8 peddlers out into the streets this summer. People don't act the way he wants them to; can mandates be far behind?

This is all part of the Nanny state creeping fascism that reminds us of the observation of CS Lewis about the danger of creeping totalitarianism: “Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies, The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Days of Whine and Poses

Crain's carried an interesting piece on the battle over selling wine in supermarkets last week in their on line edition. It appears that the liquor stores, upset over the potential loss of their monopoly, have resorted to strong arm tactics-threatening wineries that support the measure with a blacklist.

As Crains reports: "Scott Osborn, the proprietor of Fox Run Vineyards in the Finger Lakes region, is shocked at the vitriol that has been hurled against him and his staff since he testified two weeks ago in favor of legislation that would allow grocery stores to sell wine in New York.
Sure, it was a bold move to go up against his liquor store vendors. They are a powerful lobby that has held sway over Albany lawmakers on the issue of expanding the sale of wine to outlets like Whole Foods or 7-Eleven. He just didn't expect the phone calls and e-mails from liquor store owners threatening to remove his wine from their shelves and destroy his business. “I'm shocked at how vicious they were,” says Mr. Osborn."

Now, if the accusation is true, it would mean that a group of unrelated retailers were acting in concert to restrain trade-a clear violation, it seems to us, of the federal anti-trust laws. And AG Cuomo has been asked to investigate: "The fight has become personal. Mr. Osborn recalls one especially nasty e-mail: “Thanks for trying to put me out of business,” it said. “I used to like pushing your wines but now just looking at them makes me want to puke. I'll never sell any of your wines ever again!” Another winemaker, Doug Miles of Miles Wine Cellars in the Finger Lakes region, was told that his products would be “blacklisted.” Both vineyards are suffering. Mr. Miles says his sales to liquor stores have declined 70% this month after a gain in January. Similarly, Fox Run's sales are declining in February. Now, the office of state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is reviewing the issue, a spokesman says."

Nice! Not satisfied with a state sponsored monopoly, these liquor stores have formed a bizarrely named, "The Last Store on Main St.," coalition to combat the evils of competition: "It has been a long-simmering issue in New York, one of only 15 states that prohibit wine sales in supermarkets. But grocery stores have never managed to get the matter into the governor's budget, though it is still early in the legislative process."

All of this simmering controversy will undoubtedly come to a head next week in Albany-when dueling pressers are held and throngs of folks on both sides will invade the capitol to make their case. Count on the Alliance and its allies to be there in support of the real main street coalition; and not the manufactured, one industry, version set up to scare and mislead.

Not Appearing Good

When you're crying poverty and calling on all New Yorkers to sacrifice, it isn't good politics to be handing out raises while doing your exhortation. But that's exactly the wrong road taken by Governor Paterson-as the NY Post reports: " Gov. Paterson yesterday was blasted by public-employee unions, legislative Republicans and even fellow Democrats for granting sky-high pay hikes to his key staffers at a time when he's asking 130,000 state workers to give up their 3 percent raises."

We should be living in a climate of austerity-and perceptions do matter when you're looking to cut back on the pay and benefits of state workers: "This will demoralize our members even further," said Stephen Madarasz, a spokesman for the Civil Service Employees Association, which represents 70,000 state workers. "Frankly, it doesn't come as a great surprise to us because we've been very disappointed in the way the governor has been handling the fiscal crisis from the start."

All of these missteps only acts as blood in the water for those who want to raise taxes on-not millionaires-but on all of those folks earning more than $250,000 a year. In a companion story the Post tells us: "A day after Gov. Paterson hinted at plans to soak the rich, a Brooklyn assemblyman announced legislation yesterday to enact the $6 billion tax-hike plan backed by public-employee unions. Democrat Darryl Towns' bill would enact the Working Families Party's "Fare Share Tax Reform" plan, raising income taxes on taxpayers who make more than $250,000 a year and giving New York the nation's highest top tax rate. The bill is identical to legislation already introduced by state Sen. Eric Schneiderman (D-Manhattan), providing it crucial two-house support days after Paterson warned the wealthy they would "share in the sacrifice" during budget talks."

