Wednesday, July 15, 2009

What Will Jay Walder Do at the MTA?

NYCivic will be hosting a Civic Forum, "The Future of the MTA," on WEDNESDAY, July 15, at 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.

Panelists include Councilperson Gale Brewer, Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul White, and Manhattan Institute Senior Fellow Nicole Gelinas.

NYCivic's Henry J. Stern will be moderating the event.

Please RSVP by calling 212-534-1672 ext. 3395, or write to


By Henry J. Stern July 14, 2009

The State Senate is taking a breather from its month-long ordeal of organizing itself. The hijacking ended when the head mutineer rejoined the crew. Rather than being put in irons, he was made captain of the cheese-eating surrender monkeys.

Now we assume they will get down to business on all the legislation that has piled up while they writhed in their mock-dispute, now explained away as part of an auction in which Espada gamed each party in order to get their best and highest offer. With the early redefection of Senator Montserrat, who is awaiting trial in Queens County in an unrelated matter, Espada had only his own vote to play with, and that brought about the endless series of 31-31 tie votes. Neither party would budge, nor did any Senator, reformer or regular, Republican or Democrat, take any initiative which might have ended the crisis.

On January 9, Espada made his decision. Both parties wanted him as majority leader, probably because of his unusually broad appeal, sterling reputation and oratorical gifts. The Democrats, however, are the great majority in his home district, and certainly would have nominated someone else if he teamed up with the Republicans. So it was in his interest to accept the offer from the party which could do him the most damage if he defied them.

Even with the jewel back in the box, the Democrats remain in a somewhat awkward position. They have exactly 32 votes, which is the bare minimum needed to pass anything. A single no vote, abstention or absentee will defeat any Democratic bill unless a Republican rides to an unlikely rescue. The total of 32 includes the two prodigal amigos who jumped ship in June and may feel inclined to do so again if a measure before the Senate is not to their liking.

On one bill, the increase in the city sales tax from 8.375% to 8.875%, one half of one percent, the Democrats yesterday voted 19 to 13 to oppose the tax hike. The bill had been agreed to by Mayor Bloomberg and the City Council to balance the city’s budget and avoid laying off employees. The Republicans, to whom the Mayor had generously contributed during the 2008 senate election cycle, contributed 30 affirmative votes, and the tax increase passed 43 to 19. BTW, the Chicago sales tax is 10.25%.

It is not necessary to possess a legislative majority to determine the outcome of a bill, provided you have enough amigos in the other party to reach the magic number of 32. The burden of securing a majority rests on the proponents of a bill or an appropriation, so a measure can be defeated by any combination of 31 negative votes, abstentions or absentees.

Governor Paterson’s decision to appoint Richard Ravitch as Lieutenant Governor may have helped break the legislative logjam. Fearing that Ravitch could break the 31-31 tie in favor of the Democrats, Pedro Espada may have decided to return to the Democratic tent before his vote became unnecessary.

It seems highly unlikely to us that the New York State courts would allow a governor unprecedented unilateral authority to fill a vacancy in a state-wide elective office, and give that appointee statutory authority to preside over a different branch of state government, the legislature. To reach that decision would require a court far more activist and less mindful of precedent than our current Court of Appeals. But you never know for certain what judges will do.

In the fog of war, with time closing in, Espada, whose gambling skills exceed those of his colleagues, knew when to fold his hand and return to his Democratic brethren and sistren Senator Liz Krueger had loosed her wrath on the defector with particular vigor. But on his return, Espada was forgiven, embraced, and made their majority leader by those men and women of principle who believed in party unity and solidarity, no matter what scoundrels had to be embraced. Being in the majority means more jobs and bigger lulus.

And, after all, is Espada much worse than the others? Courts and juries may decide that question in the fullness of time. As to the last month, maybe he showed more guts, or more gall, or more testicular fortitude, than the Democratic sheey did.

Was the conduct of the State Senate disgraceful? Most New Yorkers believe that it was. However, apart from ritual denunciation in the media, there is no plan, there is no organized group we know of, that is making a serious effort to change the situation. People of refinement cluck disapprovingly at the boors who represent them. Taking action is another matter.

No one quite knows quite where to begin since the scoundrels have fortified themselves in their offices through gerrymandering, state-paid mailings by incumbents, and complex ballot access rules. Even campaign finance works in favor of office-holders who are well known and have more ability to raise money, which is matched 4 to 1 or 6 to 1 with your tax dollars. It has become another way for politicians to raid the public treasury, often in races where they are incumbents and heavy favorites. Then, after the primary, the entire charade of matching funds is repeated for the general election, a ritual in which all but a handful of districts produce enormous Democratic majorities.

The Senate has captured our attention because of the folly and self-interest of its members. We will watch carefully to see how the divided body performs on the issues it must face, including enormous financial problems that will not be resolved by party-hopping.


#573 07.14.2009 928 wds

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