Friday, December 31, 2010

The Bloomberg Blizzard

In our last post, we talked about how the mayor's erstwhile allies are jumping off of his bandwagon-something that is underscored by this report from Staten Island, a Bloomberg electoral stronghold: "The Bloomberg Blizzard -- it's a gift that may keep on giving. The post-Christmas snowstorm that has turned into a political firestorm will be part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's resume, whether he likes it or not, political pundits say...After all, it was Bloomberg who pushed to change the law so he could run for a third term, claiming he is uniquely qualified to steer the city through uniquely bad fiscal times. It was Bloomberg who touts his management skills and always speaks about "accountability."

Not looking so unique now, is he? Unless it is uniquely inept: "This is much more than a snowstorm. We may be looking back at this in the same way we look at Lindsay 40 years ago," said City Council Minority Leader James Oddo (R-Mid-Island/Brooklyn), referring to the infamous February 1969 storm that nearly toppled the former mayor and forever marred his reputation..."The level of venom exceeds the term-limit debacle because this is personal. This is about your children, your wife, it is about your life and how it was impacted," Oddo said."

CM Ignizio, another Republican and occasional ally of the mayor, echoes his colleagues comments: "But Mother Nature may have provided "the straw that breaks the mayor's back," said City Councilman Vincent Ignizio (R-South Shore). "This one goes to the very heart of the administration. This is the man who said he was uniquely qualified for this job, that he is a great manager," Ignizio said. "How do you say that and then fail miserably in that aspect?"

No one, however, can top CM Vallone for his comparison of the mayor to Saddam Hussein's PR fabulist: "Unlike other scandals, the Bloomberg Blizzard has prompted some of the mayor's most ardent supporters to take swipes at him, and pushed others into full attack mode. Perhaps the defining moment came when Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Queens), a frequent detractor, called Bloomberg "Baghdad Bob" during a Monday radio show. Vallone was referring to the nickname given to Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, Saddam Hussein's minister of public information, during the Gulf War in 2003, who often told the press the Iraqi army was invincible even as it was being routed from the country."

What the Bloomberg Blizzard does, in our view, is to solidify the impression that the mayor is an out of touch Manhattan elitist-but one whose lack of caring for the common folks is now being seen through a very personal lens. What is true of the Staten Island impression, holds for all of the outer boroughs: "Still, the images of mountains of snow clogging Island streets can leave a lasting impression -- especially since the perception in the borough has been that Bloomberg is a Manhattan elitist who doesn't understand the plight of the huddled masses. The best hope for the Island is that he not only acknowledges that, but tries his best to change it by really tackling issues in the borough. "I think the pressure is on now to steer this ship away from those of us who think he is a Manhattan-centric, outer-borough-phobic mayor," Ignizio said."

What the Bloomberg Blizzard of 2010 does, is to begin the mayor's down ward trajectory on the proverbial slippery slope. From now on, much of what transpires, and much of what the mayor says, will be sifted through an extremely skeptical lens. A reputation built on media hype and an unheard of expenditure of hundreds of millions of campaign dollars-now lays in tatters. Our Humpty Dumpty analogy resonates with the view from the most outer of outer boroughs.

Mayor Humpty Dumpty

"All the king's horses, and all the king's men," time has arrived in the nine year tenure of Mike Bloomberg-and putting the mayor's shattered reputation back together again will, in our view, be next to impossible. One clear indication of this is that satire is now replacing straight political analysis-and when it comes to satire, there's no one better at it than the NY Times' Clyde Haberman.

Haberman lets Bloomberg have it-with both barrels full of ridicule. After making fun of the MTA, it was Mike's turn: "Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and his minions had a somewhat better sense of timing. They had brains enough this week not to drop any of their usual hints about what a splendid president Mr. Bloomberg would make despite his public insistence that he has no interest in the job. The mayor loves to talk about his nonpartisan, common-sense approach to problem-solving. In that regard, he allied himself this month with a new political organization called No Labels. After the botched handling of the blizzard, his claims to nonpareil managerial skills could inspire a countermovement called No Fables. As things now stand, his best shot at making it to the White House may be to join a guided tour."

Ouch! But Haberman's just warming up: "The mayor, however, did qualify for an honor of his own: a Tony award. No, not the theater prize named for Antoinette Perry. This Tony is for Marie Antoinette. It may be a long time before the billionaire Mr. Bloomberg shakes off his “let them eat cake” moment as the storm was winding down. “The city is going fine,” he said. “Broadway shows were full last night. There are lots of tourists here enjoying themselves.” See, all you whiners in unplowed sections of Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and the Bronx? The tourists were having a terrific time in Manhattan. And Brownie did a heck of a job."

And what would a farcical take on Bloomberg look without remarking on the mayor's legendary empathy? "One has to credit Mr. Bloomberg with at least being true to himself. Nine years in office, he remains incapable of faking a measure of empathy, or of keeping a smirk from his lips when reporters ask legitimate questions about rising citizen anger over his administration’s dismal performance in the crisis."

Finally, Haberman delivers the coup de grĂ¢ce-linking the snow snafu with the corruption of CityTime: "As presidential timber, the mayor certainly seems more than a few logs short of a cord. In recent weeks, he has found himself enmeshed both in a corruption scandal reminiscent of the one that undid Mayor Edward I. Koch in the late 1980s and in a snowstorm debacle of the kind that brought near-ruin to Mayor John V. Lindsay in 1969. If Mr. Bloomberg’s fiscal policies ever start making people think of Mayor Abraham D. Beame, it may be time at City Hall to start packing the bags."

Indeed. And the mayor's erstwhile allies are themselves busy packing their bags in preparation for exiting off of the Bloomberg bandwagon. Haberman gets the last word: "But he has fewer people these days who are willing to cut him slack, including some he had been able to count as allies. Politicians with mayoral ambitions, like the City Council speaker, Christine C. Quinn, are already lining up to turn the blizzard to their advantage. Newspaper editorialists who gushed over Mr. Bloomberg’s grab for a third term, on the theory that only he could manage the city well, are now hurling ice-packed snowballs at him."

Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Good Sign

As the NY Times is reporting, a federal judge has kicked the city in the butt over those gruesome cigarette signs: "A federal judge on Wednesday struck down a New York City law that would have forced all bodegas and convenience stores to post gruesome images of diseased lungs, brains and teeth in the shops to discourage people from buying cigarettes. In a 13-page ruling, Judge Jed S. Rakoff of United States District Court in Manhattan wrote that while the law was well intentioned, it violated federal law since only the federal government had the authority to regulate cigarette warnings and advertisements."

Of course, tobacco being what it is, the judge couldn't resist being politically correct in the process-but did manage to maintain that retailers have rights too: "Even merchants of morbidity are entitled to the full protection of the law,” Judge Rakoff wrote, “for our sake as well as theirs.”

The city, for its part, will not meekly accept the judge's ruling: "The decision puts an end — at least for now— to the city’s plan to have the placards displayed beside cash registers in more than 11,000 establishments across the city. While awaiting Judge Rakoff’s ruling, the city had agreed that it would postpone enforcement of its rule until this weekend. Lawyers with the city’s Law Department said they planned to appeal the decision."

What's nice here, is that a judge whose sympathies on the tobacco issue obviously lay with the city, still felt compelled to rule adversely on the law-and our legal champion Floyd Abrams rose to the occasion, as always: "Floyd Abrams, a lawyer who represented the convenience store association, said that even though the city had agreed not to enforce the rule until this weekend, many retail shops had put up the graphic placards anyway. He said he was “very pleased” with Judge Rakoff’s decision. “It will allow the retail stores in New York to be freed of the obligation to put signs up urging customers not to buy their lawful products,” he said."

