Friday, July 31, 2009

Crossing the Red Sea

If nothing productive is done soon, New Yorkers-now faced with a new $2.1 billion deficit-will soon be singing, "California Here I Come." As City Room reports: "The four-month-old state budget will face a $2.1 billion budget gap by the end of the fiscal year next March, the Paterson administration announced on Thursday, setting the stage for what will likely be a grueling special session of the Legislature in September as lawmakers debate what programs to cut."

And, as the NY Daily News editorializes, taxing the wealthy, with its been there, done that quality, is no longer an option: "Nor can the Legislature conceivably tax its way out of the hole. As Paterson said in a recent meeting with the Daily News Editorial Board: "The one thing that I feel about the personal income tax now is, now it's off the table . . . Every time you try to tell some of the groups that you're going to have to make cuts, their response was, well, you have to tax the rich. Well, you know what? We've done that. There's no further you could ever go in that process."

All this means is that real cutting is gonna need to be done: "So, the day has arrived for historic spending reductions that bring the state's revenues and costs into balance and bring both into line with the taxpayers' tapped-out ability to pay. The governor must challenge the Legislature to address New York's long-term needs rather than to craft short-term fixes bound to fail. He must think big and deliver big."

But, what about the possibility of new revenue? When the legislature returns in September, the issue of wine in grocery stores will have to be put squarely on the table since it is a $100 million or more revenue stream from fees that will not pickpocket tax payers. A no brainer? Not if your the Last Mope that's standing on Main Street-the phony coalition created by liquor stores that are expiring before our very eyes-unable and unwilling to adapt to modern economic realities.

So the Governor, who sponsored the money producing bill in the first place, must demonstrate real leadership-and insist that this revenue source be tapped; along with the budget cutting that appears to be all bu inevitable with the revenue losses concomitant with the hemorrhaging of jobs that New York has experienced: "All told, New York has lost 236,000 jobs since the official start of the recession last August, with further job losses expected through 2010. The state unemployment rate is now projected to peak at 9.1 percent in the first quarter of 2010."

And while the Albany leaders are at it, why not try to tap the uncollected Indian cigarette tax revenues that have been left on the table because of the timidity of the governor. As the NY Post editorialized last winter: "Who knew the special interests opposing Gov. Paterson's budget cuts had it so easy? All they need to do to stop the gov dead in his tracks is . . . threaten to sue. That, at least, is the message Paterson is sending with his latest punt over the scandalous flow of illicit cigarettes from New York's Indian reservations - a trade that's costing New York hundreds of millions in lost tax dollars."

So some tough choices lie ahead. But if Paterson really wants to demonstrate leadership in order to salvage any chance of retaining his seat, he must begin to, well, lead. Getting the wine issue across the finish line, and going after Indian scofflaws would be a step in the right direction.

Appelbaum to Bloomberg: "Make My Day!"

Well, at least there is someone out there in the political world of NYC who isn't intimidated by Bloombucks. As Daily Politics reports: "RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum took on the attack dog role for Comptroller Bill Thompson today, picking up on some of the Democratic mayoral hopeful's main themes by slamming Mayor Bloomberg for his big spending ways and association with the GOP. "I think it's just amazing that all the money that has been spent in this race by the other candidate, the Republican, and the Republican has put in - Republican Mike Bloomberg has put in - tens of millions of dollars into this race, and the more money he puts in, the more, the worse he seems to do among the voters," Appelbaum said at a City Hall press conference where his union officially endorsed Thompson. "And I guess my message to the other side is: 'Spend it all! New York City can use the money!' But at the end of the day, Bill Thompson is going to be mayor."

But there is something to be said for Appelbaum's take on the Bloomberg spending. The other night on NY1 Curtis Sliwa-generally a supporter of the mayor-threw up his hands at the incessant commercial badgering coming out of Bloomberg's re-election camp. "Enough already," he cried. Thompson could certainly use Appelbaum's feistiness-and there's still the possibility that the public will begin to echo Sliwa's lament.

Even with all of the mayor's spending, the poll numbers are really soft. The opportunity is there for Thompson; now let's see if he can take advantage of the opening.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Usual Suspects

It's really unsurprising that Mike Bloomberg would select a Wall Streeter-even a failed one-to be his new finance commissioner. When it comes to finding talent, the mayor is really a one trick pony. As City Room reports: "He is a casualty of Wall Street’s implosion: a managing director at the brokerage house Morgan Stanley forced out six months ago after the company merged with its ailing rival Citigroup. Now, David M. Frankel will be in charge of the New York City agency responsible for collecting taxes from those companies."

Now, to his credit and the mayor's as well, Frankel actually has some prior experience in government under the Koch administration. But the appointment underscores Bloomberg's narrow world views-and serves to further highlight the extent to which this view hasn't served the city.

The hard truth is that the Bloombergistas have no one on their team with any feel for, or real knowledge of, the reality of small neighborhood businesses. The folks at EDC live in a development laden cocoon-where huge real estate projects get the juices flowing and nurturing smaller existing firms lacks any career boosting glamour. Making a bad situation that much worse, is the role of Rob Walsh, the city's small business commissioner.

Over the span of seven years, Walsh has earned the enmity of scores of small business groups-with many calling for his resignation. Walsh, though, simply represents the mayor, and it is Mike Bloomberg who is tone deaf when it comes to the policies that are necessary to grow the city's neighborhood retail sector. That is why, we are facing the city's biggest economic crisis in decades-with vacant store fronts littering the shopping strips of every borough.

But you can't say that the Bloombergistas don't know how to appear-rather than to be-good. Here's how good they posture: "Twelve Organizations and Individuals are Honored for their Work to Revitalize New York City's Communities. Helping Neighborhoods Become More Inviting to Business and Residents is Part of the Bloomberg Administration's Five Borough Economic Opportunity Plan. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Small Business Services Commissioner Robert W. Walsh today presented the 2009 New York City Neighborhood Achievement Awards to 12 recipients in all five boroughs. Established in 2002, the awards honor organizations, businesses and individuals that have demonstrated excellence in enhancing New York City neighborhoods by fostering economic opportunity."

This is the equivalent of the orchestra playing on the Titanic. Giving some plaques out is no substitute for economic policies that nurture and grow the city's neighborhood retail shops. And some of the folks getting the coveted "Bloomy" awards have been successful in spite of, rather than because of what the city has done.

So, in abiding by a policy of greater honesty and transparency in government, Mike Bloomberg should be shaking the hands of the folks at Greene Grape Provisions and Greene Grape Wine Store; Hot Bread Kitchen, Ltd.; Pastosa Ravioli of Staten Island; and El Nuevo Delicoso Restaurant of the South Bronx-and thanking them for their perseverance and tenacity in the face of policies that the mayor himself has enacted to make it harder to succeed in the city's hostile business climate. Their success is a testimony to the drive that so many New Yorkers exhibit-a spirit that even an over burdening government can't stifle completely.

