Monday, August 10, 2009

Trafficking in Narishkeit

Katherine Jose has an interesting Observer piece on Mike Bloomberg's ambitious transit proposals-but the subtext of the story, at least as we see it, is that the entire effort bespeaks of narishkeit on the mayor's part. We use narishkeit, which means foolishness in Yiddish, because Bloomberg has been really trying as of late to get in touch with his Jewish roots-no matter how meshugeneh this might seen to those of us who know that, until becoming mayor, Mike wasn't really a haimishe kind of guy.

The foolishness here relates to the following truth; Bloomberg can really do little more than pontificate on this issue: "All this seems great. But since the latest news about the M.T.A. is that it's deeply, deeply in debt, and the latest news about the city budget is bleak, it's not entirely clear how either would set about finding the money for any of this anytime soon. There’s also the issue of jurisdiction: the M.T.A. is controlled by the state, meaning that the mayor’s plan, effectively, is a high-profile suggestion from a well-connected constituent."

So, with the city being broke, and the mayor little more than a kibbitzer on all of these transit issues, what's up with all this tumult? Doesn't it make the mayor appear to be rather disingenuous? And let's not forget, that he's had almost eight years where his bully pulpit on transit policy has appeared to be little more than the proverbial 80 pound weakling.

But Jose sees something else in all of the palavering: "Robert Paaswell, the director of CUNY's University Transportation Research Center, has his doubts. "All these really sound good, but 90 percent of them are beyond the mayor's control," Paaswell said. "The city doesn't put a lot of money into the M.T.A., so it's like a wish list of things the M.T.A. should do...They're great ideas," Paaswell said. "They just need the city to begin putting city money into the systems that run in the city, rather than trying to squeeze money out of the M.T.A. It really isn't quite as bloated as [Bloomberg] thinks it is." Asked if the city has the money to carry out the plans, Paaswell said, "Absolutely not. Are you kidding? They don't."

But there is a pot of gold at the end of this hallucination: "Funding anything this ambitious, Paaswell says, "means getting tolls, going back to congestion pricing—the things that he wanted before." But congestion pricing was unceremoniously killed by Sheldon Silver in the State Assembly, and a brief effort to push tolls on the East River bridges was met with absolute opposition from outer borough elected officials. "He's going to try," Paaswell said, "but he better mend some political fences."

There are, however, some fences that are beyond the scope of a Bloomberg rehab effort-and thankfully so, since this whole congestion thing would mean another tax on city residents. But certainly, the press needs to hold Bloomberg's hands to the fire when his mouth's writing checks that his body can't cash. Perhaps then, this groyser tzuleyger will be brought down to an appropriate size.