The NYC DOH, for its part, was able to take time away from trying to put all of the city restaurants and bodegas out of business, to bemoan the judge's decision:

"In a statement, the health department said that the city “strongly disagrees” with the ruling and that tobacco companies “trying to prevent these messages from being seen should be ashamed of themselves.”

“The city’s warning signs portray completely factual messages about the dangers of smoking,” the statement added. “They do so at the exact moment when smokers are making decisions about purchasing tobacco. We believe it is the city’s responsibility to help smokers quit and to protect children from the harmful effects of tobacco smoke.”

So, a victory against bureaucratic over reach-but a further example, however, of how far this administration has gotten away from its core mission; and, instead, into attempting to control and regulate the lives of New Yorkers. The idea that store owner would have to advertise against their own self interest apparently never dented the obsessional thinking of the Nannies-and the idea that the health of the small business community is also an important policy goal has never been something that the Bloombergistas have cared much about.

Small business is in crisis, with regulations and taxes stifling entreprenuerism in this city. On this front, the DOH is the number one culprit-making the business climate unhealthy while, at the same time, meddling into our personal lives. It would do the city good to fire the lot of them, and add more sanitation personnel so that New York won't be crippled in the next storm.

Where, Oh Where, Did Our Mayor Go?

The Times, as is customary, has a lengthy and well-researched post-mortem on the city's storm response-and tells its readers that the Bloomberg administration, finally admitting its failure, promises a comprehensive investigation of what went wrong: "On Wednesday, the mayor and his commissioners pledged to get at the truth. Once the streets have been cleared, they said, all aspects of the response will be analyzed, and changes, if necessary, will be made."

By now, almost every one is recognizing that the key non-decision involved the failure to declare a snow emergency: "At 3:55 p.m. on Saturday, the Weather Service issued a blizzard warning, forecasting 11 to 16 inches of snow, with higher amounts in some areas. It warned that strong winds would cause “considerable blowing and drifting of snow” that could take down power lines and tree limbs.
“Extremely dangerous travel conditions developing due to significant snow accumulations,” it said. The city has long had a weapon in its arsenal to consider for such moments: the ability to declare a snow emergency."

This, according to all of the experts, is a powerful tool: "The rationale is straightforward: clearing vehicles from those streets gives plows the best chance to move through them rapidly, keeping emergency services routes open and allowing the plows to move onto secondary streets. Norman Steisel, who was at the forefront of snow removal in the city for a dozen years during the Koch and Dinkins administrations, said the declaration of an emergency from a mayor also helped clarify among the public the confusing array of forecasts often heard on television. “It’s a very strong, powerful public message which has a certain effect,” Mr. Steisel said."

Juan Gonzales compares this nonfeasance to the Giuliani response to the big blizzard in 1996: "Back in 1996, a similar monster storm struck our city. It dumped 20 inches, closed airports, and left drifts 20-feet high. Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani not only declared a snow emergency and ordered all nonessential vehicles off the road, he took 3,300 city buses out of service so they wouldn't block sanitation trucks and rescue vehicles. Giuliani also asked then-Gov. George Pataki for help. Pataki dispatched 400 national guardsmen with 100 Humvees that were used as ambulances to transport medical supplies and health workers. If Bloomberg and Goldsmith had done the same, we wouldn't have had hundreds of stuck buses and ambulances blocking main arteries. "Under Rudy, every snowstorm was considered a big deal," one former Giuliani official said. "All commissioners and top staffers were expected to be at the command center and we all worked hard together."

Yet, no emergency was declared was declared: "But the Bloomberg administration decided not to call a snow emergency. One city official briefed on the response to the storm said it was explicitly considered. But ultimately Mr. Doherty and Ms. Sadik-Khan decided against it, said Seth Solomonow, a spokesman for Ms. Sadik-Khan."

The Times points out that Deputy Mayor Goldsmiith was not in town: "City officials maintain that they were closely monitoring the updates. But the deputy mayor in charge of overseeing the snow response, Stephen Goldsmith, had left New York for the Washington area. A spokesman for Mr. Bloomberg insisted that Mr. Goldsmith was in regular communication with agency chiefs: Mr. Doherty, the sanitation commissioner; Janette Sadik-Khan, the transportation commissioner; and Joseph F. Bruno, the head of the Office of Emergency Management."

Yet in a 2,364 word article there is no mention of where the mayor might have been from Christmas Eve on-and the first sighting was at 4PM on Sunday: "By 4 p.m. Sunday, several inches of snow had accumulated when Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg made a plea for help at his first news conference about the escalating storm: he asked people with heavy equipment and other kinds of towing machinery to call the city’s 311 line to register for work. A full day had gone by since the blizzard warning had been issued."

The whereabouts of Mike Bloomberg on Christmas Day in the run up to the blizzard cannot be ignored-and it falls to the NY Daily News to address this issue in its own lengthy review of the storm response: "By 4 p.m., there was a blizzard warning. As Bruno recalls, the weather service said there was a 60% chance the city would get 9 to 14 inches of snow. Once the forecast was upgraded, city agency commissioners and their deputies joined an OEM conference call with the forecasters. Mayor Bloomberg did not participate and officials refused to say if he was in town. They said he was in "regular contact" with city officials over the weekend, a spokesman said."

For nine years the mayor has been hightailing it out of town on weekends to warmer and, we guess, friendlier climes-leaving the city in the hands of underlings. The practice caught up with him over the past weekend-and it's hard to imagine that his absence didn't play a role in the city's incompetent response to the blizzard. We expect the press to follow this lead assiduously-it is not a mere incidental.

Times Breaks Its Storm White Out

We have been questioning the failure of the NY Times to editorialize on the city's slow response to the storm, and today it finally speaks up: "As of Wednesday afternoon, more than two days after the last flake had fallen in the huge post-Christmas blizzard, only a quarter of the residential streets in South Brooklyn had been plowed. Large sections of Queens and Staten Island remained paralyzed. With ambulance services taking hours to reach some people, Mayor Michael Bloomberg finally stopped being so casual about the city’s response to the 20-inch snowfall. He awoke to its seriousness and admitted that something had gone seriously wrong."

And, once again, the ghost of John Lindsay appears: "Mr. Bloomberg and his chastened top aides promised that almost every road should be cleared by Thursday, but in the outer boroughs, the damage was done. Neighborhoods that already felt like distant planets in the mayor’s mental solar system began having flashbacks to 1969 when a 15-inch snowfall was left untended in Queens for days, severely tarnishing the reputation of Mayor John Lindsay."

The Times underscores the fact that something went drastically wrong in this city-and points to the efficiency of the response on Long Island: "Something went awry in this storm, and no one seems to know what it was. On Long Island, virtually every tertiary road was cleared by Tuesday night, compared with 66 percent of those roads in the city. Did the high winds or rapid snowfall make plowing harder? Or perhaps it was budget cuts in the Sanitation Department, where the commissioner, John Doherty, acknowledged that a loss of 400 slots forced him to use 100 workers who were inadequately trained."

While the NY Post goes on to promiscuously blame an as yet unproven worker slow down, the Times sees this-as everyone should-in terms of managerial incompetence. But it fails to really chastise the mayor-even in a speculative manner-and only mildly chides Bloomberg for his deflecting sarcasm: "The mayor, as he has been known to do, found it necessary to blame citizens, castigating those who drove during the storm and were then forced to abandon their cars in traffic lanes."

In keeping with this mildly rebuking style, the paper basically tells Bloomberg to cut out the insouciance in the face of incompetence and tragedy (gee, why can't the Times reach for this kind of rhetorical flourish when it is certainly called for?): "Mr. Bloomberg, who won a third term based on his reputation for competence, promised a full investigation into the sluggish response once the emergency is over. Angry City Council members have vowed to hold their own hearings. But whatever the outcome, may the storm at least spell the end of the mayor’s use of weary sarcasm as a response to the legitimate concerns of citizens — particularly in neighborhoods that now seem even farther from Gracie Mansion."