So congrats to our new finance commissioner-another place holder for the plutocrats. If Frankel wants to do some good for the city's small businesses he can find a way to insure that the black market in cigarettes doesn't completely eliminate all of the legitimate retail outlets that sell thew product. If he can do that, we will give him our own award.

NY Post Gets Randi

If you wait long enough you just might get to see everything-like the NY Post praising a union leader. And in this morning's paper the shout out is to the UFT's Randi Weingarten: "Heaven knows we've had our differences with Weingarten -- who'll now devote her energies to heading the UFT's parent union, the American Federation of Teachers -- but we wish her well. For she's been an effective champion for her 228,000 members -- while remaining mindful of her obligations to the larger community."

Now, what obligations could the Post be referring to? Here's a hint. It just might have something to do with mayoral control of the schools-an issue that the paper has championed to an extent not seen since, well, the last commercial run by Mike Bloomberg (a couple of minutes ago?): "Her support was critical to passage of the 2002 law that lets City Hall run public schools. And its expected renewal this year would've had no chance had Weingarten seriously opposed it.
To her credit, she didn't. Though her union initially sought changes that would have gutted the law, Weingarten -- in a Post column at a critical moment in the debate -- made it clear that the UFT would accept more modest changes. And thank goodness, too."

The Post does manage a few discouraging words about the union's uber-role in raising the cost of schooling in NYC: "But Randi's top priority has always been her members: Since '98, teacher salaries have soared 58 percent -- and her members enjoy eye-poppingly generous fringe benefits. Accordingly, school spending has more than doubled during her tenure. Yes, the teachers' gains have often come at the expense of kids and taxpayers. But it's also true that Weingarten successfully demanded safer schools -- to everybody's benefit."

Safer schools aren't in the teachers' benefit as well? But you get the paper's drift here. The system may be spending money like there's no tomorrow-and the city's pension crisis can be traced in no small measure to this educational behemoth that Mike and Randi have collaborated on creating-but as long as the UFT played ball on governance, all is forgiven.

And not a single word on how this UFT about face came about. Here's a hint; in a sentence worth repeating: "Though her union initially sought changes that would have gutted the law, Weingarten -- in a Post column at a critical moment in the debate -- made it clear that the UFT would accept more modest changes.""

Let's be very clear. Mayoral control was effected because it was passed in the Assembly in spite of fairly strong opposition from city assembly members. The assembly has been lavishly funded by the UFT-and the union's thumb on the scale of mayoral control would have been its death knell, So, what happened? Put simply, a deal was made between Bloomberg and the union-something that will be revealed, like the proverbial player to be named later, when the teachers' contract is announced.

Anbd it will mean more teachers, better benefits-and, did we forget?-another nail in the city's pension coffin. Around the same time the national school tests will also be released; at which point we will be able to better see the cost/benefit equation of the current school governance regime. The wondrous gains that the Bloomberg/NY Post re-election campaign has been trumpeting may very well be seen-in the context of the exponentially increased spending-as picayune.

But if you really want to see a more honest glimpse of the less than praiseworthy aspects of the UFT's power, that you should go back to yesterday's NY Daily News and read Eva Moskowitz's critique of the union's successful effort to prevent middle class schools from employing teacher's aides: "The United Federation of Teachers has again put its members' interests above those of children by stopping parents from hiring teaching assistants at public schools with large class sizes.The practice takes place at many of our city's best schools. Schools in middle-class neighborhoods get far less funding than schools in poor neighborhoods. For example, upper East Side Public School 290, where my son went, gets $13,374 per child, while Harlem's PS 149 gets $19,834 - a difference of more than $6,000 per child. This disparity, although understandable, results in larger class sizes. Parent fund-raising helps ameliorate the problem. It is truly a win-win situation. The teaching assistants benefit because they are typically aspiring teachers: Working for a year or two at a top school is a great learning opportunity."

Now keeping middle class kids in the system should be seen as a high priority, for so many reasons. But the UFT insists that schools not hire these assistants, but instead hire less educated paras who just happen to be union members. And, so it goes.

What we had over the last six months or more was a mating dance between Randi, Mike Bloomberg and Shelly Silver. The result has been the passage of a mayoral control extension without any of the productive due diligence that we saw from the assembly over an even less crucial issue like congestion pricing.

When the national numbers finally come in, we'll be better able to see what spending about $20,000/pupil has gotten us. Our bet? The UFT and its members, along with a probably re-elected Mike Bloomberg, will have done a lot better than the city's school children.

Vaya Con Dios, Olga

Our dear friend Olga Mendez passed away yesterday, and we're gonna miss that raspy voice. Here's the details from the Borrero Report: "Sadly, The Borrero Report has confirmed the death of former State Senator Olga Méndez. According to her nephew, and primary caretaker for the past months, Eric Vazquez, “Titi [Auntie] died this morning at 1:10 AM in her East Harlem apartment.” There was a priest present, Padre Candido from East Harlem, who administered the last rites. Olga was a devout Roman Catholic."

Olga was a true original, and as City Room reports: "Olga A. Méndez, who was the first Puerto Rican woman elected to a state legislature in the continental United States, and represented East Harlem and parts of the Bronx in the New York State Senate from 1979 to 2004, died at her home in East Harlem on Wednesday morning. She was 84."

Olga paved the way-and in many ways the elevation of Sonya Sotomayor to the Supreme Court was made possible by the path that Olga Mendez paved. There was no prouder Puerto Rican woman-and no one who defended the rights of Puerto Rican/Hispanic (that's the term she insisted we use) businesses like she did. In the mid-nineties, Olga joined forces with Antonio Pagan-who also was tragically taken from us this year-and fought against the Pathmark Super Center that was being proposed for East Harlem.

And she was a fierce fighter-taking on the Ford Foundation (whose arm LISC was sponsoring Pathmark) in a memorable confrontation on Third Avenue that those of us who were there will never forget. But even more than her fighting spirit, what distinguished Olga most was her kindness to those she cared about; and we remember with great affection her love and concern for Matthew and Rachele Lipsky.

So, vaya con Dios, Olga. We certainly hope that the heavenly host hasn't made the entire celestial area smoke free-because if they have, someone will just have to make an exception for a truly exceptional, one of a kind politician and a marvelous human being.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Five Borough Fakery

The City's Economic Development Corporation keeps doing these silly deals-or, at times, wasteful ones-and then proceeds to trumpet them as part of the so-called five borough economic development plan. All of this horn tooting, it should be pointed out, is occurring simultaneously with horrific job loss and store closings; which makes you wonder what kind of good all of this planning is really doing.

