Monday, October 25, 2010

Zuckerman's Dog That Didn't Bark

In Saturday's NY Daily News, the paper editorially laments about the loss of manufacturing jobs in NYC-the latest being the closing of a Wonder Bread factory in Jamaica: "Two hundred well-paying blue-collar jobs will soon be lost to New York with the closure of the Queens factory that has turned out Wonder Bread since the 1920s. And the city's working-class hemorrhage goes on. Come January, the unionized bakers, machine operators, mechanics and truck drivers who made $18 to $20 an hour, with a good health plan and a pension, will be in search of new opportunities."

The News, always sharp eyed, goes on to spot a definite trend: "Just as happened last summer to 220 workers who held similar positions at Old London Bakery, where Melba toast and other snack foods had been made for decades in the Bronx. Just as happened to 138 workers at the Stella D'Oro bakery, another long-time Bronx employer, after a national snack-food maker bought the company and centralized production in Ohio."

Seeing a trend, the paper then searches for an explanation-and almost manages, like the proverbial blind squirrel, to uncover a nugget of truth: "While there are variations on the sad sagas of Wonder Bread, Old London and Stella D'Oro, the common theme is that they couldn't make a go of it in New York - a state whose political leaders have all but assured future job losses. They fight fearlessly for hefty wage hikes, rich pensions and free health care coverage for public employees while saddling private enterprise with job-killing rules, regulations and taxes.They cook up economic development schemes that turn into money-wasting patronage."

Ah, those nameless and faceless political leaders-but the News is right as far as it dares to go; and it certainly is the political culture in NY that is a major factor in preventing robust economic growth. Left out in this lukewarm and indistinct finger pointing is the elephant in the room-or, to mix the metaphor, Zuckerman's dog that doesn't bark: the mayor of the City of New York. Because, unless we missed something, these bakeries were exiting NYC-and the city's chief executive deserves at least some opprobrium from the editorial finger pointers, no?

As we have commented before on exactly these issues-especially when the News tar babied Bx. BP Diaz and Councilmember Vacca when Melba made its move out of the Bronx:

"All of which makes the efforts of the NY Daily News to tar baby Ruben Diaz and James Vacca all the more indefensible. Here's what the News said in its attack: "The Bronx, borough with the city's highest unemployment, is on the verge of losing 228 jobs that pay well and have excellent benefits - and self-styled champion of the working person Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. is standing idly by. Diaz's inaction as Old London prepares to vacate a plant where the company has made Melba toast for more than three decades stands in sharp contrast to his aggressive battle against developing the Kingsbridge Armory into a shopping mall."

And the paper goes on in this vein: "Although its plans have been reported in the Daily News and in Crain's, Diaz has never contacted Old London, nor has local Councilman James Vacca. Whatever the reason for their inattention, there is no doubt Diaz and Vacca have no clue how to create an economic climate that would hold onto a company like Old London. They were similarly clueless and missing in action when the Stella D'Oro bakery packed up last year from its Kingsbridge facility and moved to Ohio, eliminating 138 good-paying jobs."

Of course, the News' attack on local Bronx electeds becomes even more egregious since the paper fails to give proper discredit where discredit is due-at the feet of the city's chief executive who actually has some power to create an economic development policy and to respond to the needs of local company's looking to expand.

The same critique can be applied to the Stella D'Oro and Wonder Bread situation-with Mike Bloomberg once again starring in the production of, "Where's Waldo?" Let's go back to the money quote in Saturday's News, the one attacking those nameless political leaders: "They fight fearlessly for hefty wage hikes, rich pensions and free health care coverage for public employees while saddling private enterprise with job-killing rules, regulations and taxes." And where does Mike Bloomberg fit in this discussion of government profligacy?

As liberal bĂȘte noire, Sarah Palin might say, "You betcha! Mayor Mike Bloomberg deserves prominent placement in the Daily News' rogues gallery of political leaders-as we have said time and time again, he has been as impecunious as John Lindsay, but without the panache. Here's the excellent analysis of Nicole Gelinas: "Where does Bloomberg's culpability lie? "Sure, the mayor has been able to balance the books through three years' worth of fiscal crises. But beneath the balancing tricks lurk scary, permanent gaps: Like Greece, we permanently spend more than we take in. And the gap looks to grow wider. In fiscal year 2009 (which started in July 2008), New York spent 6.1 percent more than it took in via tax collections and other recurring local revenues -- a $2.5 billion gap. In 2010, the city spent 5.2 percent more -- $2.2 billion. For the new year, 2011 -- which starts this July -- the city will spend 7.6 percent more than it takes in, or $3.3 billion. By 2014, we'll cross an important line, with an 11.3 percent gap. Like Greece did, we're approaching scary double digits."

Gelinas once again, in case you might have missed the point: "It's almost jaw-dropping that the mayor, faced with these projections and with no hope of a return to a bubble-era "normal" on Wall Street, has made things worse. City workers' salary growth, for example, is set to rise 13 percent between now and our drop-dead year - largely because the mayor late last year voluntarily entered into labor contracts granting hefty raises to both civilian and uniformed workers. The cost of higher pay adds nearly $1.7 billion to the drop-dead-year deficit."

And then there are the crippling regulations that Steve Malanga underscored in his seminal look at small business in the City Journal:
"Doing business in Gotham has rarely been easy for the nearly 200,000 small firms that form the backbone of the city’s local economy. Virtually everyone who runs a business in New York has long had to deal with uncompromising inspectors, unsympathetic city bureaucracies, and complex regulations, to say nothing of profit-crushing taxes. But over the past few years, small businesses’ woes have worsened significantly, say many entrepreneurs and business groups. Taxes, fees, and fines are worse than ever; city departments have stepped up inspections and enforcement; city agencies have stymied efforts to cut red tape; and at a time when the national and city economies are struggling, commissioners have promoted new social policies that have added to businesses’ burdens. “In 25 years, this is the worst I’ve seen things,” claims Ramon Murphy, owner of two bodegas and president of the city-based Bodega Association of the United States.

But on the editorial pages of the Daily News, Mike Bloomberg doesn't even rate dishonorable mention-let alone a Knucklehead Award. Those are reserved for men and women from the lower orders-like BP Diaz in the Bronx. The fact is that Mike Bloomberg has exacerbated the very same situation that the News excoriates rather amorphously, whistling passed the graveyard one might say-silenced by either fear or, more likely, too great an intimacy with one of Morticia's closest classmates.

When the dust settles on the Reign of Mike, and the Owl of Minerva finally flies, the judgment of history will, we believe be a harsh one. Coming on the scene, unencumbered by the normal political ties and restrictions that hamper traditional pols, Bloomberg had a great opportunity to challenge the entrenched big government culture-instead he embraced it. In the process, he has been aided and abetted by editorialists loath to utter a discouraging word, but happy to beat up on-not the king-but the hapless woman and children.

In our view, if Morticia suffers from lockjaw when it comes to Mike Bloomberg, he really should stay quiet about the smaller sins of those whose grip on the reins of real power in the city is tenuous at best. His barking in this case is truly discordant and unenlightening.