This is as good as far as it goes-but the Times missed the opportunity to place the recently outed CityTime scandal into the context of the failure to adequately respond to the storm surge. If it had done so, it might have been able to use the opportunity to more seriously question the mayor's, "reputation for competence," and its own role in propagating that myth.

Mayor Culpa? Or, Limited, Modified Hangout?

As the NY Times is reporting, Mike Bloomberg-bowing to the avalanche of justified excoriation-is finally taking the blame for the city's failure to respond well to the Christmas storm: "Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg accepted responsibility Wednesday for the city’s response to a crippling snowstorm, pledging to have every street plowed by morning and then to figure out why his administration’s clean-up efforts were inadequate. Speaking at a hardware store in the Hunts Point section of the South Bronx, Mr. Bloomberg said he was “extremely dissatisfied” with the performance of the city’s emergency management system. He said the response was “a lot worse” than after other recent snowstorms and was not as efficient as “the city has a right to expect.”

But, that being said, it doesn't appear that the mayor will be holding anyone personally responsible-as well he should be: "But he also defended his commissioners, including John J. Doherty, who runs the Sanitation Department. The mayor called him “the best sanitation commissioner this city has ever had, period, bar none."

One bright spot? It looks as if there will be jobs for all of those immigrants that Bloomberg professes to love so much-as day laborers: "Mr. Bloomberg said the city had hired 700 day laborers to help shovel snow on Tuesday and planned to hire 1,200 on Wednesday. “The results have not been what we would like them to be but it was not for lack of effort,” he said."

Bloomberg being Bloomberg, however, the blame needed to be shared-this time by all of those selfish New Yorkers. This is Mike's adaptation of Nixon's, limited, modified hangout-contrition as a tactic: "The mayor also spread some of the blame for the city’s problems on to its citizens, who he said had failed to heed requests that they not call for help unless they faced true emergencies. Those calls, the mayor said, “overwhelmed” the emergency communications system, a failure that he said he had assigned an official to investigate. City residents also compounded the problem by trying to drive in the storm, only to have their cars stuck in the path of plows."

Talk about adding insult to injury! Does Mike realize how many folk died because of the inadequate emergency response? The Times has that story: "A woman with stroke symptoms in Midwood, Brooklyn, waited for an ambulance for six hours, finally arriving at the hospital with telltale signs of advanced brain damage. In Forest Hills, Queens, bystanders waited for three hours next to a man lying unconscious in the snow before they were able to flag down help. And in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, a mother in labor who started calling 911 at 8:30 a.m. on Monday did not get an ambulance until 6 p.m., too late to save the baby."

Things got so bad, that the emergency system had to resort to triage: "As the backlog of calls grew — it ultimately reached 1,300 at its highest point — an unusual directive went out across the computer screens within ambulances, emergency workers said. It told them that after 20 minutes of life-saving effort on a nonresponsive patient, they should call a supervising doctor, who would make the call about whether to give up. While it is rare for a person to be revived after 20 minutes, it is usually up to the medical crew to decide when to call the doctor."

And because of the torpid plow response, ambulances were stranded all over the city: "Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg defended the city’s response to the storm on Tuesday, and called the digging out of ambulances the city’s first priority. He said nearly 170 stranded ambulances had been dug out by emergency crews, with 40 more still stuck Tuesday morning. Still, the impassibility of many streets made routine ambulance runs into odysseys, sometimes with life-threatening or fatal consequences."

The entire situation took on all the trappings of a tragic comedy: "When a fire broke out five blocks from Elmhurst Hospital, emergency workers pulled patients in on sleds and toboggans, said Dario Centorcelli, a hospital spokesman. As at other hospitals, doctors and nurses stayed, sleeping on cots. At Lutheran Medical Center, a registered nurse and an orthopedic technician spent the day Monday driving around Brooklyn in a Hummer, to ferry exhausted staff members back and forth. In Rego Park, one volunteer ambulance partnered with a four-wheel-drive Suburban to patrol streets. About midnight, they were flagged down on Queens Boulevard and 62nd Drive, where bystanders said they had called 911 three hours earlier for a man lying face up in the snow."

The emergency calamity was so bad that it prompted El Diario's Gerson Borrero to speculate how vulnerable the city would be to a terror attack in the middle of a big snow storm. Here is part of his column-translated for us into English: "Imagine if one of the groups whose mission is to destroy us would have thought to place multiple bombs at key points in each of the five boroughs.  How would the police, firefighters, ambulances, doctors, and nurses get to those places? There were no bombs this time, but who can guarantee it will not happen during the next snowstorm? Even a blind man can see that there is no plan whatsoever for dealing with this type of atmospheric scourge. Terrorists are not stupid. Bloomberg has left us vulnerable to an unthinkable possibility, which in the demented brain of an enemy, might become a challenge to plan for."

How bad is the mismanagement? Well, the Times informs us in another report, that the Sanitation Department has no record keeping on the number of streets it has actually cleared: "It is the central question of this week’s snowstorm: How did the city’s efforts to plow and clear its more than 6,000 miles of streets rate against the jobs that it did in response to other powerful snowfalls? And here is the startling answer: No one can say with any precision or reliability. Even with a businessman mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg, who is devoted to technology and the use of information to solve problems in real time, records maintained by the city’s Department of Sanitation are notably incomplete and potentially misleading. The department, which is responsible for snow removal, catalogs streets as plowed or salted — and neither mean cleared."

Unbelievable, no? But speaking of the Times, why has the paper maintained editorial silence on the city's storm response? The tabs have both weighed in-and we know how supportive they have previously been of the mayor. However, it isn't only the storm that has gone unremarked. The Times has yet to comment on the CityTime scandal as well-which leads us to wonder what Bloomberg has on Pinch Sulzberger.

And speaking of the mayor, we have an exit question: Was Mike Bloomberg in NYC on Christmas morning in the run up to the blizzard, or did he fly in later in the day only after the sh*tstorm started to hit the fan? That might explain the city's rudderless response. Maybe the Times can enlighten us on this?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

John Vliet Bloomberg Reprised

Four years ago we first compared Mike Bloomberg to John Lindsay-but we did so because both men represent a sanguine view about the putative benefits of big government. Yet, our comparison came with one caveat-that being the mayor's superior management skills: "It is becoming increasingly clear that Mike Bloomberg's philosophy of government is extremely close to that of the late John Lindsay. His response to the recent report released by the IBO underscores his view that the government that delivers the most "services" is the exemplar for good government. To his credit, the mayor is a much superior manager to JVL and is, of course operating in a political and fiscal climate that is much different from that of the mid-sixties."

Four years later, the recent CityTime scandal, and the inept handling of the Christmas snow storm, forces us to insist that the comparison with the patrician Lindsay has acquired a singular and remarkable symmetry. And, as if on cue, we have the reminiscences of 1969-the year John Lindsay not only got snowed in, but simultaneously lost his luster. It began with Senator Kruger's angry linkage: "...State Sen. Carl Kruger (D-Brooklyn) slammed the removal effort as a "colossal failure" that put "countless lives at risk." He compared the blizzard to the 1969 storm that nearly destroyed the career of Mayor John Lindsay. Bloomberg may have had that kind of political fallout in mind as he hastily scheduled photo ops in Staten Island, Brooklyn and Queens."

City Room followed with this report: "Many of our readers are still waiting for the plows to reach their area (and will continue to wait). Feeling trapped and abandoned, at least a few recalled the time when the city was caught with its plows up on Sunday, Feb. 9, 1969. That’s when a mere 15 inches of snow froze the streets for days. “This is reminiscent of Mayor Lindsay’s 1969 Queens debacle. Once again a mayor ignoring the boros,” said Nickie. “The difference is that Bloomberg isn’t running for mayor again so he has no great motivation to get us plowed out.”