The latest mega deal is as follows-according to the EDC's press release:"The Board of the New York City Industrial Development Agency (NYCIDA) today approved a sales, real estate, and mortgage recording tax incentive package to assist Best Mounting Corporation, a new company and an affiliate of AFC Industries, to locate their headquarters in Jamaica, Queens. Best Mounting will make a $3.65 million private investment to acquire and renovate a 55,000-square-foot facility in Jamaica to manufacture workstation fixtures primarily for the media, healthcare and security industries, creating 15 new jobs over the next three years. The project is expected to return about $3 million in new net tax revenues to the City over 25 years."

What tickles us even further is the sub-head on the release: "Helping industrial companies grow is a vital part of the City’s Five Borough Economic Opportunity Plan." Well now, let's see how the city really treats manufacturing. In 2005, the Bloombergistas drove a stake into the heart of the old Bronx Terminal Market where 23 companies were employing over 500 people without the aid of as single penny in city money.

And, if it were truly interested in really aiding manufacturing on that site, let's remember that there used to be over 100 wholesalers purveying their goods-mostly the kind of fresh produce that the mayor argues is needed to get New Yorkers healthier. As Tom Robbins wrote: "Although it's seen better days since its founding in 1935, the market remains the largest provider of ethnic and tropical produce on the East Coast. It supplies most of the city's bodegas and caters to the tastes of growing numbers of immigrants from Africa, the Caribbean, and Central America who can't find the jasmine-scented Thai rice, cactus leaves, or Ghanaian yams they are seeking anywhere else."

When it comes to aggrandizing the Related Companies, however, no amount of manufacturing can be allowed to stand in the way: "Last year Michael Bloomberg announced a solution to what he called a "blight" and an "eyesore." His plan calls for wiping out the produce market and replacing it with 1 million square feet of retail shopping, most likely department stores like Target or Marshalls. The new $300 million mall would create 4,500 jobs, the mayor said. It would be built by the Related Companies, the developer of the new Time Warner Center on Columbus Circle and headed by Stephen Ross, a close friend and former business partner of Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff. As for the produce merchants, Bloomberg aides said they would work with them to develop a relocation plan."

How did that work out? The plan-does this sound eerily similar to Willets Point?-never was effected; and the merchants were essentially handed a bus ticket out of town-but not before being disparaged by the same EDC that postures today as the best friend a manufacturer could hope to have. As we said four years ago:

"In mind boggling fashion, ignoring all of the public attention focused on the need to preserve the market, EDC “senior counsel” Terri Feinstein Sasanow, has simply reiterated the original position of the city: “Here’s a few dollars to get out of town. Take it or leave it.” What’s incredible here is that the city has not seen it necessary to find a solution for the BTM in the face of a corrupt deal that is the closest thing possible to the theft of city property. The Sasanow letter is dripping with an arrogant disregard for fairness and an equally arrogant disregard for the truth. Sasanow says that “EDC will not consider construction of a new market” and erroneously argues that unlike with the Fulton Fish Market, “the city is not the landlords of the tenants at the BTM and has no obligation to provide relocation for them.” But Terri, the city is indeed the landlord and in its landlord capacity brokered the deal that brought Related into the market."

And then there is Willets Point where there are ten times the number of businesses and five times as many workers as there were at the BTM. Big retail developments, projects that will only really shift jobs from neighborhood stores to peripheral malls, are the linchpin of the phony five borough economic development strategy. Making a bad situation that much worse, is that these projects so often replace indigenous employment that is sui generis-unlike the retail cannibalization.

So excuse us if we're underwhelmed by the EDC hoopla-and what exactly has the city been doing to save the Stella D'oro factory? At least the city council has recognized the plight of the company workers; while the mayor's folks got no game when it comes to real job preservation in the face of adversity. So when we hear that the latest EDC deal will create 15 jobs in three years in a plant in Jamaica, all we can think is that, at this rate, it will only take 830 years to replace the jobs that Bloomberg wants to forcibly evict at Willets Point. Some strategic plan!

Diaz to the Defense

We had a very nice and productive conversation with Bronx BP Ruben Diaz yesterday on his role in the Kingsbridge Armory fight. Diaz felt that we were a little bit too dismissive of the role that he has to play in the current ULURP process. Maybe we were-but the criticism was directed more at the diminished role that is assigned to BPs in the statute, rather than any personal critique of Diaz.

That being said, he does have a positive role he can play-and his previous criticisms of how Adolfo Carrion simply carried the water for developers should inform how he moves forward on crafting a position on the Armory. A truly empowering CBA is a phenomenon that has yet to be seen in the Bronx-or any where else in NYC-with Atlantic Yards, in our view, being the major exception. In similar fashion, Diaz can insure that KARA-and its major positions-becomes the center piece of the CBA; and, if the devloper balks he can send a single to the city council that the Bronx is going to be headed in a new progressive direction.

At the same time, Diaz-who has been a staunch defender of local business (see Key Food on Bruckner Blvd.)-can support the eight Bronx council members who have declared their opposition to the inclusion of a supermarket/big box food use at the Armory. And his opposition should be based on the same righteous views that he exemplified in the Bruckner battle, since an Armory-based large food use will diminish the number of Bronx supermarkets. And, by the way, Morton Williams deserves the same kind of support that Diaz, his father Ruben Diaz Sr., and Councilwoman Palma demonstrated on Bruckner.

So while the BP's role is only advisory, he does have a considerable bully pulpit-and should use it to send a message to the Bloombergistas. If the city's EDC issues an RFP that specifically excludes any competing food uses at the armory, than someone should stand up and simply hold them to the terms that they themselves laid out. If Diaz does all of this, his first real leadership test will be seen as a shining moment for Bronx County.

Bloomberg's Pension Poison Pill

We have been commenting for a while on the city's pension time bomb-basically cribbing from the great work done by E.J. McMahon. Now, Michael Barbaro at City Room weighs in to underscore that our concerns aren't simply right wing noise: "It’s a ticking time bomb in New York City’s budget: the cost of providing health care to retired city workers. By 2013, the price tag will grow to $96 billion, according to budget documents released at the annual meeting of the state’s Financial Control Board on Monday afternoon. That’s 50 percent bigger than the city’s entire budget for next year, which is $60 billion — and the cost is growing at the staggering rate of $6 billion a year."

And the FCB went right after the mayor for his fiscal legerdemain: "Starting a few years ago, federal accounting rules required New York City — and local governments across the country — to account for future health care costs, which are based on a variety of factors, like life expectancy and the growing cost of medical care. But it did not require the city to set aside money for the cost. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg took the unusual step of doing that anyway. He set up a retiree health trust fund, and squirreled away more than $2 billion in it. With interest, that initial investment grew to $3.2 billion.So far, so good. But when the economy began to decline this year, City Hall decided to tap into trust fund to help pay for something else: pension costs. It plans to take $1.1 billion from the fund over the next three years, leaving $2.1 billion."

