Friday, June 12, 2009

Yes, We Have No Bananas

In today's MY Daily News, the paper editorializes on the state senate stalemate-and compares the chaos to Woody Allen's film, Bananas: "They promised to be bipartisan. They delivered bipolar. Control of the state Senate now hangs on the veering whims of a violence-prone guy from Queens who doesn't know whether he's coming or going. We refer to Hiram Monserrate, a Democrat who backed the botched Republican coup but now says he will vote against everything - everything, even if he favors particular bills - until more Dems join his lonely ranks."

In fact, Hiram does hold the balance of power, and is clearly having some second thoughts about the power shift-particularly since he has yet to be joined by any other Democrats aside from his partner in coup, Pedro Espada. But the News' characterization of Montserrate, part of a long series of denigrations that have basically convicted the senator before trial, is totally unfair; and the senator's record of standing up for the underdog is ignored for the paper's facile thug narrative.

It leaves unanswered, for instance, as to why Hiram is esteemed in the Latino community at the same time he is gleefully being excoriated on the editorial pages of the tabloids. It ignores his lonely, but stout, defense of the evicted merchants up at the Bronx Terminal Market. While others, particularly the front running upperdog scions at the News, were fronting for Related and Deputy Dog Doctoroff in their scheme to transfer city property-without any bidding-for just beads and trinkets, Montserrate was aggressively defending the beleaguered wholesalers, many of whom who were Hispanic and had operated out of the market for decades.

Similarly, when the Willets Point eminent domain controversy raised its head, Hiram jumped right in; and while a deal was finally struck that we feel fell short of perfection, it was one that was infinitely better than what it would have been if the then councilman had simply gone with those who have no regard for private property. As usual, the News was shilling for the removal of the small and the powerless, so that a mega deal could be crafted.

Why? Because that's what Morticia does. He champions the powerful, and lampoons any one who defends the rights of the less well-heeled. So Montserrate needs to be denigrated and derided; while the billionaire mayor gets to be feted for overturning the will of the people; and featured as if he were ad copy for the next great cereal.

Hiram's dilemma? His problem is that he came to power by championing people and causes; and now these very same folks are feeling disillusioned by his actions-something that Juan Gonzales points out in his attempt to provide the News with fair and balanced coverage: "Monserrate, on the other hand, has always had a liberal voting record. People forget he was the first cop ever to sit on the board of the New York Civil Liberties Union. He is also the main sponsor of the bill to end vacancy decontrol."

So clearly this is a crisis of conscience for the senator-one that is also derided by the fair minded caricaturers over at the NY Post, where the two renegade senators are described as, "turncoats." Funny, but we have never seen all those good loyal Democrats who have followed the Bloomberg money described in anything like this fashion-are you reading this Ed Koch?

But the Post goes on to paint a shakedown narrative that fits their own jaundiced world view much better than it does Hiram's: "Monserrate's surprise move puts him in the catbird seat to cut the best deal for himself -- from either Republicans or Democrats. Insiders speculated that the Queens lawmaker could be seeking the highest bidder for pork projects, office space, staff, campaign cash -- and even money to pay for lawyers to help with his legal troubles."

So, now it looks as if its Hiram-and not Malcolm-in the middle. As the NY Times reports: "By day’s end, it was clear that the balance of power in the state’s upper house — and the very gears of state government — continued to rest in the hands of Mr. Monserrate, who was indicted in March on charges of slashing his female companion with a broken glass. As he was leaving the Senate chamber, a Republican staff member dashed after him, pleading, “Senator, we need you back in there.” But Mr. Monserrate said he was committed to recruiting more Democrats to join the coalition and would be holding meetings all day in hopes of doing so, even as those Democrats were simultaneously trying to woo him back to their side."

And if Hiram returns, what does a 31-31 vote stalemate mean for governance? We are headed straight for uncharted waters; the Bermuda Triangle of political navigation. With court battles still ahead, and the weekend for machination, this entire episode is far from finished. But the bleating from the tabloids drowns out any rational analysis of Monserrate's underlying motivations. And, while his decisions here can be criticized, the continual character assassination is unfair yet, at the same time, representative of the mindset of the prejudiced and the privileged that Morticia represents so well.