As the Post headline indicates this is, "fair shearing," and is designed to insure that the revenue for the state bloat will continue to flow-until we reach the California state of mind, where 20,000 layoffs are on the table because there aren't enough taxes possible to keep the state from going bankrupt: "California lawmakers were told to bring their toothbrushes and prepare for a long day Tuesday, with the goal of passing a budget as the state faces a $42 billion deficit and 20,000 layoff notices were set to go out to state workers Tuesday."

What we desperately are in need of is leadership-but it appears that New York is basically rudderless-as Liz Benjamin pointed out yesterday, with even the governor's political operation in disarray: "Democrats have been surprised by Paterson's lack of political smarts. One observer noted that the governor seemed to be caught off-guard by the explosive TV ad campaign by health care workers union 1199 SEIU and the Greater New York Hospital Association that attacked him for his proposed Medicaid spending cuts. The administration had at least a week's advance notice of the ads, a source said, but took no action. "There has been a shocking lack of political skills from him and anyone around him," the source said. "There are a lot of people with senior adviser labels acting like senior advisers, but there's no structure."

All of which leaves Andrew Cuomo waiting in the wings-unwilling to aggressively step on stage while the governor is in the middle of his slapstick routine. Why should he? In these circumstances, all he has to do is wait for the draft; an ill wind as far as David Paterson is concerned.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Collusion With Columbia

As we have been reporting for the past two years, Columbia University and New York State have colluded to violate the basic property rights of storage king Nick Sparyaregen; and the collusion exposes the lack of fairness that's involved in the entire eminent domain process in New York. As Damon Root writes in the NY Post today: "Collusion between Columbia University and the Empire State Development Corp. over using the ESDC's powers of eminent domain to acquire land for the school seems to violate both the letter and spirit of the law."

The entire concept of "blight" is called into question by the use of a consultant that was on the university's payroll while, at the same time, reaping millions from the state's tax payers: "In 2006, the ESDC hired the planning firm Allee King Rosen & Fleming, Inc. (AKRF) to perform an "impartial" neighborhood blight study. Yet the firm was already on Columbia's payroll and actively working on the school's controversial Manhattanville plan. According to billing records Sprayregen obtained through the state Freedom of Information Law, as many as six AKRF employees worked on both the blight study and the redevelopment project - by definition, a conflict of interest."

So, surprise, surprise, what do you think these colluders discovered? Right, horrible blight: "For starters, AKRF failed to mention that Columbia already owns 76 percent of the neighborhood - and was thus directly responsible for the overwhelming majority of alleged blight that it now seeks to exploit, from overflowing basement trash heaps to major roof and skylight leaks. Numerous tenants have now reported that the university refused to perform basic and necessary repairs - thereby both pushing tenants out of Columbia-owned buildings and manufacturing the ugly conditions that later advanced the school's real-estate interests."

Now that the university and the city own around 91% of the entire proposed development parcel, you'd think that the university could either proceed without the use of eminent domain-or make Sprayregen a great offer to leaver. Neither of these options is, however, being pursued; since Columbia's pursuit of lebensraum is designed to achieve total victory-and the removal of any vestigial "blight" that they don't own and control.

Let's hope that the courts see otherwise-and that they put the brakes on the conspiracy that's afoot in this development scheme. The use of eminent domain is bad enough without the collusion of state officials who rig the process even further against property owners.

More Bottling Up

There was one outlet we missed in our review of the coverage of the bottle bill and soda tax last Thursday-and the Epoch Times ran a nice photo story on the presser, marred only be misidentifying yours truly as Nelson Eusebio: "Supermarket and bodega owners, green grocers, bottlers, and others gathered on the steps of City Hall Thursday to protest plans for the expansion of the Bottle Bill. According to the press release issued by organizers, whatever the environmental benefits that may come from this expansion plan, they won’t mitigate the severe harm that will be done to inner city stores that have no room to store containers currently covered under existing law."