So, is Mike Bloomberg the new Abe Beame? The FCB certainly wasn't pleased: "And at Tuesday’s meeting of the Financial Control Board, a relic of the 1970s fiscal crisis that must approve the city’s budget, three members of the board, who had previously praised Mr. Bloomberg’s creation of the retiree health trust fund, scolded the city for taking money out of it: “Unfortunately, under the financial plan, resources are being drained from the trust fund,” they said, in prepared remarks. “Troubling to us is that many reports on the city’s fiscal condition treat the Health Benefit Trust fund like it is a budget reserve to be used to close deficits. While we understand the very difficult decisions the city has made and will continue to have to make concerning budget cuts and tax increases, we believe that if you take a long-term view, it is fiscally dangerous to allow the unfunded liability to continue to grow.”

Now can we agree that the pension situation has been exacerbated by a mayor who hasn't been as scrupulous as he should have been in controlling the growth of the municipal labor force? After all, as McMahon has pointed out, every new public sector hire is a pension knife in the tax payer's heart-not to mention the wallet.

To us this is, as we have said before, so Grasshopper and the Ant. The profligate Mike Bloomberg-unmindful of the coming fiscal winter-kept on adding payroll and raising taxes to pay for the additional workers. Now, as a result of his improvidence, he has placed the financial well-being of the city in great jeopardy. The cost of the tax and spend big government chickens has come home to roost.

Can someone remind us, once again, just why we need-in the midst of a recession and a budget crisis that Mike Bloomberg made worse-to over turn the will of the people to bring this fiscally imprudent guy back?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Law of Diminishing Returns

The latest Q-Poll is fascinating. It seems that during the last couple of months, while the Thompson campaign has spent money like it has been shopping at a 99 cent store, and the Bloombergistas like Michael Jackson on steroids, the mayor's poll numbers have begun to sink: "Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg appears to be losing some ground in both his approval ratings and his probable race in November against City Comptroller William C. Thompson Jr. for a third term, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released on Tuesday."

The actual decline is around ten points: "But in a hypothetical matchup against Mr. Thompson, Mr. Bloomberg leads by 47 to 37 percent. Mr. Thompson, who is black, has made strides in particular among black voters, who support him by 56-30 percent, and Democrats, who narrowly support him by 45 to 42 percent."

Which leads us to speculate that this may very well be an example of the law of diminishing returns-and the more that the Bloomberg message gets repeated ad nauseum, the more the folks begin to simply pull their hair out: "More voters also say that Mr. Bloomberg, who has spent $36 million of his fortune on the campaign so far, is “a case of overkill,” according to the poll, with 61 percent saying so in July, and 56 percent saying so the previous month."

What is truly fascinating, however, is the disconnect between the mayor's personal approval rating and his electoral support. It will be interesting to see how this plays out-because if Thompson really begins to gain some traction this could become a horse race-and in a close contest, the mayor's money may actually become neutralized to a degree as the free media pounces on the day-to-day dramatics. But from this poll it would be hard to argue that, at least from Thompson's standpoint, the best thing that the mayor can do for him is to keep on spending money like a drunken stockbroker.

Diaz: Armoryed and Dangerous?

The Bronx News Network puts Bronx BP Ruben Diaz front and center in the current Kingsbridge Armory fight: "The handling of the Armory project is Diaz's first major test as borough president, having taken over for Adolfo Carrion, following a special election in April. In his first few months, Diaz has been out attending events, cutting ribbons, giving speeches, marching in parades and starting up a few initiatives and programs. But now comes the hard part, trying to wring concessions (in the form of community benefits) out of a big development project like the one about to be undertaken at the Armory."

It appears to us that Diaz's challenge is to transcend the lap dog posture that his predecessor had when it came to development projects-from the Bronx Terminal Market to the building of the new Yankee Stadium: "Carrion's biggest critics, Diaz included, said the former B.P. didn't get enough back from huge projects like the New Yankee Stadium and Gateway Center Mall (another Related project) at the Bronx Terminal Market, which were heavily-subsidized with government funds and tax breaks. Diaz is now taking the lead on negotiating a community benefits agreement with Related, acting as a middle man between the developer and community stakeholders, which are mostly represented by the Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance (KARA) and Community Board 7."

This is a somewhat interesting take since the BP's role-unlike, say, that of the City Council's, is strictly advisory; which limits the kind of leverage he can bring to bear with Related. That being said, it would behoove Diaz to work in collaboration with the Bronx council delegation-something that we haven't seen him doing up to this point.

Which brings us to the supermarket imbroglio. The entire council delegation, led by its dean Maria Baez, has demanded the removal of any supermarket/big box food use from the Armory; a point that Baez's aide Sherman Browne made at the BP's hearing last evening. Will Diaz support the council's position? It is an interesting political situation, especially given the fractious nature of the current political scene in the Bronx.

In any case, if the delegation's position remains firm, then there's a better than decent chance that the supermarket issue can be laid to rest in the short term-which will leave the CBA negotiations to be resolved as the ULURP application wends its way towards the City Council this fall. By that time, the BP's role will in all likelihood be more secondary-that is unless he can craft a collaborative team that includes the borough's council members who will be charged with the ultimate decision-making responsibility.


Bronx 12 News has a nice piece on last nights hearing.

Willets Point: Evict Not!

In last Saturday's online edition of the Christian Science Monitor (there is no longer a print edition), the paper covers the presser that the Willets Point United Group held last week on the nomination of Judge Sonya Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. The controversy surrounds the judge's very expansive views of the use of eminet domain: "Ralph St. John is well into his 70s, but his stocky arms show that he is a man accustomed to hard labor. In Willets Point in the New York borough of Queens, he founded a general contracting company 36 years ago. He hoped to leave it to his son. Now, however, Mr. St. John's business is one of 250 in an industrial zone that New York City has slated for redevelopment using eminent domain. "I can't develop my property. I can't sell it.... Would you want to buy it when you know the city wants to take it away?" he asks. With the Senate's expected confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, many small-business owners are fearful that the future court will make it that much easier for powerful developers to evict them for any reason."

The group's concerns about the judge's views were magnified by her decision in Didden v. Port Chester: "In 2005, the high court took on the eminent-domain case of Kelo v. New London. In a controversial decision, the justices said that local governments could use eminent domain to spur economic development that would benefit the public. But Kelo also reaffirmed that no property can be condemned and transferred to a private party under pretext of public benefit. Bart Didden thought that his suit against the Village of Port Chester, N.Y., was such a pretextual case. But in 2006, a three-judge panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which included Sotomayor, upheld the village's actions in a one-page opinion."

So it appears that we will have the eminent domain controversies roiling the SC for years to come-which makes local legislative action even more necessary; and in 46 states, the laws have been changed to make it more difficult for the abuse of eminent domain for a private benefit. The struggle in NY, however, is still uphill-with the statists who disdain private property firmly in control of the legislative process.

