Wednesday, March 03, 2010

A Learning Experience

As WNYC is reporting (via Liz), the group Learn New York, set up to (successfully, as it turns out) lobby for the continuation of the, in our view, failed experiment of mayoral control, spent over $7 million to achieve its goal: "An effort to keep Mayor Michael Bloomberg in charge of the city schools raised more than $7.5 million. The lobbying group, Learn New York, was created last year to pressure Albany lawmakers into renewing mayoral control of the city's schools just as the law was about to sunset. The group never revealed who was funding it or precisely how much money it raised, although it insisted Mayor Bloomberg was not a contributor."

This is precisely the kind of mayoral abuse of money and power that we have been inveighing against for the past eight years. A shadow group is established with no disclosure of its true principals, and then the group purports to represent the greater good. In reality, however, the greater good is always, mirabile dictu, a guy named Mike Bloomberg.

This, then, is the Bloomberg pattern-use his great wealth and business and social connections to create stealth entities-or, like a hermit crab, take over and guide existing groups to represent his interests. It's what he's done at Willets Point-first using public money to create an Astroturf lobbying effort headed by the great non lobbyist Claire Shulman-and then enlisting the aid of the Environmental Defense Fund and the League of Conservation Voters to champion the project (falsely) as a green and sustainable development.

He did the same thing on the congestion tax debacle, as well as the term limits extension campaign-when every one and his mother with a finger in the Bloomberg pie came out to tout the extension as somehow essential for the city's survival. Which is precisely why the current examination into the mayor's misuse of his personal wealth to co-opt the Independence Party should be viewed as just the tip of the iceberg.

The mayor's great wealth-precisely because he is able to use it in such a stealth manner-has an insidious and corrosive effect on the city's democratic polity. Groups are activated and are advocating at the drop of a charitable grant or personal contribution-with no one wiser until, perhaps, after the fact.

And if Bloomberg himself isn't the grantee-he has his billionaire friends front for him-as was the case with Learn New York: "One of the funders, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, personally made a donation, according to the Gates Foundation. Tax filings show Learn New York spent more than $4 million in total-- mostly on a Manhattan office, advertising, staff, and consultants."

So, by all means, Cy Vance should conduct his IP investigation with vigor. At the same time, we should all remember that this is just the tip of an unhealthy iceberg. The Bloomberg usurpation of democratic practices needs to be thoroughly exposed so that we are better armed to counteract the corrosive impact of great wealth in the city's political system.