Friday, December 03, 2010

Greg David: Looking for Love in the Wrong Place

Greg David is wondering whether NYC's media will fail us in the effort to control government spending and the size of the public work force. David, writing in Crain's, is concerned because of the challenge that the upcoming battle with the public sector unions poses for the newly elected governor: "Two recent news stories may not seem to be related, but they raise an important issue about the role of news media in the great debate over government spending and the public workforce. The first was in The Wall Street Journal headlined "Groups to Back Cuomo As He Tackles Unions." It outlined the efforts of the Real Estate Board of New York, the Partnership for New York City and others to raise millions of dollars for an ad campaign to support the governor's efforts to reduce spending and pare pay and benefits for government workers. The money is needed, business executives think, to counter an expected wave of advertising by public employee unions against the governor and his plans."

We have commented about the nascent effort, and we agree with David that the task is formidable-made even more difficult because of the class-based nature of the battle. The struggle is exacerbated further, in David's view, when the elite media-represented by the NY Times-lays down on reporting the issue with any degree of seriousness: "The second was The New York Times story "As Newark Cuts Officers, Fears of a Regression Take Root." Typical of the coverage, this story asked whether crime would soar now that budget cuts forced Newark to lay off about 13% of its cops. The story noted that the layoffs came after the police union refused concessions...The advertising campaign is needed precisely because the media isn't doing its job in covering the issue. The Times' story and other coverage never specified what the concessions Newark Mayor Corey Booker wanted. Nor did they remind readers of what Newark police officers are paid, how much overtime they average each year, when they can retire, how lucrative their pensions are and what benefits they have--sick days and vacation days, to name only two that are likely to be far more generous than anyone in the private sector receives."

What David should know, however, is that the issue will never be properly covered by the Times-precisely because the paper has an ideological dog in the hunt here. The Times is in favor of an expansive government-and the additional taxes that are needed to support it. Once the paper has a stake in the debate-as William McGowan underscores in his, Gray Lady Down-it tends to dramatically downplay any facts that create cognitive dissonance. So tax payers and businesses are going to have to do the heavy lifting here with little or no help from the Times.

And Crain's Insider has more on the signs that the smaller government crowd is learning to work better together in the formation of a stronger coalition: "News this week that the business community's efforts to defend Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo's agenda for the upcoming legislative session would take the form of a $20 million advocacy campaign could rightly inspire skepticism, given the failure of efforts in past years to combat competing interests. But the initiative will purportedly be more collaborative than past efforts, which were small and silo-ish and were typically overwhelmed by rivals' advertising and advocacy campaigns. The new effort, which will take the form of a nonprofit 501(c)4, aims to form a coalition that reaches beyond business interests."

What's missing, as we have said before, is a greater degree of grass roots street cred-something that the NYC Partnership's Kathy Wylde appears to be aware of: "We think this should be a big tent: business, labor, civic,” says Kathy Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City, a leading organizer. “It should be broad-based, and it should be statewide.” The time is right, she says, because a new administration will be pushing for reform, and businesses that have been sitting on cash will be making decisions about where to expand and invest as the economy recovers."

Grafting small business, homeowner and civic groups onto the coalition will give the effort real legs-and remove the taint that accrues to an effort being seen as a creature of the rich folks alone. What gives the WFP and 1199 strength is a street presence and a cohort of organizers who can effectively get the message across at the grass roots level. Without a similar complementary grass roots function, the business efforts to help the new governor will lack the strength necessary to carry the day on behalf of a more responsible-and smaller-government.