That does not mean that changes can't be made-and the folks at WPU are ready to escalate the public relations war in the weeks and months ahead. In particular, they will be resisting any attempt by the city to evict them from their land, especially since the needed traffic mitigation that serves as the linchpin for the city'e EIS, mandates that a Van Wyck off ramp be constructed in order to avoid any traffic catastrophe.

Until there is an assurance that such a ramp will be built-and until such time that the city can demonstrate it has the necessary funds to remediate the Iron Triangle site-no eviction should be contemplated. We need to remember the fiscal fiasco surrounding the use of eminent domain for the expansion of the NYSE:

"In January, 2001the NYC Economic Development Corp began the process of condemning the apartment building at 45 Wall Street. In support of its actions, the agency touted the “public benefit” the City would derive from enhancing Manhattan’s position as a worldwide financial center, and the theory that NYSE’s departure from the city’s financial district would be detrimental to the city and state economies. The tenants’ association of 45 Wall Street challenged the development agency’s public use determination, but in October 2001, a state appeals court agreed with the agency’s findings, citing the public benefit of increased tax revenue and economic development. Amazingly, the court found that the, 'proposed project will incidentally confer a public benefit,' even though the agency’s sole rationale for supporting the condemnation was to facilitate construction of NYSE's new facility..."

And how did this whole thing go? It didn't! The expansion was never implemented and the whole deal was aborted-but not before the city took a $109 bath. As the NY Times has reported: "Apartments are for rent again at 45 Wall Street. The reopening of the apartment house at that address near the New York Stock Exchange this weekend marks the formal burial of a proposed $1.4 billion project that Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani once called a Christmas present for New York...Even so, the city estimates that unwinding the ill-fated project will cost taxpayers about $109 million. The stock exchange spent about $10 million. ''It was a lose-lose for everybody,'' said Bettina Damiani, project director of Good Jobs New York, a longtime critic of the project."

So, we need to take the fate of 45 Wall Street as a cautionary tale for Willets Point. The eviction of the businesses at the Point, following an eminent domain proceeding, makes no sense until it is clear that all of the challenges we have mentioned have been clearly met. Until then, the city needs to keep its hands of the businesses and let them continue to employ the 2500 mostly immigrant workers who, absent these jobs, would be out of work and out of luck.

Making Reservations-and Sticking it to the Tax Payers

As the NY Post editorialized yesterday, the proliferation of illegal Indian retail operations continues-along with a feckless government's refusal to take remedial action: "You may have missed it, but New York got a brand-new Indian reservation this month -- consisting entirely of two Upstate convenience stores. A state appellate court ruled that the outlets, owned and operated by the Cayuga Indian tribe on nonreservation land, count as a "qualified reservation" for taxing purposes, thus voiding local efforts to halt the Cayugas' illicit tobacco trade."

And this continued flouting of the law has been consequences for NY's tax payers-and state government that is bleeding red ink: "Cayuga County DA Jon Budelmann, who's moving to appeal the decision, says the two stores channel more than 6 million packs of untaxed cigs a year from the much larger Oneida reservation nearby. Yet fully 275 million packs of cigarettes flowed through New York's Indian reservations last year, depriving state and local governments of an estimated billion dollars in tax revenue -- and pushing law-abiding merchants out of business."

As if small retailers weren't hurting enough! But it's government inaction on this that really gets our blood boiling-as tax payers are hit with more levies to balance a budget whose revenues continue to sink. You'd think that the governor-the main obstacle to enforcement-would prefer to go after tax avoiders, rather than increase taxes on the state's law abiding folks. But, if you did think this fairly logical thought, you would be way wrong.

The governor is apparently afraid of his own shadow-and allows the illegality to flourish even after all of the court rulings that permit the state to tax tobacco sales from Indians to non-Indians: "The tribes argue, contrary to both state law and settled Supreme Court precedent, that such extracurricular commerce is fully within their sovereign treaty rights -- and, thus far, a weak executive and skittish judiciary have let them get away with it."

And what's even worse, is that the Indians are claiming sovereign immunity while continuing to-in adding insult to injury fashion-lap up all manner of government subsidy: "But it would be easier to take their claims to nationhood, and tax exemption, more seriously if they weren't already reliant on nontribal taxpayer dollars. Indeed, New York's Indian tribes have all the entitlements of regular state citizenship -- schools, roads, etc. -- except where those programs are superseded by even more generous federal handouts. The federal Indian Health Service, for instance, oversees a broad range of health grants and benefits on top of Medicare and Medicaid.
Federally recognized tribes can also qualify to receive welfare money directly from Washington."

So, let's get some action here. A billion dollars is still a great deal of money for this cash-strapped state. The only thing standing in the way is the pusillanimity of the acting governor.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Any Other Port in a Storm

We have hammered away at the failure of the Port Authority-along with developer Larry Silverstein-to develop the sacred ground where the Trade Center once stood; but now we find that the Authority-adding insult to injury-is padding its payroll in a blatant example of how incompetency so often gets rewarded at these quasi-governmental pig pens: "Port Authority salaries have been cleared for takeoff. The payroll for the bloated bi-state agency that runs the three airports, the bus terminal and six bridges and tunnels saw the number of employees making six-figure salaries soar by 205 in 2008."

So what's the rationale for all of this largess? Well, according to the NY Post: "A PA spokeswoman said the raises were the result of an analysis conducted by a consultant last year. "The Port Authority operates some of the most sophisticated transportation projects," agency spokeswoman Candace McAdams said. "We benchmark our management positions against both public and private sectors to attract and retain talent."

Lots of comp from the private sector in retaining all of this "talent?" In the midst of the worst recession in over seven decades? Please, spare us! Which brings us to the Ground Zero fiasco-and hats off to the Staten Island BP for calling the PA out on this ""It's outrageous to give these people raises like that," said Staten Island Borough President James Molinaro. "They admit that they have problems they can't resolve at the World Trade Center. It's eight years since 9/11, and we don't have a memorial out there. It's outrageous. How do you reward yourself for incompetence? And there's no one to check on it," he lamented."

In our post last week we wondered why the state and city-and our two vaunted chief executives-didn't simply condemn the sacred space and devise a plan to make sure that the site was properly commemorative of what happened on 9/11. And, as far as the mayor is concerned, our wonder never ceases. This is, after all, the same cool guy who wields eminent domain like a machete whenever he sees a small business in the way of one of his grand schemes.

So, why not collaborate with the state and condemn the PA's stakehold-and Silverstein's lease along with it? Does the reason lie with the fact that Mr. Silverstein and the Port are big guys-those entities that are always, "too big to fail?" The building of a civic project at Ground Zero is precisely what eminent domain laws were passed for. The inaction-and silence-of our elected officials tells a profound story about the inequitable use of the taking clause of the US Constitution. Someone should call our leaders on this inequity.

