Tuesday, July 07, 2009


NYCivic will be hosting a Civic Forum, "The Future of the MTA," on Wednesday, July 15, 6:30 pm. The talk will be held at the Museum of the City of New York, at 1220 Fifth Avenue, between 103rd and 104th Streets. For more details, or to RSVP, please contact the museum at 212-534-1672 ext. 3395, or write to programs@mcny.org.

Fred Dicker Fed Up
After Thirty Years.
He Perceives Albany
Sinking Into Muck.

By Henry J. Stern
July 6, 2009

Fredric U. Dicker, the Post’s state editor and the dean of reporters in the state capital, has covered the Albany scene for more than thirty years, long enough to have witnessed the administrations of five governors: Carey, Cuomo, Pataki, Spitzer and Paterson. The next election is November 2010, so Dicker may see a sixth governor before he retires.

Yesterday, Dicker’s column appeared in the opinion section of the Post, under the headline: “ALBANY, I GIVE UP. State Government Has Never Been So Clownish, So Evil, So Irrelevant”. His tone is like the 1976 film “Network”, in which Peter Finch, playing a TV newsman, leans out a window and shouts: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this any more.” Dicker has occasionally referred sympathetically to Finch and his frustration with the system. Today the journalist channels the actor in his anger.

“Having witnessed the anarchy, chaos and lack of leadership that has engulfed the state Capitol during the past month, I have a painful confession to make.

“I’ve covered Govs. Hugh Carey, Mario Cuomo, George Pataki, Eliot Spitzer and David Paterson and for New York to wind up like this after

35 years of modern leadership, it’s clear to me that my real job has been to chronicle the devolution – the decay and decline – of New York state.

“We’re going backwards, not forwards, and of late we’ve even been falling apart.

“The Empire State – once a beacon of progressive state government to the nation – is on the brink of ruin. And it doesn’t look like anything can be done to stop it.

“In two words: We’re doomed.”

We link to Dicker’s column here, so you can read all of it. You probably should. Dicker provides historical background, and outlines the strength of some notable state leaders and the failure of others, who in some cases betrayed our trust in them.

The column concludes with these sad paragraphs, which bring us from 1995 to the present. We quote:

“Republican Pataki promised s weeping reforms but quickly retreated in the face of a resistant legislature and powerful special interests.

“After 12 years of Pataki, New Yorkers yearned for change, which is why Spitzer’s colossal political and moral failures were such a tragedy.

“Paterson, Spitzer’s unexpected successor, talked like a reformer when he took office in March 2008, but his collapse as a leader has been so sweeping as to be unlike anything seen in the history of New York.

He’s now the least popular governor in the United States.

“Is any more proof needed that New York has gone down the drain?”

Dicker writes of our state’s gloried past, of governors like Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Herbert H. Lehman, Thomas E. Dewey, Averell Harriman, Nelson A. Rockefeller and Hugh L. Carey. They were highly regarded nationally, and all but Lehman and Carey ran for President. New York was a leader in progressive legislation until the Big Sleep set in. The question now is whether or not the state will wake up before it goes bankrupt.

Senators' Strike Continues
Fail Again to Reach Agreement
Impasse Costs NYC $2M a Day

Today the New York State Senate deadlock enters its fifth week. By our count, it is Day 29 since the Blackberry Turnover June 8 coup, which did not involve the use of any force greater than 32 senators raising their hands at the same time. In January, Malcolm Smith of Queens had been elected majority leader by the same razor-thin margin, but he had since given offense to a number of his supporters, and two were all they needed to replace him with someone more malleable to their desires.

In the halls of the legislature, disputes often arise in two areas: 1) jobs, and 2 ) contracts. In each case, demand exceeds supply, and the selection process pleases some and necessarily displeases others. When the leader's tenure hangs by a thread, he may be particularly sensitive to the demands of colleagues, irrespective of merit. But even brigands are frustrated when they are unable to field conflicting demands for the same chunk of the public treasury.

This process of selecting legislative leaders is called majority rule. In a parliamentary body, members of each party choose their leaders. Each member has one vote. In more than one way, the process, as practiced in New York State, resembles a reality TV show. Last month Malcolm Smith was unceremoniously voted off the island and Pedro Espada, with all his legal baggage, was placed in charge of the tribe. The position would make him next in line for the governorship, if Mr. Patterson were to die, resign, become incapacited, or be convicted of a felony.

Should Mr. Espada fail to qualify, the next in line would be Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. He has already indicated he will not accept the office, since it would be a diminution of the authority and influence he presently wields. Fortunately, these scenarios are unlikely to occur; but then who would have foreseen Governnor Spitzer' highly idiosyncratic behavior.

The principle of democracy based on election does not require or guarantee that the person elected be intelligent, principled or honest. It does require that he or she get the most votes counted for hhis or her candidacy. The public employs battalions of police officers, prosecutors, revenuers, FBI agents and narcs to keep them honest, or to catch them if they stray. A good number of public officials have been carted off in recent years, although none has reached the tongluer, the small cart which accompanies the guillotine. Nonetheless, arrests, lawsuits and judicial inquiries are an occupational hazard if your vocation is politics and someone dislikes you sufficiently to pursue a vendetta..

Even Governor Sarah Palin is not immune from those who would injure her reputation or deprive her of freedom. She was not at her ethical best she fired the police commissioner for refusing to dismiss an officer who was a former spouse of one of her relatives. Alaska may have a local method of resolving disputes of this nature, sparing both sides the costs of litigation, including witness fees

It is an aspect of the democratic process, no matter how tainted the new leaders, or the old ones, may be. It is the rule of the majority, even when that majority is temporary or evanescent.

The closest analogue to the June coup in recent legislative history came late in February 1965, when the Republicans, a minority in each house at the time as a result of Senator Goldwater’s landslide defeat, joined with a minority of the Democratic legislators to elect the leaders favored by Governor Rockefeller and Mayor Wagner, who were opposed by the candidates of Senator Robert F. Kennedy. Contrary to what many believe, Kennedy did not win every political battle he undertook.

In this case, the minority Republicans united with the minority of the majority Democrats, and the combined elements group comprised a majority of the whole House and Senate. The wishes of the majority of the majority party (Democrats at the time) were frustrated. Democratic control of the State Senate lasted just eleven months (Feb. 3 – Dec. 31). In November 1965 the Republicans regained the majority, and the power to redistrict themselves into retaining their seats. They held the Senate for 43 years, until January 2009. This year, Democratic leadership of the senate lasted a mere five months, which is slightly less than one per cent of the 43 years the GOP enjoyed the spoils.

But do not despair, gentle reader. As Vivien Leigh says in the last line of Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 novel, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1937, “After all, tomorrow is another day.” In 1939, the book was made into a major motion picture, starring Clark Gable and Ms. Leigh, which won ten academy awards.


#570 07.06.2009 1303 wds

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