A day later, the NY Daily News also follows suit: "beginning to look a lot like 1969 - and Mayor Bloomberg is starting to resemble the late Mayor John Lindsay. Survivors of the crippling '60s blizzard and Lindsay's memorably mishandled response say Bloomberg bungled this week's 20-inch snowfall, conjuring some ugly memories. "It's an honest comparison to 1969," said Richard Hellenbrecht, 62, of Bellerose, who griped that his neighborhood had yet to see a snowplow - and put the blame squarely on the three-term mayor."

Now its one thing to be accused of having an ideological affinity to one of NYC's liberal icons, but quite another for that comparison to rest on managerial ineptitude-and the criticism is beginning to appropriately resemble an avalanche: "One snowstorm, two mayors. Michael Bloomberg on Monday: "The world has not come to an end." Michael Bloomberg yesterday: "I regret everything in the world."
That is the sound of a mayor defensively and snippily trying to justify why so much of the city is still buried in the white stuff - and not succeeding. While it's not all his fault personally, it doesn't matter. He has to answer for a city response that is lacking. Just as a mayor gets to bask in the glory when the Yankees win the World Series, he gets to be pummeled with snowballs when the streets aren't plowed quickly enough. It's part of the job."

This is from Morticia's elves, the same folks who were absolutely convinced that a twice held city referendum had to be overturned so that Mike Bloomberg could have a third term. As did the Murdoch crew, who now appear to be seriously reconsidering their faulty judgment-even copying our, "Snow Job," headline: "Michael Bloomberg, who aspires to be known as the greatest mayor ever, was a tad testy yesterday. Why? Because Mother Nature had snowed on his parade and -- as mayor -- he had to deal with it. In the event, not very well. Certainly, New Yorkers aren't terribly dazzled by the city's performance...Asked if he had any regrets, Bloomberg went sarcastic: "You know, I regret everything in the world." Maybe even running for a third term? Bottom line: It's the mayor's job to run the city; the buck stops with him."

Good thing he didn't imitate Ed Koch and ask, "How am I doing?" As the Post opines, not well at all: "And yet, for the past 48 hours, New Yorkers have had to endure a brutal ordeal -- with emergency calls backed up, roads left unplowed, riders trapped on trains, buses stuck in snow . . .A potentially iconic video bouncing around the Internet summed it all up: a city tow truck hauling a backhoe out of a snowdrift -- and smashing up a parked SUV in the process. Says the mayor: "Yelling about it and complaining doesn't help." On Monday, he actually said the situation created mere "inconveniences" -- and urged folks to "go out and shop or take in a Broadway show." Maybe if he had done a little "yelling about it," the streets would have been plowed yesterday. Certainly it's hard to imagine Mayor Giuliani taking such a laid-back approach to the problem. Never mind being the "greatest" mayor, Mike. How about being just mayor?"

And these are his friends and allies, imagine what his enemies are saying. But this isn't just about scoring political points. The city's inept response was deadly: "A blizzard baby delivered inside the lobby of a snowbound Brooklyn building died after an emergency call of a woman in labor brought no help for nine excruciating hours.The baby's mother, a 22-year-old college senior, was recovering Tuesday night at Interfaith Medical Center, where her newborn was pronounced dead at 6:34 p.m. on Monday. That was 10 hours after the first 911 call from the bloody vestibule on Brooklyn Ave. in Crown Heights. "No one could get to her. Crown Heights was not plowed, and no medical aid came for hours," said the student's mother."

But, that''s not all-and we think that the death toll will mount: "In Queens, a woman tried to reach 911 operators for 20 minutes Monday and then waited for three hours for first responders to arrive. By then, her mom had died, state Sen. Jose Peralta's office said. Laura Freeman, 41, said her mother, Yvonne Freeman, 75, woke her at 8 a.m. because she was having trouble breathing. When the daughter couldn't get through to 911, she enlisted neighbors and relatives, who also began calling."

And the anger at the mayor is palpable-and we don't believe it will dissipate-particularly as the city council launches its post mortem after the New Year: "A 76-year-old Bay Ridge heart attack victim nearly died when an FDNY ambulance became stuck in a snowbank, but he was rescued by a gang of good Samaritans lugging him through the unplowed streets on a sled fashioned from a gurney. "My husband could be dead right now," said Lucy Pastore, whose husband, Salvatore, was in stable condition at Lutheran Medical Center. "The mayor acts like this is a minor inconvenience. Makes me sick."

One last tragic reminder of the fruits of this massive managerial failure-courtesy of the WSJ: "Dominick Caratozzolo, 63 years old, of Fifth Avenue in Bay Ridge, suffered an apparent heart attack on Monday morning and died before paramedics arrived, more than 3 ½ hours later. Fire officials said a 911 call was placed from his apartment at 8:09 a.m. Firefighters arrived at 9:40 a.m, and emergency responders showed up at 11:42 a.m., officials said. The patient was declared dead at the scene."

And so it went-and continues as the city struggles to dig out. In our view, the more this fiasco gets scrutinized, the more the festering outrage will boil over. Lisa Colangelo gives us a good hint of things to come: "One sanitation supervisor said any blame for the cleanup rests on the shoulders of the city and not workers. "They were so unprepared for this storm," said the supervisor. "They were scrambling like crazy on Christmas Day calling people and trying to get them to come in."

For nine years, and through three election cycles where hundreds of millions of dollars were spent to convince a hapless electorate that Mike Bloomberg was truly an indispensable leader, we have been told to be eternally grateful that Mike Bloomberg has deigned to grace us with his unparalleled expertise. We never bought the hype, perhaps because we witnessed first hand the reality behind the hoo ha. Now others are belatedly joining us, and we say, "welcome aboard!" But what took you so damn long?

No Business Like Snow Business

What a sight! All of the snow piled up in drifts and now, befitting of our snow clogged streets, New Yorkers are beginning to pile on the mayor-and Hizzoner's starting to get a tad defensive: "Facing whithering criticism for the slow pace of blizzard cleanup, a defensive Mayor Bloomberg asked New Yorkers to be patient and warned that plows still might not reach every street within the next 24 hours. 'We cannot do everything all the time and we are doing the best we can," said Bloomberg at a briefing in Brooklyn, which he called one of the hardest hit boroughs.  "We are trying to get to every street as fast as we can and as safely as we can. "I'm angry too," he said in response to the growing frustration of New Yorkers whose streets remain buried."

The mayor's belated rachmones, however, is falling on deaf ears: "I'm furious at Mayor Bloomberg, he's a rich man, so he doesn't care about the little people," said New Enrico's Car Service livery driver Julio Carpio, speaking in Spanish. "I have to work, why aren't people out there plowing? Why does the mayor always go on TV the night before to say, 'We're all set with a fleet of salt trucks,'? and then you never see a single truck. They always abandon Queens."

Even more telling is how the mayor's own allies are jumping ship on him-as the Observer points out: "Yesterday, Brooklyn City Councilman David Greenfield, who Bloomberg endorsed in his election bid last year, even sending some of his political troops to help with get-out-the-vote efforts, appeared on a Jewish radio show and blasted the snow-removal. "This could easily be the beginning of the end of Mayor Bloomberg's political career. It's such a big deal. And I am telling this as somebody who has always had a good relationship with the mayor and who has always worked well with him," Greenfield said. "This is a mayor who prides himself on saying the buck stops by him. And at the end of the day the buck does stop by him. We are going to hold him responsible. He is on notice. He better fix this or we are going to hold him personally accountable."

Greenfield may need to take a number, though:

"Queens councilman Eric Ulrich, who helped the mayor secure the backing of the Queens Republican Party and who was sworn in by Bloomberg when he won his seat in 2009, said the Mayor telling New Yorkers to go see a Broadway show was "like Marie Antoinette saying, 'Let the people eat cake.'