Baez to the Breach

The Bronx BP's hearing on the Kingsbridge Armory will be held to night at Lehman College, and the borough's council delegation, led by Maria Baez, has sent BP Diaz and the city a clear message: no supermarket in the development. As the NY Daily News reports: "Last Friday, all eight members of the City Council's Bronx delegation asked Mayor Bloomberg in a letter to reject the developer's supermarket proposal...With 45 markets already within a 2-mile radius of the armory, the council delegation argued the proposed 60,000-square-foot market would drive at least some of them out of business."

And Baez, in a press release, said: "As the Council Member representing the 14th Council District, I am strongly opposed to the inclusion of a supermarket/big box food use store in the Kingsbridge Armory development project. In these economic times of change and uncertainty, it is imperative that we take every measure necessary to insure that small businesses in our community are able to survive."

The issue of a living wage in the retail development-along with a strong and binding Community Benefits Agreement-will also be brought front and center by KARA-the coalition of local community organizations: "Related also faces opposition from a coalition of northwest Bronx community members, who last week asked Diaz to vote against the plan until the developer agrees to an enforceable Community Benefits Agreement. The coalition is, among other things, demanding that a living wage of $10 an hour be paid to workers when the project is finished, and for the developer to provide community space and affordable recreation for neighborhood youth."

All of which will make for a lively and contentious debate tonight-and throughout the rest of the land use review process. It is expected that the city council will get the Armory application in October; and with the delegation letter-along with the expected 10,000+ signatures opposing the supermarket/box store use-we believe that there's an excellent opportunity for Baez and the local businesses to prevail on behalf of the community. The other wider community demands present an even bigger challenge, but KARA is well organized and has strong labor and political support to see that a binding CBA is negotiated. It will be an interesting few months.

Was Joe the Plumber Right?

The well documented campaign dust up between Barack Obama and Joe the Plumber highlighted the concern that many people-particularly small business owners-had about the big government, "share the wealth," predilections of the Democratic candidate. Foe his outspokenness, Joe became a target of a national smear campaign to discredit the messenger; particularly because of the way his message resonated with so many Americans.

As we examine the president's health care plan, however, we can't help but feel that Joe's insights were extremely prescient; and that the small businesses that Joe the Plumber became the spontaneous spokesman for, are in the cross hairs of health care "reform." Which is why we were so put off by the president's claim on Saturday, that his reform plan would benefit the little guys.

As the NY Times reported: "The Congressional Budget Office said Saturday that a new agency proposed by President Obama as a way to cut health costs might save only $2 billion in its first four years, and that there was a high probability that “no savings would be realized.” The report came as Mr. Obama tried to build support for his health care plan, arguing that small-business owners would benefit because they could buy coverage through an insurance exchange and receive tax credits to help pay for employee health benefits."

Gee, why didn't we realize this-and why do all the organized small business groups demur from the president's avowed concern for the smallest firms? Can it be that a bit of misdirection on the president's part? Here's what Obama says: "In his weekly radio and Internet address on Saturday, Mr. Obama said that small businesses were being “crushed by skyrocketing health care costs. Because they lack the bargaining power that large businesses have and face higher administrative costs per person, small businesses pay up to 18 percent more for the very same health insurance plans — costs that eat into their profits and get passed on to their employees,” Mr. Obama said."

But sir, your plan makes things much worse: "In the weekly Republican address, Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington State argued that the Democratic proposals were “bankrolled by a small-business tax.” She said that jobs would “evaporate” under the Democratic plan because businesses would not be able to afford to meet their payrolls. The National Federation of Independent Business, which represents small businesses, opposes the Democratic health care legislation under consideration in the House. “Now is not the time to burden our nation’s job creators with new, expensive mandates, punitive payroll taxes and a new government-run program,” said Brad Close, the association’s vice president for public policy."

Now it would have been nice if the Times had done a little more in depth analysis on this-and not buried the NFICB response at the tail end of the story; something that even the CBS evening News managed to do: "President Obama tried to regain momentum on health care today by claiming in his weekly address that his plan would benefit small business owners. He said small businesses now pay 18 percent more for health insurance than large businesses do. Just 48 percent of businesses with three to nine employees offer insurance, while nearly all businesses with 200 or more employees do. But do small business owners think they'd benefit from a change?"

And the answer totally rebuts the president's position: "Small business owner Tom Sawner runs an online education service in Arlington, Va. He believes his employees deserve health care coverage. But he doesn't want the government telling him he has to provide it, reports CBS News correspondent Kimberly Dozier. "I think small business owners need to have the ability to make their own choices for their people and their company and their location," said Sawner, the CEO of Educational Options."

As Sawner goes on to point out: "I am very concerned about what might come down in a government program or how I'm going to be taxed an additional 8 percent of payroll if my plan doesn't fit with what Congress, in their infinite, wisdom says will be best for my business," Sawner said."

So, as we have said, if small business is the bedrock of the American economy-an economy that is really down in the dumps at the present-do we really want to impose new mandates that will tamp down expansion and job growth; and even redistribute the wealth in the process? The current health plans are too ambitious and too costly-and in our view could easily create a system even worse than the one we have now.

American Idle

Adam Lisberg makes a good point in yesterday's NY Daily New about Bloomberg's blatant hypocrisy when it comes to carbon foot printing: "Until last week, anyone walking into City Hall could see Mayor Bloomberg's SUVs parked for hours with the engine running - anyone, that is, but the mayor."They don't idle when I'm in the car - they drive when I'm in the car," he explained. After The Associated Press revealed the open secret, the environmentalist mayor told the NYPD to obey his months-old edict: engines off when the SUVs are parked."

All this hoo ha does is to point out how much the mayor is pretty much only a, do what I say kinda guy; and how his own personal behavior contradicts the edicts he peremptorily gives to others. We have already shown how is gun control mania doesn't prevent Bloomberg from employing a security team for his personal safety-not to mention the armed NYPD security team.

And then there is Bloomberg's own Sasquatchian-like carbon footprint. As the NY Post reported: "America's greenest mayor generates enough greenhouse gas to choke the Lincoln Tunnel.
Mayor Bloomberg - who has advocated everything from ditching incandescent light bulbs to taxing Midtown commuters to clean the air - produces 364 tons of smog-inducing carbon dioxide a year, according to a Post analysis of the billionaire's trans-Atlantic real estate portfolio and travel style."

So, as he did with congestion pricing, the mayor advocates for others to be frugal with the environment while he traipses all across the globe spewing forth carbon emissions to a fare thee well. Which brings us to another liberal do what I say kinda guy-the NY Times' Tom Friedman. Talk about Sasquatchian!

