Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Comrade Carl

The Village Voice's Tom Robbins pens a satiric piece on the activities of the "revolutionary" Senator Carl Kruger, and his role in thwarting the MTA. Instead of reading as if irony was its underlying theme, however, the article actually appears to laud Brooklyn's own populist icon; calling him, "Vanguard of the Senate Revolution:"

"Carl Kruger, state senator from Brooklyn's most southern reaches, barreled up the thruway to Albany last week in his black 2008 Cadillac sedan. He was in a hurry to get there because, thanks to the Democrats finally winning control of the State Senate this year—Hurray! Power to the People!—he has a great deal to say these days about bills and budgets. This influence stems from his new position as chairman of the mighty Senate Finance Committee. In fact, now that this blessed new day has dawned, and the Senate is no longer a Republican graveyard of progressive hopes and dreams, Kruger is the people, and the people have finally got the power."

Robbins goes on to describe Kruger's role in the attack on the MTA monolith: "The Chairman is 59 years old, built like a fireplug, and the possessor of a Brooklyn mouth that roars. Here he was late last week, thundering on the telephone about this latest attack on the people: the push to charge tolls on drivers crossing the East River..."This is not just a battle over the so-called Ravitch rescue plan for the MTA," says Kruger, biting off his words like Hugo Chávez firing up the masses. "This is a feeding frenzy by the Manhattan elite at the expense of the outer boroughs!"

Well, we can't quite see the Chavez comparison, but what Robbins is missing in his attempt at a satiric belittlement, is the fact that there are a lot of folks-particularly in the 27th senatorial district-who think that the tolling of the bridges is a redux of the Bloomberg congestion tax; and, yes, it is a brainchild of the Manhattan liberal elites to boot. Let's not forget that the congestion tax was wildly unpopular, and that most folks see the MTA, and not the recalcitrant senators like Kruger, as the real enemy.

And in his mocking of the senate Dems-and Kruger's-ascension to power, Robbins appears to elide subtly from satire to unavoidable praise: "Thanks to the people's victory at the polls last fall, this is not empty talk. Kruger now commands the vast arsenal of legislative weapons enjoyed by the Senate majority—weaponry that was once aimed at the people's interests by Republican reactionaries, but which is now rightly aimed at their true enemies."I am prepared to use the full subpoena power of the finance committee," said the Chairman. His target? Nothing less than the MTA itself. "The goal is to have them open their books, pull up the venetian blinds, and shed some sunlight on that dark and musty entity that they call the MTA," he said."

Are we missing something here? Is our friend Tom really mocking the idea that the MTA is an enemy of the people? And Robbins goes on to underscore what is, at least for a great many outer borough folks, a legitimate source of their anger-at both tolling the bridges and the MTA: "Part of his anger at the agency, the Chairman acknowledges, is personal: The district he represents has long been shortchanged by the mass transit system. True, as the blatantly pro-MTA Daily News pointed out last week, there are 20 subway stations in the neighborhoods Kruger represents, serving some 109,000 riders daily. But, as the Chairman understands, the personal is political. What the newspapers don't tell you is this sad fact: "When they built the subways, we were not only ignored, we were treated like we didn't exist," he says. "We have an antiquated bus network that drops us off at the Flatbush Junction. That's it."

Anyone living in South Brooklyn neighborhoods like Mill Basin, Gerritson Beach and Georgetown, will spend around two hours getting into the city if they opt for mass transit-a bit longer than it takes us to drive up to Albany! So for the Krugerites, this mockery is their reality; and the MTA lies at the center of the controversy: "Because of this second-class-citizen status, local residents like the Chairman must rely on vehicles like his mighty Cadillac to get around. Not to say he doesn't sometimes use a Metrocard..."Do I have a Metrocard? Yes, I do," he told us last Thursday, moments before the Post pranksters caught up with him. "Sometimes it goes empty. My most use is not so much the subway because the subway takes me nowhere."

Which is precisely what many Brooklynites feel. So Robbins needs to sharpen his satiric subtlety; because when satire strays to close to reality it loses its bite-and the attack on Kommandant Kruger slips easily into something else: a paean to someone who has stood up to Speaker Silver and the rest of the liberal establishment when no one else would or could.