"I supported the mayor for a third term because I thought he was the best choice. I thought he was a good manager. Now I am starting to have doubts. You can't manage a  snowstorm after Christmas? I think people are starting to question his leadership ability," Ulrich added."

This is the second major body blow for Bloomberg-and in both cases, first the CityTime scandal and now this, the disasters come in areas that the mayor has cultivated an overblown reputation for excellence. It's doubly difficult to explain away major failures when you have spent hundreds of millions of dollars-aided and abetted by lap dog editorialists-spinning your own expertise in the very areas where the failures have occurred: fiscal acumen and managerial ability.

Which explains why, as David Freedlander headlines, the long knives are out-and why we believe it will be difficult for the mayor to ever regain his previously lofty reputation, one that we have long observed was undeserved. Still, as the NY Times reports, Bloomberg is going all out to redeem himself:: "The mayor appealed for people’s patience, saying that “it is a bad situation” but that the city’s response constituted “the biggest effort to clear snow our city has ever seen.”

Yet, Mike being Mike, the mayor doesn't do contrite real well-something that will make it difficult for New Yorkers, in Brooklyn and Queens in particular, to forgive him: "Mr. Bloomberg, while acknowledging some shortcomings, defended the city’s efforts. He said the sheer volume of vehicles — from private automobiles and city buses to dozens of ambulances and fire trucks that had been responding to emergency calls during the storm but had instead gotten stuck — had prevented snowplows from clearing streets or making their way through to reach other snowbound neighborhoods."

His comments on Monday, however, will stick in our collective craw for a long time: "We are trying to get to every street as fast as we can and as safely as we can,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “You can expect another 24 hours, but even then I’m not sure we’ll get to every one.” The mayor’s conciliatory tone on Tuesday was in marked contrast to his remarks at a Monday news conference. Then he had told a city that had its airports closed, some of its major roadways rendered impassable and its public transit systems knocked out of commission: “The world has not come to an end. The city is going fine.” Those comments angered some New Yorkers, particularly those who continue to be unable to get to work or even leave their homes because of the pileup of snow around the city."

In our view, the altered attitude is too little, too late. The Observer reports: "Many New Yorkers are still coping with a serious hardship as a result of this blizzard," he said. "And I want them to know that I do appreciate the severity of these conditions they face and the bottom line is we are doing everything we can." The mayor said that the biggest problem to getting the city up to normal is the ambulances, cars, and buses that remain stuck on city streets. They are preventing plows from making their way down secondary roads. Today's press conference had a different tone than yesterday's. Then, the mayor appeared with several deputies and officials who came dressed in casual cold-weather wear. Today the mayor was joined by NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly, and he announced that he announced that he ordered a thorough review of the city's 911 system amidst reports that FDNY had a back-up of over a thousand emergency calls yesterday."

As soon as he offers a soupcon of conciliation, in his next breathe we get: "And Mayor Bloomberg said he had little patience for those grumbling about the clean-up. "We can not do everything all the time. And we are doing the best we can. I think that this city has pulled together. I don't think that we should sit around and think that the end of the world is here. We cannot be every place at all times, but if you look around, the people behind me are the people that are the best in this country to lead this city and to provide the services we need..."

And this from the NY Post dots the "I's" and crosses the "T's" of our point: "Asked if he had any regrets about the way the city handled the storm's aftermath, Bloomberg sarcastically responded, "I regret everything in the world."

Not as many regrets as the growing number of New Yorkers who have buyer's remorse for having voted to give Mike Bloomberg a third term. For those of us who didn't think the mayor deserved a usurped third term, all we can say is, "We told you so,"

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Quintessential Leadership

Council Speaker Chris Quinn is stepping up big time on the torpid NYC blizzard response. YNN has the story: "NYC Council Speaker Christine Quinn is promising to hold oversight hearings on Jan. 10 to look into the city’s response to the Blizzard of 2010. Quinn had some positive things to say about the way New Yorkers banded together during the storm and praised the work of the Sanitation Department, while admitting there were some significant failures in the overall response."

Good for Quinn! She is filling the leadership void that has been created by the mayor's failure to acknowledge that the city's response basically sucked. Here's part of Quinn's statement: "That said, by all accounts, the collective storm response was not anywhere near up to the standards New Yorkers are accustomed to. This is unacceptable. New Yorkers have serious questions about the City’s snow emergency policy and response. We in the Council will seek forward looking answers on behalf of our constituents.  Therefore, the Council will convene oversight hearings on January 10th at 1pm to examine questions surrounding the City’s response to yesterday’s blizzard."

There can be no pussyfooting around the fact that leadership starts from the top-and for us question 1 is, Did the mayor leave town in the days just prior to the storm? If he did, accustomed as he is to jetting out to Bermuda for a game of golf, he has a lot of explaining to do.

Quinn nails the seriousness of what has just been allowed to transpire on Mike Bloomberg's watch-and her pointed comments are a good sign that she is looking to really get out from under the mayor's shadow: "This hearing acknowledges the reality that many New Yorkers are experiencing, that something went wrong. We will conduct a constructive fact finding effort with the goal of preventing it from happening again. As we convene this hearing we must be mindful that the events of the last two days are a stark reminder of the need to protect core public services from potentially life-threatening budget reductions.”‬

Which raises the question of whether core public safety services have already been compromised. As the WSJ has reported: "New York City's response to the blizzard has been hampered by Mayor Michael Bloomberg's decision to reduce the Sanitation Department's workforce as part of citywide budget cuts, the head of the sanitation workers' union charged Monday. 'We are undermanned—we need another 400 workers, Harry Nespoli, president of the Uniformed Sanitationmen's Association, said in a telephone interview. "This is a perfect example of why you need the manpower in New York City. We're shorthanded here."

The city denies the accusations of the union but, as the WSJ points out: "Still, the city on Sunday announced it was seeking to hire private heavy-duty equipment to assist the sanitation department with snow removal. It is also seeking "licensed operators of dump trucks, tractor trailers, and roll-on roll-off trucks," the department said in a statement."

All of which leads us to wonder whether the mayor has a good handle on the city's management and budget: "To combat multibillion dollar deficits, Mr. Bloomberg has been aggressively cutting city agency budgets to keep the books balanced. He unveiled last month his latest round of budget cuts, which called for a further reduction—via attrition—of 265 sanitation workers by June 2012."

And let's not forget that, as Adam Lisberg has written, the city is in a huge debt situation because of the capital budget expenditures on projects such as Willets Point: "Maria Doulis, an analyst at the Citizens Budget Commission, studied Bloomberg's last two cuts in long-term spending - 20% in May 2008, 30% in January 2009 - and found they didn't last long. "The reversal of this reduction began just a few months later," Doulis wrote. "Failure to impose fiscal austerity on the infrastructure agenda is evident," she added. Take this year's budget: Bloomberg first proposed spending $9.2 billion on long-term projects. Then he cut it to $6.2 billion. And then he opened up the spigot again to $12.1 billion. Spending will ultimately be much higher than currently planned unless the mayor becomes more determined about establishing priorities." (emphasis added)

Or others more responsible do it for him. So the blizzard response snafu may be a useful cautionary tale for all of those acolytes that have been looking to canonize Mike Bloomberg as the best mayor in the city's history-and we include the mayor's self portrait in this regard. Bloomberg's stewardship of the city has not been all sea shells and balloons by any stretch of even Morticia's imagination-and the media (read: editorial) disgrace in midwifing his third tern usurpation deserves nothing but scorn.

It is time for the deconstruction of the Myth of Mike to begin post haste-and the city council storm hearing could be a good start if the legislature doesn't tip toe through Bloomberg's tulips. An honest appraisal of the mayor's tenure is long overdue.