While Tom lectures us about how the newly passed cap and trade bill will assure that new homes will be more energy efficient-"this bill’s goal of reducing U.S. carbon emissions to 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 is nowhere near what science tells us we need to mitigate climate change. But it also contains significant provisions to prevent new buildings from becoming energy hogs, to make our appliances the most energy efficient in the world and to help preserve forests in places like the Amazon."-he lives in the kind of mansion that has the trees in the Amazon forest trembling with fear.

What this tells us, is that there is an entire class of rich environmentally conscious folks who-once they have gotten theirs-wants to restrict the kind of development that other may use to get wealthy: "Well, obviously, being a renowned expert, Thomas Friedman, like Al Gore and the Prince of Wales, needs a supersized carbon footprint. But you don't - you can get by beating your laundry on the rocks down by the river with the native women all day long. "Environmentalism" is a government restraint on economic advance and, therefore, social mobility. In other words, it's a way to ensure you'll never live like Tom Friedman."

Or, Mike Bloomberg, for that matter.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Fire in the Hole

When the folks voted to install Mike Bloomberg as their mayor-and did it a second time-the prevailing wisdom was that, owing to the mayor's vast fortune, the public could count on a corruption-free mayoralty. What was not taken into consideration, was the Bloomberg old boys network that gave Dan Doctoroff and the Related Companies to NYC. As a result of this, we were able to bear witness to a whole series of sweetheart no-bid deals that left the city less well off than it should have been.

We have, of course, outlined a few of these deals-most notably the gifting of the Bronx Terminal Market by Docotroff to his old friend and business associate Steve Ross. On a lesser scale, Doctoroff stabbed the Fernandez brothers in the back over the development rights to a project in Harlem on Bradhurst Avenue-subsidizing the project with an additional $5 million after the Related folks, under the Giuliani regime, had been issued two non performance letters, and were on the verge of being de-designated.

But now comes something even more egregious-and coming from our vantage point, with our bug up the butt view of the Bronx Terminal deal, this says quite a lot. It involves the mayor's culpability in the Deutsche Bank fire; and the role played by sweetheart contractor Bovis.

Wayne Barrett has outlined the shamefulness of all that has transpired-a shame that is magnified by the failure of the local press to properly tar baby the mayor on this issue: "The Voice's cover story this week, "Bloomberg's Biggest Scandal--the Deutsche Bank Fire--Should Be His Downfall" -- examined the determination of top city officials, including Bloomberg's longtime top deputy Dan Doctoroff, to ignore the risk of installing Bovis Lend Lease and its prime subcontractor Galt at the demolition site of the bank building. Doctoroff brushed aside warnings from the city's investigations department about Galt in deference to Bovis' reckless desire to hire the mob-tainted firm."

Let's not forget that two firefighters were killed as a result of the city's actions here: "Manhattan DA Robert Morgenthau has indicted Galt and two of its officials in the negligent homicide case involving the death of two firefighters, Robert Beddia and Joseph Graffagnino, at the bank site. He also charged one Bovis employee, but said he did not indict Bovis because it could have caused the collapse of a company that employs thousands."

And, as Barrett has told us, not a single paper has even bothered to call for the removal of the fire commissioner-an incompetent administrator with no fire fighting expertise, whose claim to fame involved a see no evil approach to child abuse when he was in charge of Administration for Children’s Services (ACS).

The question with all of this is why did the city promote Bovis-and who was responsible for the shilling of a failed company? As Barrett points out, Deputy Dan was in the middle of this mess as well: "At the very moment that Doctoroff and the LMDC went ahead with the Bovis contract at the bank site in 2005, the company was engaged in what city attorneys call now "repeated failures to perform in accordance" with "generally accepted professional standards" in the construction of the $275 million Bronx Hall of Justice, the 10-story courthouse that Bovis completed almost three years late. The lawsuit is still pending."

All of which underscores that the Bloomberg administration has been rife with incompetence and cronyism-and his billionaire brothers in the press have been covering for him. We have been particularly curious about why the Post's Murdoch has been such a mayoral toady-after all, the paper has an ideological view of the world that's diametrically opposed to the one espoused by the Nanny mayor.

In response to our query on this, Barrett referred us to his magnum opus of last year on Bloomberg: "In 2007, Bloomberg L.P. decided, apparently after some consideration, not to compete with Murdoch for The Wall Street Journal. Murdoch similarly decided this July not to compete with Bloomberg when he paid $4.5 billion to buy Merrill Lynch's 20 percent interest in Bloomberg L.P. In this walled-off billionaire playground, it's impossible to tell if any of these third-term mogul endorsements spring in part from a business motive."

Bloomberg's purchase of the Wall Street Journal would have given him a virtual monopoly over the financial news in this country-and would have been a great business move. His demurral in going after the WSJ was a god send to Murdoch; and saved him millions from having to match a competitive bid in the process. Gratitude can take many forms.

So we are left to blog flogging Bloomberg in the absence of any real credible journalistic accountability. After all, if the Post can obsessively call for mayoral control on a daily basis, how about banging away at the incompetence of Scoppetta-and the man who refuses to fire him? And while they're at it, let's see if the investigation of the Bloomberg/Bovis nexus is picked up by the intrepid NY Times investigating unit.

Don't hold your breathe. We have a one party town in NYC-and it ain't the Democratic Party that's in charge, it's the Plutocrats; and in the process, vital information necessary for an informed citizenry is being actively suppressed.

A Condemnation of a Massive Government Failure

Can you believe all of the endless negotiations between the Port Authority and Larry Silverstein over the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site? The site, which by all means should be considered sacred ground-and a place for a national memorial to remember those who lost their lives to the worst attack on American soil-has been allowed to lay fallow for eight years. This, in spite of the fact that Silverstein had barely gotten title to the property before the Towers were attacked.

Now, however, after all this time, everyone is bending over backwards to placate Silverstein. As the NY Daily News reports: "The Port Authority for the first time on Friday spelled out a scenario in which it could strip Larry Silverstein of the three iconic skyscrapers he plans to build at Ground Zero. Agency brass say that within the next two months, they'll turn over "construction-ready land" to the developer - and stop paying him $300,000-a-day in late fees they've paid for more than a year."

Now we don't believe that the developer is the only blameworthy participant in this dance of delay-how could Governor Pataki and Mayor Bloomberg, for instance, allow the situation to deteriorate with no action on this iconic property? And, having failed to act, paying off Silverstein to the tune of millions of dollars? Here's a great example of the Bloomberg leadership expertise in action; simply unable to devise a solution to what should have been the biggest development priority for a new mayor.

Instead, Bloomberg went off to build a football stadium; deeded over the Bronx Terminal Market to a close friend; smoothed the way for the eminent domaining of West Harlem on behalf of Columbia; and, most egregiously of all, developed a plan to take the property of hundreds of small business owners in Willets Point. All the while Ground Zero remains a pit-a monument to the mayor's failure.

