Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Bloomberg's Living Wages of Sin

The battle over a living wage is about to begin-with a kick off presser at City Hall this morning. And if anyone thought that this was gonna be a cakewalk, they were underestimating our "five borough economic plan," mayor. Here's Bloomberg in Daily Politics: “The issue here is there are a bunch of projects that don't work on their own, and the city thinks that they have merit, and so we subsidize them. Those are not projects that could stand higher costs. If anything, they have lower costs. And I think if you had a bill like that, just a lot of them just would not go through. And we're trying to build more affordable housing. We're trying to provide more services for the elderly. A lot of those jobs just, the economics don't work if you have to pay more.”

Ah, something that we hadn’t quite understood-the fact that the city’s mega project mania was being governed by the merit system. Just like the no-bid Gateway Mall in the Bronx and the same no bid scenario for Gateway 11 in Brooklyn; that could turn into a meritorious Wal-Mart. And who got these merit-based efforts? None other than Dan Doctroroff’s old friend Steve Ross of Related.

Funny how the merit system works in Bloomberg World. The nature of the Bloomberg merit system is so unique that it has been given a distinguishing moniker of its own-“patricianage.” With special interest being awarded to those of a particular coterie of rich friends.

But listen, don’t take our word alone on this putative merit-based economic development policy. Remember that it was the Citizens Budget Commission that issued the, “money for nothing,” evaluation of the Bloomberg mega mania. Which gets us to the rub of the criticism-and what rubs us the wrong way.

The Bloomberg development policies have been devastating to both neighborhood retailers and communities-providing subsidized competition for the latter and traffic choke streets to the former. Willets Point and Flushing Commons are witnesses for the prosecution here; but the Gateway Mall in the Bronx-built on the carcass of the Bronx Terminal Market-is another indictment of the mayoral philosophy of aggrandizing the wealthy at the expense of small minority businesses.

But let’s return to the question at hand-and the mayor’s idea that the projects that are subsidized won’t work with the living wage add-on. What’s funny to us here, is that the critics chafe over subsidizing wages, but are totally sanguine about subsidizing retail chain stores that threaten the viability of Mom and Pop retailers-in a cannibalizing example of the old zero-sum game. But Bloomberg remains clueless-totally out of touch with neighborhood reality.

Here’s his comments in the NY Daily News: “Mayor Bloomberg scoffed Monday at a plan requiring a $10 hourly minimum wage for jobs in city-subsidized developments, saying companies can't afford it. "It's a nice idea but is poorly thought out and will not work," he said. "The economics don't work if you have to pay more."

If so, than the so-called merits of the deal are simply fraudulent-and city hall needs to do a better job at cost benefit analysis. Regardless of how you feel about paying a living wage, Bloomberg has not sold us on the economic benefits of his mega building. And his off message non sequitor on, “more services for the elderly,” is completely misdirection, because it is all of the unaccounted for money that he has spent on boondoggles like Willets Point, that have redirected money from essential services to Bloomberg legacy projects.

One final thought from our small business perspective-and we have our Korean and Chinese retailers from Flushing in mind when we say the following: Subsidizing chain retail, as is the case of Flushing Commons; and providing for poverty retail wages in the process, serves to destroy minority entrepreneurs whose blood, sweat and tears provides for extended immigrant families-giving them a leg up on the rung of the American Dream.

The failure to understand this is what skews the mayor’s perspective on this issue-and his wrongheaded view of what happened at Kingsbridge Armory exemplifies this: “And I think you saw the damage that can be done when Kingsbridge Armory was the case. Instead of having some jobs for people that may not pay as much as they would like but at least give them a leg up in starting up the economic ladder, and without having the stores that would have given people in the neighborhood the ability to buy more things cheaper and more closer to home, we have nothing. And that's exactly what this bill would do. It's a nice idea, but is poorly thought out and will not work."

Small business success is the quintessential New York variant of the “leg up.” To subsidize the assault on this sector-as Bloomberg’s policy does-is not good government. But if that’s the road he wants to take, we really need to join with Stuart Appelbaum of the RWDSU and say, “not for nothing.” We’ll give Stuart’s cable ad the last word: "Development that merely creates permanent poverty wage jobs accomplishes nothing. Too many people in this city are hurting, worrying about how they will survive, unable to find good jobs. We need to put the interests of the people of this city above those of private developers. When the public's resources are used to support private development, the public has the right to expect something in return - and for us that means good jobs, jobs that pay living wages