Snow Job!

New York was crippled yesterday by the fifth largest snow storm on record here-but the lingering question is whether the city's response-and that of its chief executive-was an adequate one. The question has some resonance because much of the outer boroughs were simply impassable, and the ability of emergency vehicles to respond was, like the city itself, crippled.

The NY Post went right after this in its editorial: "What a disaster: Ambulances unavailable. Trains stalled for hours. Streets unplowed. Fire trucks stuck in the snow. Buses canceled. These were not mere "inconveniences" -- as Mayor Bloomberg put it at one point -- in the wake of Sunday's widely, and accurately, predicted snowstorm; in some cases, they were potentially life-threatening foul-ups. And to such an extent, you've just got to wonder if the response could have been better.

In its initial online coverage of the storm, the NY Daily News was pointed, almost withering: "Bloomberg said all the Broadway shows are going on and suggested that New Yorkers should venture out to see one. That drew some pointed criticism. "Did he really say that, go see a show? I wonder what city the mayor is reporting from?" asked City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr., who said he spent between 6 a.m. and 2 p.m. shoveling snow in Astoria outside his home, and his dad's and neighbors'. "In that entire time, I haven't seen a single plow - except the one that crashed into a car and has been stuck, since before 6 a.m., at 21st Street and 21st Drive," Vallone said. "In past snow storms, other plows would have come through by now."

Inexplicably, this critical lead was replaced today by a more mild report that left out the critical response from people such as CM Vallone-and the paper filed its more critical reportage in its Local Section where elected officials offered harsh assessments of the city's slow response: "Hours after the snow stopped, countless streets around the city were unplowed - causing a dangerous backlog in emergency responses and drawing outrage. The 911 system was overwhelmed, and sources said it took nearly an hour at the height of the storm for ambulances to respond to strokes and heart attacks. A Brooklyn woman in labor waited four hours for help. More than 100 ambulances were stuck in the snow, the head of the EMT union said."

Senator Carl Kruger lambasted the mayor in this story-a critique that wasn't to be found in any other report: "By afternoon, the condemnation was mounting. State Sen. Carl Kruger (D-Brooklyn) slammed the removal effort as a "colossal failure" that put "countless lives at risk." He compared the blizzard to the 1969 storm that nearly destroyed the career of Mayor John Lindsay. Bloomberg may have had that kind of political fallout in mind as he hastily scheduled photo ops in Staten Island, Brooklyn and Queens."

Brooklyn BP Marty Markowitz also weighed in critically: "Obviously something went astray this time," Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz said. "Our side streets in every part of Brooklyn are frankly not touched. Many of our main streets haven't been plowed and salted." And CM Tish James who chairs the Sanitation Committee, stated that she would call a hearing to review the city's response.

The Observer has this: "Kruger also called on City Council Sanitation Committee Chair Letitcia James to hold hearings about reports that FDNY has a backlog of 1,300 911 calls and that even critical calls are facing a three-hour delay. "How many people are going to die today because our streets haven't been cleared?" Sen. Kruger asked. James said that she in fact planned on holding hearings, and similarly slammed the administration's response. "The response has been poor. I live on a major throughfare in Brooklyn and it has been almost impassable," she said. I do note that this is this sixth largest storm in the city's recorded history and I note that the wind gusts are considerable. I understand all of that, but the response is inadequate. There are not enough workers."

Remarkably the News and the Times, editorializing on the storm, were off some where in winter wonderland-with the News leading with a paean to the mayor's sagaciousness: "Those New Yorkers who heeded Mayor Bloomberg's good advice yesterday and stayed home, nestling their feet in fuzzy slippers as they watched the snow blow outside their windows, would have done well to spare a warm thought to those who were not so lucky."

Who were those unlucky ones? The pregnant women who had to find their own way to the hospital? The asthmatic that needed the help of FDNY to get to the emergency room because an ambulance wasn't available? No, according to the News, the folks we need to feel sorry for are the city workers forced to tackle the storm: "Namely, those who ran snowplows and salt spreaders or drove tow trucks to keep the streets clear of disabled vehicles so ambulances and fire trucks and the like could do their lifesaving work. And to those who came out in the bone-chilling cold to restore electricity or clear the sidewalks."

Now we are certainly appreciative of these workers, but to emphasize their "plight," while 911 calls were being left unanswered, is to ignore the little mayoral elephant in the room-which, of course, was the point of the exercise. The News does hit the MTA hard for stranding 400 people on an A Train for seven hours, but hey, our good buddy and News reporter Erin Durkin was one of the strandees, so that deserved the paper's scrutiny. Everyone else, not so much.

The Times, on the other hand, seemed clueless in all of this scandalous torpor. It's front page story was totally anodyne-a home on the range piece where no discouraging word was heard. Its treacly editorial was, like the storm itself, a total whitewash of the city's lackadaisical response and the consequent emergencies that were created: "For all the disruption and danger this blizzard brought, it was hard not to revel in the transformation it caused, waking to a white city, a day when nearly every human agenda was superseded by snow and even the best intentions were drifted over."

You have to wonder about the Times. Has the paper been neutered by the mayor? After all, it has yet to weigh in on CityTime, the biggest scandal in Bloomberg's nine years in office; and now it has little to say about the city's inadequate response to a storm that the it had sufficient lead time to be better prepared for.

Only the Post had the right stuff: "But let's face it: The city had plenty of warning. And yet, agencies -- particularly the Department of Sanitation -- were unable to meet the challenge. That left far too many New Yorkers without critical services -- from buses and subways to EMS crews. The heart of the problem: insufficient plowing. Impassable streets meant canceled bus routes, ambulances unable to get through -- even stuck fire trucks. Some medical calls went unanswered for hours (though high priorities got speedier attention). That's just unacceptable."

We don't know if the mayor left the city in the run up to the storm-but we suspect that he had departed for warmer climes. With a major storm on the horizon, he should have had the foresight to stick around, but even if he didn't his administration's preparedness was woeful-and, once again, in a more equitable world he would be in the running for the Daily News' Knucklehead Award-and on the verge of retiring the trophy.

But we don't live in that world, and are forced to reside in the world of the editorial whitewash. The mayor should be ashamed of his administration's response and apologetic for the danger he put New Yorkers in. That kind of mayor culpa, however, isn't in his lexicon. Instead, courtesy of the Daily News report, we get the following inanity from Bloomberg-and the mayor deserves the last silly word: "Mayor Bloomberg asked New Yorkers not to drive and to call 911 only for life-threatening emergencies. The world has not come to an end," he said. "The city's going on. Many people are taking the day off. Most stores are open. There's no reason for anybody to panic."

Monday, December 27, 2010

Walmart: Not in My Neighborhood

The NY Times has an interesting story this morning about some Walmart in New York skeptics-folks who also happen to also be Walmart shoppers: "Shawneequa Clark, who lives in Brooklyn, goes to Wal-Mart several times a month. She appreciates the variety, she enjoys the grocery selection, and she takes advantage of the savings. In short, she loves Wal-Mart. As long as it stays in New Jersey."

An interesting phenomenon to say the least-but not one that we are unfamiliar with. When we successfully campaigned to stop Big Wally on Tottenville in Staten Island, many of the members of the Tottenville Civic Association shopped at the retail giant in Perth Amboy-but were vehemently opposed to having one in their neighborhood.

The Times captures some of this sentiment: "Wal-Mart has begun another aggressive lobbying campaign to build a store in New York City. Company officials argue that New Yorkers already shop at Wal-Mart and that expanding into the city would make it more convenient for them. But interviews with New Yorkers shopping here on a recent day revealed some surprising views: even some of Wal-Mart’s loyal customers would rather drive to the bargains than risk bringing those low prices — along with the crowds and competition that may come with them — closer to home. “I don’t believe Wal-Mart should be in the city,” Ms. Clark, 29, said. “All the local mom-and-pop stores would lose business. And it’s already congested. I mean, can you just imagine?”