Also, Gotham Gazette ran a nice summary of the controversy surrounding the expansion-with a vignette of the indefatigable Laura Haight doing her usual show and tell in Albany; with an emphasis on the litter reduction aspects of the expanded bill. But, as the web site points out, there is still no clear signal that the expansion will win the support of a majority in the state senate: "But Albany is still Albany and things still come down to three men in a room. “As long-time advocates know, support from [Senate] Majority Leader Malcolm Smith will be a clearer indication of how high a priority this issue will be given,” wrote Joshua Klainberg on the League of Conservation Voters blog. And Smith is “uncommitted” to the bill. His lack of support for it may well be why the bill was not included as expected in the deficit reduction package agreed on by the state last week."

What's really funny in all this, though, is the claim that the Empire State Beer Distributors have been supporting expansion since 1983; and the website links a letter written-by none other than Richard Lipsky-to the NY Times in 1990! But, when reading the letter, the contents have nothing to do with expanding the existing law-a position that was never taken when we directed the Association for the better part of a decade

The GG also reports on our mobilization as well: "That is likely good news to a coalition of food retailers who planned a rally on the steps of City Hall today in protest of an expansion of the bill (and the “obesity tax”). “The bottle law,” the coalition’s press release argued, “acts just like an unfunded mandate, with retailers bearing the cost of redemption at great expense — restricting their ability to grow employment and prosper.”

Clearly, the battle ahead will be both intense and unpredictable. In our view, however, it will take place after the budget is put to bed-and as a stand alone measure to be decided on its own merits.

Soda Tax: Slip Sliding Away

Reacting to the idea's unpopularity, as well as to the aggressive lobbying of the food and beverage industry, the governor appears to have thrown in the towel on the soda tax. As the NY Times reported Saturday: "Barely into the thick of budget negotiations with the Legislature, Gov. David A. Paterson is already backing off one of his signature revenue-raising proposals: taxing soda."

But here's where it gets a bit quirky; since the governor explains that the proposal wasn't really a serious revenue enhancing measure-just an educational concept designed to get the folks to think: "The tax on soda was really a public policy argument,” the governor said. “In other words, it’s not something that we necessarily thought we would get. But we just wanted the population to know some issues about childhood obesity.”

Nice argument after the fa(c)t-or, after it was clear that no one was buying this lame idea: "Opponents of the soda tax — which Mr. Paterson and his aides preferred to call a tax on obesity, which afflicts a quarter of New Yorkers — said they were glad that Mr. Paterson appeared to be abandoning it. “The governor is responding to the obvious hue and cry, not only from the food and beverage industry people, but from the general public, who have shown in poll after poll that this is not an idea that they feel is worth embracing,” said Richard Lipsky, a lobbyist for the beverage industry."

Indeed, we have shown that the tax would be, not only heavily regressive-taxing the poor who tend to drink more sodas than lattes-but would also hurt small bottlers and bodega owners: "Our businesses - small businesses - can't afford that tax," Ramon Murphy, president of the Bodega Association of the United States, told a rally of grocery owners and workers."

Still, the governor is doing on this issue what is becoming a pattern; saying one thing to one audience, and then backtracking to another-often through a spokesperson. As the Times points out: "In a statement on Friday, the governor’s spokeswoman, Risa B. Heller, said that Mr. Paterson’s remarks to the students, which were first reported by The Associated Press, had been misconstrued. “The governor stands firmly behind his soda tax proposal,” Ms. Heller said. “He acknowledged that this wasn’t a popular proposal and made an observation about the Legislature’s actions and explained the underlying policy rationale. By no means was he stepping away from it.”

But, who knows? After all, the aforementioned Heller was shown the door at probably just about the time she was speaking on the governor's behalf, As the Post tells us: "Paterson, who has been slammed in the media in the wake of the Caroline Kennedy smearing by a source close to him, told associates he had no confidence in Heller."

Our feeling is that Paterson sees the handwriting on the wall-and is now moving on to battles he's more likely to win-with spokespersons who can better interpret what he says and actually means. The soda tax is a distraction; and the need for major structural change in the state's budget remains. We'll give Malcolm Smith the last word here: “We have to make structural changes in New York’s budget to avoid future budget gaps as large as what we are facing now,” Mr. Smith said. “To do that, we have to find a way to reduce spending.”