Monday, March 07, 2011

Commissioner Arrogance

While we're on the subject of our favorite commissioner, the wild and wacky Sadik-Khan, let's take a longer look at the NY Times profile we alluded to in an earlier post. What comes through for us is the blithe arrogance of Sadik-Khan-and her cavalier and brusque treatment of those around her underscores this: "But among the city’s political class, Ms. Sadik-Khan has also become notorious for a brusque, I-know-best style and a reluctance to compromise. In public screeds and private whispers, many city leaders say they have felt rebuffed, alienated or outright dismissed by Ms. Sadik-Khan, with several recounting in interviews having picked up their phones to find her yelling on the other end. And she recently set City Hall atwitter by appearing to deflect criticism over the response to the December blizzard to Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly."

Public Advocate de Blasio highlights this: "Even if one appreciates some of Janette’s goals, it’s clear the approach has been very alienating all over the city,” said Bill de Blasio, the city’s public advocate. “There is a needless level of conflict. A lot of communities have become distrustful of the approach that the mayor and Janette have taken.”

The commissioner's problems devolves from her out sized sense of rectitude-something that doesn't go down well in the nabes: "In the past several months, even members of the Bloomberg administration have begun to acknowledge that Ms. Sadik-Khan’s aggressive style, so effective at first, may have morphed into a liability. The mayor, who found himself booed over bicycle lanes at a town hall meeting in Queens in January, spoke with Ms. Sadik-Khan, and they agreed she would solicit more opinions from neighborhood leaders."

Hence the backdown on 34th Street-as we pointed out earlier. What the city doesn't need is an imperial commissioner-especially since the chief executive has similarly abrasive qualities: "Sharp elbows and strong words are nothing new in city government, and some have wondered whether the backlash against Ms. Sadik-Khan has become unusually ferocious and personal in part because she is a woman. Cindy Adams, the venerable gossip columnist, has taken to calling her the “wacko nutso bike commissioner,” and the tabloids have showcased City Council members and borough presidents who have taken the rare step of publicly criticizing a prominent member of the Bloomberg team."

If any one feels that Sadik-Khan is being unfairly treated because of her gender, then they should do so on the record-the Times doesn't do itself any favors by sneaking this anonymous accusation into the mix. Just listening to the commissioner defending herself is enough to leave one queasy: "In an hourlong interview last month, Ms. Sadik-Khan said that she believed her initiatives had saved hundreds of lives on the city’s streets, and that she had pursued precisely the type of innovative, data-driven thinking that Mr. Bloomberg prides himself on. But she also conceded that mistakes had been made."

"Data-driven?" Cooked books is more like it-and if her data is so righteous why is most of what DOT plans concocted in secrecy worthy of the old Soviet Union? And, aside from the bicycle brigade, Sadik-Khan is pretty much universally-and deservedly-despised: "Council members have found her dismissive and confrontational,” said Letitia James, a councilwoman from Brooklyn who described herself as a friend of the commissioner’s. “Other than Brownstone Brooklyn and parts of Manhattan, she is pretty much despised by my colleagues.”

Nothing is more emblematic of the haughtiness of Khan than the following anecdote: "Then and now, City Hall officials considered Ms. Sadik-Khan a brilliant innovator with a sharp mind for data and details. But she has repeatedly stumbled on the political side, making errors that, some officials fear, threaten her ability to pursue her department’s agenda. The trouble began early. At a get-to-know-you session on Staten Island, the politically crucial borough where transportation troubles are legion, Ms. Sadik-Khan listened for about 20 minutes before making it clear that, in her mind, the meeting had come to an end. “Three minutes, gentlemen,” Ms. Sadik-Khan informed the group, which had not yet finished its presentation, according to several people in the room at the time. Three years later, “three minutes, gentlemen” is still a joke among the politicians who were part of the meeting, invoked whenever they believe the Bloomberg administration has ignored their interests."

And the Times underscores what the Post editorialized on-the commissioner's penchant for eschewing oversight: "Inside City Hall, Ms. Sadik-Khan developed a reputation as a difficult colleague who resisted oversight, according to current and former administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the mayor’s distaste for public discussion of internal business. Friends allow that she has a temper."

When overweening rectitude is melded with an abrasive personality you have-quite appropriately-a witch's brew: "She couldn’t care less whether you like her or not,” said a city official who has been close to Ms. Sadik-Khan for years and insisted on anonymity for fear of straining the friendship. “She doesn’t suffer people who don’t support her lightly. She’ll scream right back.” Another high-ranking official, fearful that being named could get him fired, recalled a heated conversation that culminated in Ms. Sadik-Khan’s announcing that she planned to remake New York City’s streets, “and people are going to have to get used to it.” “She has an absolute certainty that she’s correct,” said Lewis A. Fidler, a council member from Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, who has clashed with Ms. Sadik-Khan over bicycle lanes. “I guess it’s nice to go through life with that kind of certainty, but I don’t know if it’s appropriate in government.”

Which gets us to Sadik-Khan's role in the fiasco over the Willets Point/Van Wyck ramps-an involvement that dramatizes all of  our previous characterizations of the once and future queen. When it became apparent that SDOT was not going to simply roll over for the city and approve the ramp application that was supported by deficient data (data driven?), Sadik-Khan went into full boil mode that was captured in an email exchange between the local DOT administrator and the acting state commissioner. As we pointed out last year:

"When last we looked, there was friction between NYC DOT Commissioner Sadik-Khan, and the local regional head of the state agency who felt that the commissioner was threatening him if he failed to act expeditiously (read: hastily and without real oversight). As he said in an email: "JSK noted that she will be sending me a letter holding me personally responsible for holding the Willets Pt project hostage. I'm okay with that as we need to ensure that we have thoroughly reviewed the issues and that they are resolved satisfactorily."

Well, well, well. What an interesting situation. Commissioner Carbon Footprint, the person who persuaded the mayor to try to limit cars in midtown, an action that "catapulted Ms. Sadik-Khan to celebrity," was upset because the state wanted stricter oversight over a project that would generate 80,000 car trips every day! Which underscores the larger hypocrisy of the Bloombergistas-and the collusion of   Sadik-Khan in it.

Put simply, the Bloomberg economic development policies have pretty much exclusively been characterized by the promotion of auto-dependent malls-from Gateway in the Bronx to Gateway in Brooklyn, with a Flushing Commons in between. Willets Point, however, is the center piece of the hypocrisy because there is not only no way to mitigate the traffic, but the assumption that over 50% of the traffic generated will use an overtaxed mass transit system is, at one and the same time, a unachievable goal and a conscious lie.

Talk about Khan jobs! So while this Sadik is making the life of motorists miserable through her experimental intrusions into our everyday lives, she is simultaneously silent or shilling for the mayor's development policies that put people in their cars; taking them away from the walk to shop neighborhood commercial strips-a classic example of hypocritical misdirection.

All of which-along with the mayor's tarnished reputation-has started to change. And the retraction on 34th Street may just be the beginning-something that Sadik-Khan herself is beginning to slowly realize: "The recent travails seem to have left Ms. Sadik-Khan more guarded and on edge — and more attuned to her public image. Asked in the interview if she believed her standing with the mayor had fallen, she said: “I really can’t speak to that. I think you’d have to ask him.” As the conversation came to a close, Ms. Sadik-Khan slumped in her chair, exhaled deeply, and crossed her arms. “A 30-year career,” she declared, with a snap of her finger, “can go like that.”

We're not interested in where her career goes. We'll be happy if she just exits from the municipal stage as soon as possible.