Many New Yorkers have a great pride in their local neighborhoods-and have a strong allegiance to the shops that enliven their local shopping strips: "The chain is looking at locations in all five boroughs, and a contentious debate has begun about the company’s labor policies and potential effect on neighborhood retail areas. Outside the 189,000-square-foot Wal-Mart in Secaucus, Vinny Nicosia, 52, who lives in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, said he could not support a store in the city. “I’m not opposed to it in out-of-the-way places, but in the middle of the city, it’s tough,” Mr. Nicosia said. “It kills the neighborhood shops. I grew up in the neighborhood shops, and I don’t want them to go away.”

Which isn't to say that the Walmonster doesn't have fans-and legions of folks that are looking to avoid the city and state's confiscatory sales taxes. That being said, however, the current plan to put a huge Walmart Supercenter in East New York is an underhanded backdoor way for the retailer, and its duplicitous developer front man Related, to avoid the proper environmental and economic development review. This goes way beyond any popularity contest-and for the first Walmart to come into NYC without any review of its impact is simply unacceptable.

But what the Times story dramatizes is the phony nature of the Walmart public opinion survey which, like one of Justice Hugo Black's loyalty oaths, is proof of loyalty to nothing but self interest. That survey had determined that sizable majorities of New Yorkers would want to have a Walmonster in their neighborhood.

We have been doing this kind of grass roots lobbying for the better part of three decades-and our success in stopping large scale real estate developments in neighborhoods all over the city puts the lie to the Walmart self survey. The simple fact is we couldn't have been successful without the support-and the intense support-of communities that didn't want to destroy their quality of life; and the local neighborhood shops that were an integral part of it.

Which is why we have always use the unforgettable saying of Zarega's own Artie Felice when talkng to community groups-and the Times allows us to pay homage to that neighborhood sage whose expression of local loyalty we have adopted as our own: "Nonetheless, the fight from unions, city officials and community groups is likely to be fierce. City Council hearings are expected to begin next month. “There is a finite amount of shopping dollars out there, and if Wal-Mart is absorbing a huge percentage of them, they aren’t left for the other retailers,” said Richard Lipsky, a lobbyist for local businesses who is fighting Wal-Mart. “If you want a bargain, you get in your car and you go to the bargain. You don’t ever want to bring the bargain into the neighborhood.”

Debt to Pay

In yesterday's NY Daily News, City Hall Bureau Chief Adam Lisberg reported on the city's growing debt burden under the tenure of the current mayor: "A report from Controller John Liu shows New York is carrying $69.5 billion in debt - the highest level ever. That breaks down to $8,281 for every man, woman and child in the city, 7% higher than a year ago. New York, like most governments, runs up those huge sums on long-term projects like parks and bridges and schools - as well as big tech projects like CityTime - then pays them back over time with interest. "The credit card bills are coming due," Liu said."

Long term projects such as the unworthy Willets Point boondoggle-a project that could make the CityTime scandal look like a candy store heist: "Many of those projects are worthy, but Mayor Bloomberg has plowed the taxpayers' money into them like never before - even as he plans to lay off workers and close fire companies at night. "There always has to be a balance. We're trying to strike that," said Bloomberg spokesman Marc La Vorgna. "We do have to deal with the growing cost of debt service."
And the Willets Point project has already started to bleed red ink-before a shovel has even been put in the ground. EDC, the city's lead agency in this fiasco, has hired environmental consultants who so severely botched the traffic review of Van Wyck ramps needed to alleviate the massive traffic projected from the Willets Point development, that the study needed to be thoroughly revised-at a cost of millions. Underscoring the lack of proper controls in this project, EDC retained the same consultants who messed up the original analysis to revise the traffic study needed to be submitted to the NYS DOT-enriching the deficient consultant team for their original failure.
There has never been a full accounting of the cost of the Willets Point redevelopment-and keep in mind that the plan was first proposed and passed by the city council before the current recession hit. As we commented a couple of months ago: "The city council approved the Willets Point project before the full impact of thee Great Recession was understood. Now that the recession's impact has been fully felt, can the city council still sit back and allow the Bloombergistas to siphon off all of this cash for a project that, as we said in the News, raises numerous, "empty lots of questions?" Or will it intervene to prevent the full scale lay of of city workers by doing the right thing: Laying off Willets Point?"
And let's not forget that the city is cutting back its capital construction budget by 20%. Lisberg dramatizes this situation: "Still, there are signs that even Bloomberg has found the limits of what New York can afford to spend on the future. His budget director, Mark Page, recently sent a memo to agency bosses ordering them to figure out how to cut their long-term spending by 20%. "We are obliged to also address the amount of the budget going for debt service," Page wrote. "To do so, we must reduce the plan for capital spending which drives capital borrowing and its resulting debt service cost." In other words, City Hall is just like your house right now - it's cutting back to live within its means, but it has only itself to blame for spending big in the first place."
In this climate, whither Willets Point? And with elected officials railing against city budget cuts and layoffs, why haven't local Queens pols weighed in with a, "No mas?" The Bloombergistas can't be depended on to be fiscally responsible in this regard-and it's up to local council members to hold their fingers to the fire: "And maybe just like in your house, City Hall has promised to cut back in the past - but blown it. Maria Doulis, an analyst at the Citizens Budget Commission, studied Bloomberg's last two cuts in long-term spending - 20% in May 2008, 30% in January 2009 - and found they didn't last long. "The reversal of this reduction began just a few months later," Doulis wrote. "Failure to impose fiscal austerity on the infrastructure agenda is evident," she added. Take this year's budget: Bloomberg first proposed spending $9.2 billion on long-term projects. Then he cut it to $6.2 billion. And then he opened up the spigot again to $12.1 billion."

Priorities need to be set here. And if the cost over runs on the ramp consultants are any indication, it's the right time to pull the plug on this Bloomberg legacy project. We'll give Lisberg the last word-with the proviso that the mayor is not the one who cabn be relied here to do the fiscally responsible thing: "Or as Doulis put it: "Spending will ultimately be much higher than currently planned unless the mayor becomes more determined about establishing priorities."

Timely Tax Tips

NY State-along with a slew of other profligate brethren-is in a massive fiscal mess; and, as we have pointed out, the out migration and loss of congressional seats is a consequence of the problem. As our posted exchange between some of the folks that we feel have really given thought to this issue underscores, NY's high tax environment is a major contributing factor.

But just when you might think that there is an emerging consensus on the causes of the fiscal malaise, along comes the NY Times-with its patella reflex fully operational-calling for higher taxes to address the problem: "During the last year, 23 states raised taxes and fees, but only eight increased personal income taxes. Ultimately, states are going to have to acknowledge that more effective, targeted tax increases are inevitable, and can be achieved if they are structured properly. Governors also must explain to voters that they have cut spending. The nation’s richest taxpayers just got a windfall in the federal tax deal extorted from President Obama by Republican senators. States should not shy away from asking for more help from those most able to pay."

If this came from anyone but the NY Times, it would be a jaw dropping observation-and the contention that the rich got a windfall when Republicans, "extorted," a tax deal from the president is truly otherworldly. But the paper has more astonishing things to say: "Many conservatives have said the revenue decline is a good incentive for states to cut their spending. That is precisely what almost all states have done, because they are legally barred from running deficits. State spending fell by 3.8 percent in the 2009 fiscal year and 7.3 percent more in the 2010 fiscal year, the only significant declines since at least the 1970s, even as the cost of education and health care rose."