And the NY Post's Steve Cuozzo has been a beacon on the Ground Zero fiasco-and the recent flap over drunken construction workers, well, drove him to drink: "Just thinking about Ground Zero can drive you to drink. Look at the 16-acre site without even one completed project almost eight years after 9/11, and you want to slip into the Millenium Hotel's third-floor bar overlooking the pit and down a Slurry Wallbanger -- oops, Harvey Wallbanger -- to numb your brain. But it's not an option for construction workers. The hardhats' lunchtime boozing, observed and photographed by The Post, reflects the lack of accountability that plagues the whole downtown rebuilding effort. This outrage is much worse than when this newspaper found hundreds of pages of "confidential" rebuilding documents, including Freedom Tower architectural drawings, dumped in garbage cans last year. The Port Authority had trouble explaining that. But when it comes to construction workers getting smashed on their lunch hours, there must be no failure to identify and punish the guilty."

So while the Port Authority has been totally negligent-and the political will non existent-the ground remains undeveloped. But let's pose a question that no one is asking. Why hasn't the city and state coordinated an eminent domain proceeding to condemn the Port's property rights-and Silverstein's lease along with it? In Willets Point, so the argument goes, we can't allow this eyesore to be perpetuated-notwithstanding the fact that the so-called eyesore is economically productive for thousands of families.

Ground Zero, on the other hand, in spite of being the spot where a national memorial should have been up and running years ago, stands empty. In our understanding of the eminent domain laws, there are two rationales for taking property-one if the area is blighted; and second, if the land is going to be used for a "civic project."

So while the city and state moves with alacrity to take Nick Sprayregen's West Harlem
warehouses, and the Korean dry cleaners over on Second Avenue and 126th Street-not to mention the 250 Willets Point firms-they sit with the proverbial thumbs up their sphincters when it comes to the PA and Siverstein. Can anyone say, double standard?

And what has Bloomberg done to get the ball rolling? According to Cuozzo, he has thrown himself right in the middle: "But it's worth Bloomberg's trying. This is the mayor who took control of the city's public-education system despite howls from unions and their political stooges that he couldn't do it, just as Rudy Giuliani curbed crime against resistance from everywhere; to courageously establish a new agenda and see it through is called leadership. And if it takes a great leap of courage on the mayor's part to adjust the PA's Ground Zero agenda, so be it. Political courage has been sorely lacking at Ground Zero..."

And Speaker Silver recently called the inaction, "an embarrassment." Yet, the idea of simple condemnation is outside the scope of discussion-an example of what the political scientists Bachrach and Baratz called, "non-decisions," subjects that were so outside the world view of the decision makers that they never even make it to the negotiating table.

The failure to act forcefully at Ground Zero is, then, just another example of how eminent domain is used almost exclusively in reverse Robin Hood fashion-giving to the rich, and taking from the less wealthy. One thing we know for certain, as the governor lunches with the developer, and the mayor huddles with the speaker, is that the idea of simply condemning the site and opening up the development rights to someone with a true civic vision is not on the lunch menu. Apparently, it's too rich for their blood.

Failing to Get an Education

Opponents of mayoral control gathered-300+ strong-on the steps of city hall to rail against re-issuing a blank check to the man who has already demonstrated that some controls over his unchecked power would be...a good thing. As the NY Daily News reports: "Democratic state senators brought the battle over school control to Mayor Bloomberg's doorstep on Thursday, denouncing him on the steps of City Hall for refusing to compromise. The lawmakers, who have been embroiled in a nasty public feud with Bloomberg over the lapsed law, refused to rule out starting the school year without a new bill. "There is no end to this debate," said Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada Jr. "It will be ongoing."

Fortunately, as we suggested yesterday, the senators hit away-not at the mayor personally-but at the disastrous results of allowing a system of unchecked power to continue. Instructively, neither of the two papers that have been assailing the senate for not rubber stamping the assembly-passed bill bothered to even try to cover the substance of the arguments that were put forward in detail yesterday; and not only by senators, but by parents and teachers as well.

This Three Blind Mice version of journalism continues to do a disservice to NY's voters who will be asked to pass judgment on the Bloomberg Era without any real scrutiny from papers whose function is supposedly to inform the folks about the strengths and weaknesses of their elected officials. In this vacuum created by nonfeasance-and in at least one case with the Post, malfeasance-all that any one's been able to hear is the relentless drumbeat of the mayor's well financed propaganda machine.

When serious criticism is finally being raised about the less than utopian governance structure, it's being lost-first in the back and forth of personal invective between the mayor and his senate adversaries-in the silence of the tabloids. Here's the NY Post on yesterday's rally-in a 122 word story: "Democrats in the do-nothing state Senate yesterday vowed to keep thwarting Mayor Bloomberg's bid to extend mayoral control of the schools unless City Hall agrees to empower parents and make other concessions. "We're going to be the bad guys," Sen. Eric Adams (D-Brooklyn) said at a press conference with parents outside City Hall."

Catchy lead, no? And what, pray tell, are those other concessions? Perhaps the rights to sell Snapple in their local schools? Or maybe they are somewhat more substantive-like eliminating hundreds of millions of dollars of no-bid contracts, as was suggested by Senator Kruger. But you'd never know, at least if you only read the NY Daily News and NY Post. On the other hand, the rally did get better coverage from NY1, but the other stations were more interested in fundraising scandals then in any substantive mayoral debate.

And, lost in the din on all this, is that there has been some real discussions between the mayor and the senate "clowns." Something that Wayne Barrett appears to be the ony one reporting on: "Senate Democrats and negotiators for the mayor have apparently worked out terms to settle the recent deadlock about extending the mayoral school control bill. Sources say the mayor has agreed to an amendment that would provide $1.6 million to the City University to oversee a parent training and exchange program, which was a key change sought by Senate Democratic Conference Chair John Sampson and other senators." Which means that the entire fiasco may soon be over-and any real independent evaluation put in the back of the sock drawer.

So we are left mostly with the sounds of silence-or, alternatively, the tawdry exchanges of woof ticket politics. Meanwhile the basis for the re-election of the mayor-a rationale built almost entirely on a solipsism-is not being effectively challenged; although Bill Thompson appears to have finally come out of his stupor. As the News does tell us: "Meanwhile, City Controller Bill Thompson challenged Bloomberg to an education debate, hammering him for the third day on one of the mayor's signature campaign issues. Bloomberg's campaign declined but said he looked forward to debates scheduled for October. Thompson is his likely Democratic rival."

Thompson needs to constantly bell the cat-and go after the mayor as aggressively as Bloomberg has with the state senate. Bloomberg's arrogant political bubble needs to be burst-and the only way that will be done (and actually reported) is if the comptroller whales away. Let's hope he does.