Friday, March 05, 2010

Deformed Reform

What a side splitter! Ed Koch is leading an effort to reform the Albany dysfunction-yes, that Ed Koch of "City for Sale" fame who presided over a revolving door of municipal kleptocrats. As one reviewer of the Newfield and Barrett masterpiece noted:

"Once Koch took office, funny things began to happen. Machine captains were not fired; in fact many were promoted to high positions in contract-rich agencies. Koch appointed Anthony Ameruso, an Esposito crony, as commissioner of transportation, even though a screening panel Koch personally established found Ameruso unqualified. The Parking Violations Bureau was run on a complex system involving hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes, which went to PVB chief Lester Shafran and to Manes. Friedman held 167,000 shares in a dummy company called Citisource, which received a $22 million contract from the bureau to build hand-held computers for parking meters, even though Citisource had no assets, no employees, and no computer. (A systems analyst who pointed out these facts was told he'd be fired if he didn't recommend Citisource.) When evidence of corrupt activity made it to city hall, it was ignored or suppressed."

Koch, certainly not personally corrupt, nevertheless turned a blind eye to the corruption around him: "Why did Koch, whom not even his most severe critics consider personally corrupt, tolerate the mess around him? Newfield and Barrett argue that he continued to need the machines. Jay Turoff, Koch's head of the Taxi and Limousine Commission, for example, personally supervised the use of more than 30 taxi and car service companies to ferry Koch voters to and from the polls in the 1985 primary, free of charge (a contribution worth an estimated $45,000). The big enchilada, however, was the gubernatorial bid, as Koch believed he wouldn't stand a chance without the county leaders."

Maybe he's had his eyesight restored-but the octogenarian has some other obstacles as well: How to create a coalition on reform and deciding what criteria to use to decide who should be ousted as, "odious." As the Times points out: "In a letter inviting others to the meeting, Mr. Koch, a Democrat, and the leaders of two good government groups, Citizens Union and New York Civic, insist that their efforts are not driven by ideology. “The key,” the letter says, “must be the defeat of those incumbents, regardless of party, who are responsible for this odious situation, and the election of new candidates, committed to a reform agenda, to take their place.”

This is sheer quackery. You simply can't eschew ideology and exchange it for some rather hard to define good government agenda: "The fledgling effort has already stirred a spirited debate among civic groups, several of which are officially nonpartisan and do not endorse candidates. Even the agenda is in flux: Does the coalition go after every incumbent? Who would be singled out? Do they have the resources to raise money for challengers? Can they even agree on a platform?"

This silliness is underscored by Koch's focus on redistricting: "A priority for Mr. Koch and others working with him is ensuring that the reapportionment of the state’s legislative and Congressional districts based on the 2010 Census is nonpartisan, so that competitive challenges to incumbents would be a realistic possibility. “The most jealously guarded prerogative of the Legislature is its power to gerrymander districts to keep incumbents in office,” Mr. Koch said."

To which the more grounded State Senator Marty Golden responds: "State Senator Martin J. Golden, a Republican from Brooklyn, said a nonpartisan reapportionment was “a great idea, but I just don’t think it’s going to happen.” Mr. Golden added: “I have no problem passing reform that’s reasonable and responsible. But what people are concerned about most are jobs, taxes and spending.”

Ah, there's the rub-there are real issues that animate the political debate. What good is a righteous tax and spend legislator to a voter who's concerned about being over taxed? Albany is not simply procedurally off the rails, it is being guided by governing principles that are inimical, in our view, to the state's long term welfare-and we believe that the issues revolving around this central theme will be key to the electoral battles come November.

Put simply, the Koch-led effort to reform Albany, regardless of the propriety of Koch himself leading it, lacks a genuine constituency apart from the ideological issues that motivate the partisan debate. And lacking any basis in the core issues that divide New Yorkers, the reform campaign will not find any traction-and will be shunted off to a side track in the upcoming election cycle.