Yet, buried in this barnyard offal is the following acknowledgement-counter intuitive if you've been reading the Times editorials for the past twenty or so years: "Starved for revenue and accustomed to decades of overspending, many states have been overwhelmed.” But if this is true, as Ed Driscoll suggests, then: "For surely if there have been decades of overspending, there need to be serious cuts in or elimination of many programs that have ballooned in recent decades—not just some spending trims, or returns to (say) 2009 or 2008 levels."

But, as far as NY State is concerned, a state that utilized federal porkulus money to keep the spending spigot gushing-the minimal spending cuts never really materialized; In NY, as even the Times admits, federal dollars forestalled significant fiscal discipline: "Although revenue is likely to tick up slightly in 2011, federal stimulus money — which has been keeping many states afloat — is largely scheduled to expire. Renewing a portion of that aid would be one of the most effective ways to assist the economy."

What the Times fails to point out, is that New York is spending money way beyond its means-and has a veritable Leviathan that is sponging revenue up at the expense of our hapless tax payers and businesses. On top of this, there are all of the other costs of living here that stimulates the migratory urges of fed up New Yorkers-as one media professional tells us in yesterday's NY Post: "Like lots of media professionals (and fashion mavens, artists, musicians, et al.), I’ve penciled out the numbers for what it would mean to take a job in New York City. There’s barely enough room on the back of the envelope for subtracting the double-dose income tax hit from the city and state, and that’s before even adjusting for cost of living. That’s one of the reasons I’m in Dallas. You know, Texas, the state that parlayed this year’s census data into four new House seats — pinching the two lost by the Empire State — because people actually want to live here."

As Eric Torbenson goes on to say: "Folks are voting with their pocketbooks; between 2000 and 2008, $846 million of New York’s personal income saddled up and jingle-jangled down to the Lone Star State. Nobody’s saying New York’s lost appeal from a career standpoint — it’s still the epicenter of finance, media, law and all that. It’s the paycheck crunch that can turn an offer of a lifetime into No Sale.The figures work this way on a pitch to come live in the Big Apple: You can get a 17% raise, but you’ll still take home less pay compared to that Texas job. But I hear the rent is cheap, right?"

But the Times is as undeterred-as it is unenlightened: "Many governors claim tax increases are ill-advised during a recession, but more experienced economists say it is better to raise taxes on the rich than to lay off workers and cut spending, in effect offsetting Washington’s attempts at stimulus. The federal government missed a chance to begin to act rationally about its long-term deficit by giving away the store to the rich in the tax deal. States should not make the same mistake."

Can you believe the effrontery of these cloistered clowns? Laying off workers and cutting spending would, "offset," Washington's efforts at stimulation? Yeah, right. How exactly has that worked out so far? And who are these experienced economists that the Times is relying on-an entire cohort of debunked Keynesians?

Who else but these knee jerks could think that allowing folks to keep their own dough is actually, "giving away the store?" So, as we await the inauguration of the new governor, our counsel to him is quite simple: Whatever the Times advises, do exactly the opposite. Which calls to mind Bill Buckley's famous observation, and we'll end on this note-simply substitute the Times editorial board so Buckley's witticism can be appropriately applied to Pinch's pipsqueaks: "I'd rather be governed by the first 200 names in the Boston phone book than by the Harvard faculty."

Just Deserts?

Over the holidays there has been a minor dust up over comments that Sarah Palin made about the First Lady's anti-obesity campaign: "Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin took a jab at first lady Michelle Obama's anti-obesity campaign. In her TLC show Sarah Palin's Alaska, the former GOP vice presidential nominee is seen opening cupboards in search of chocolate, marshmallows and graham crackers, asking "Where are the s'mores ingredients? This is in honor of Michelle Obama, who said the other day we should not have dessert," Palin said."

Now, this is a rather light jab-as Ann Althouse has said-but another former governor, Mike Huckaby, has taken offense. He sides with Michelle Obama: "With all due respect to my colleague and friend Sarah Palin, I think she's misunderstood what Michelle Obama is trying to do... Michelle Obama's not trying to tell people what to eat or not trying to force the government's desires on people... She’s stating the obvious, that we do have an obesity problem in this country."

This is flat out fraudulent-as Althouse goes on to point out: "Now... is it true that Michelle Obama isn't "trying to tell people what to eat" and "not trying to force the government's desires on people"? Is it true that she's only "stating the obvious, that we do have an obesity problem in this country"?

Not if you take a look at the newly minted nutrition bill that just passed the congress: "Anyway, what's in that bill? It's not about telling us what to eat? The linked article says it "will set national nutritional standards for public schools, boost funding for low-income meal programs and advance [Barack Obama's] wife’s campaign against childhood obesity." And in those "national nutritional standards," do the kids get s'mores or not?"

In addition, you can't understand the current nutrition law outside of the context of the expanding regulatory scope of ObamaCare-a government regimen that will, in our view, have what you eat right at the top of its bureaucratic menu. New Yorkers already have seen the script, and Mother Mike Bloomberg should be seen as a national role model in this unhealthy hectoring.

Just consider what our delightful HHS secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, is cooking up for us, unless the congress reins in this anti-democratic impulse: "Not satisfied with the colossal amounts of power that she would acquire under ObamaCare if it isn't repealed, Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary Kathleen Sebelius has issued a 136-page "rule" that will now give her (and her subordinates) largely unchecked power to pass judgment on the prices of health insurance throughout the United States. Notwithstanding the fact that 43 states already regulate and approve health insurance premiums, Sebelius claims that we need an additional, more centralized, protection against insurers' unseemly 'profit motive.'"

This is just the beginning-and if HHS can limit what insurers are allowed to charge, how difficult will it be for the Feds to dictate a healthy behavioral regimen for all Americans who will eventually come under the government's health insurance umbrella? What we have gotten just a whiff of in NYC could become a lot worse if we allow power to be centralized in the hands of a few Bloomberg inspired government bureaucrats.

Townhall captures this Huckstering: "But foundational beliefs like an aversion to federal overreach into local decisions cannot be disposed of because kids happen to be part of the equation. And if Huckabee believes there's nothing wrong with the federal government controlling local school lunches and instituting national smoking bans, how many issues will he believe are more important than federalism?"

In our opinion, if the First Lady wants to lecture us on how to live healthier lives, we say: go for it. It's when the lectures give way to bureaucratic imperatives that we begin to get extremely nervous. If you think we are being unduly alarmist over all of this, check out the NY Times story yesterday on so-called end of life care: "When a proposal to encourage end-of-life planning touched off a political storm over “death panels,” Democrats dropped it from legislation to overhaul the health care system. But the Obama administration will achieve the same goal by regulation, starting Jan. 1."

Professor Jacobson highlights the obvious ramifications of this-as well as all of the other potential bureaucratic over reaches that lie in the future if ObamaCare isn't derailed: "Procedurally, we all should care.  This is a textbook example of what I have been warning.  ObamaCare simply is the infrastructure.  The details and the demons will be worked out in regulations."

As always, it was Tocqueville who understood the danger: "But Tocqueville repeatedly and adamantly warned that this civic vibrancy could be destroyed if Americans let down their guard against the consolidation and centralization of power: “A democratic republic . . . in which . . . administrative centralization [was] accepted by custom and by law . . . would become more intolerable than in any of the absolute monarchies of Europe.” True to Tocqueville’s warnings, nearly every page of the House health bill describes a new limitation on Americans’ freedoms to contract with one another, to function without cumbersome restraints, and to control the fruits of their labor."

ObamaCare is a restrictive covenant on individual liberty that, if not checked, will continue to grow and fester in the interstices of our everyday lives. While it is true that Americans are too often overweight, and this is certainly an unhealthy phenomenon, the greater-and even more unhealthy prospect-is the burgeoning government health apparatus. That expansion is a much greater threat than those expanding waste lines that the Nannies see as a wonderful pretext for the aggrandizement of their own political power,