Friday, January 15, 2010

Familiarity Breeds...

Tom Robbins examines the Working Families Party kerfuffle in this week's Village Voice-but doesn't think much about the legal issues involved. He does focus, however on the history repeating itself angle; and sees the challenge to the WFP having echoes from the 1930s "In 1938, in the teeth of the Great Depression, the Roosevelt administration won passage of a 40-hour-week wage law. Employers were now obliged to pay their workers overtime. Shock and horror echoed across the nation's business establishments.The mightiest oligarchs of the time—leaders of Republic Steel, Sun Oil, Kennecott Copper, Eli Lilly & Co.—combined to create something called the Committee for Constitutional Government, which began pouring cash into the coffers of candidates pledging to restore free enterprise, lower taxes on the wealthy, and tame organized labor."

That was then, and this is now: "History loves a do-over, and there's a small-bore version of this scenario playing out right now in New York. It began last spring, when the labor-backed Working Families Party scared the bejesus out of the propertied classes by providing much of the political heft behind the move to impose a new budget-balancing tax on high-level earners...The string of party successes rang alarm bells among monied interests around the state, who gathered in a confab to try and devise a counter-strategy."

And the counter strategy was to team up with the Independence Party to challenge the growing hegemony of the WFP-and the team attracted some heavy hitters: "First to pick up this cudgel was Steve Spinola, who was hired by the city's largest landlords to run the Real Estate Board back in 1986 after several years in dress rehearsal as city development commissioner. Spinola helped round up some $700,000 this fall in landlord donations in a mostly losing effort to stave off WFP-supported candidates in several Council races."

The result? Not too good-as WFP successes continued relatively unabated. So Robbins doesn't think that the political challenge will prove to be too daunting; and, as it is currently configured, we tend to agree with his assessment. But what about the legal challenge? Robbins derides this as well: "Plaintiffs in the case are five loyal supporters of Guy Molinari, the venerable GOP warhorse and former Staten Island borough president who has long been Giuliani's biggest booster. Like the rest of the Republican establishment, Molinari has a vested interest in any legal knee-capping of the WFP. Trial begins this week, but so far the only evidence Mastro has offered is a pair of affidavits by his own former City Hall aide turned political consultant, Jake Menges. Back in Giuliani Time, Menges was best remembered for his charge across the Council chambers where he feigned throttling a black Councilman who had gone against the administration's wishes. Menges raged: "You can forget your fucking Beacon school," according to Jim Dwyer in the Daily News, who dubbed Menges a "baby hack."

Is this analysis correct? Well, according to Daily Politics, there may be more to it than the WFP-sympathetic Robbins would have us believe-and the damaging testimony of the treasurer of Debi Rose's campaign was an embarrassment: "The Working Families Party trial is on hold at least until Feb. 23 while a witness consults an attorney and lawyers for the labor-backed party and its for-profit arm, Data and Field Services, conduct a search for additional documents, the DN's Erin Einhorn reports. The trial was supposed to resume this morning after a day of testimony yesterday. But Staten Island Judge Anthony Giacobbe huddled with lawyers for both sides for more than an hour, then brought the court back to session just long enough to offer legal advice to David Thomas, who was campaign treasurer to Debi Rose’s City Council campaign."

It appears as if Thomas, who describes the Rose campaign as "dysfunctional," may have perjured himself in his claim that an affidavit drafted in his name was written by others and he claims little knowledge of its content. Now this might not be attributable to WFP-inspired machinations, but more to the campaign's ineptitude, but clearly Houston we have a problem.

And City Hall, the paper that has led the charge against the WFP, agrees: "Over the summer, Council Member Debi Rose’s campaign treasurer swore to and provided intricate affidavits for the Campaign Finance Board in response to inquiries about the campaign’s relationship with Data & Field Services, the for-profit company owned by the Working Families Party. But when on Wednesday he was presented on the stand with the affidavits as part of the case being brought against Rose and Data & Field Services by Randy Mastro, the treasurer, David Thomas, said he had not written the affidavits—and in fact, was unfamiliar with most of the information contained within them."

But in our view, the problem that the WFP presents is thoroughly political-and not in the way Robbins characterizes it: "Actually, the WFP's biggest flaws are hardly indictable offenses. Its leaders tend to lapse into the arrogant lingo of the old-school bosses they seek to replace. They talk about taking political "scalps" just to show that they know how it's done; diligent legislators outside the inner circles of power are dismissed as "irrelevant."

Robbins goes on to develop, in comparing the WFP to FDR, the kind of stretch marks that only a women carrying sextuplets could exhibit: "But then you have to figure that FDR's team—the one that changed America—suffered its own share of swollen egos." As if egotism was the only WFP sin. WFP=New Deal? Not happening for us.

We're not sure what is indictable here, but we do feel that the WFP's sins transcend out sized personality problems-and the landlord opposition only serves to camouflage the danger to the polity-and to the Democrats-that the WFP represents. Put simply, the party is driving the policy discussion way out into left field-a dangerous piece of real estate to occupy in the upcoming election cycle.

It is out of touch with real working families-and the Democratic dog better be careful before its WFP tail puts it into, well, a tailspin. But for that to happen, the landlords need to take a giant step back and allow the folks-you know the homeowners, small business people, and the average NY tax payers-to come front and center. And speaking of dogs, there's one big sleeping one called an outraged electorate that could throw the Democrats for a loop come this November if they're not more careful about the company they keep.