Monday, September 21, 2009

Exceeding Fine

Different Factors
Influenced Voting,
Politics is Personal

By Henry J. Stern
September 18, 2009

DIGRESSION: This column completes our mini-trilogy on Tuesday’s primary. We called the first two articles “The Mills of the Gods” and “Grind Slow, But They Grind.” Today’s title is “Exceeding Fine.”

The Greek philosopher Sextus Empiricus (c160-c210) wrote “the mills of the gods grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly fine.” The English poet George Herbert included a truncated version in his Jacula Prudentum (1640), “God’s mill grinds slow but sure.”

Fourteen years later, the German Friedrich von Logau used Sextus’ wording for his poem, “Retribution.” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-82) translated Logau’s poem into English, with the verses we know today:

“Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceedingly small,
Though with patience He stands waiting, with exactness grinds He all.”

First we report that several readers we respect have written us to say that anger over term limits was not the reason that four Councilmembers lost their seats. There were other aggravating factors such as childishness, corruption, inattention to the district and superannuation. You connect the dots.

We thank Prof. Arthur Leonard, Jerry Skurnik, Michael Schenkler, Roger Herz and Laurel Hill (sic), who were kind enough to correct our error. The successor to Eric Gioia in Council District 26 is Jimmy Van Bremer, who works for the Queens Public Library.


Two major New York journalists weighed in today with their observations on Tuesday’s election. In the Times, on A24, the first New York page, Clyde Haberman wrote MAYOR STOLE CENTER STAGE IN PRIMARIES. The columnist was upset that Mayor Bloomberg held a political rally Tuesday night, the very night Comptroller Thompson defeated Anthony Avella and Roland Rogers in a Democratic primary in which a record low of 310,000 people voted. In comparison, in the 1989 Koch-Dinkins mayoral primary, 1,060,000 votes were cast, more than three times as many as this year. Haberman goes on to berate Bloomberg over the change in term limits, which enabled the Mayor to seek a third term.

We are not critical of the election night party. There was no overlap with people who otherwise would be congratulating fellow Democrats. You could say that the primary marks the beginning of the seven-week homestretch, and that is a reasonable time for a candidate to celebrate with his supporters. Nobody owns the calendar.

We have repeatedly found fault with the Mayor for using the self-serving City Council as his instrument to over-ride two referenda. He should have appointed a Charter Revision Commission in January 2008, and put the matter on the ballot that year. That is what he said he would do.

He didn’t keep his word because he was contemplating an independent campaign for President and did not believe he would want to be Mayor again. There was certainly no reason to extend term limits for the underachievers on the City Council. The more highly regarded Councilmembers could run for the higher offices that were being vacated because of term limits. Some, like Joe Addabbo of Queens, had already decamped for the State Senate.

When one votes for a Mayor, however, the bottom line should be the best interest of the city and its people, and who one judges should be the thousand or so men and women who comprise an administration, and the hundreds of judges the mayor will appoint. The comparison to make is with the people in office and those who are likely to be their successors.


Veteran Times reporter and television host Sam Roberts is known for his institutional memory with regard to New York City. In recent years, he has written about the census in the changing city. In an article today, also on A24, he discusses the Council’s own demographics. The headline: IN COUNCIL, MINORITIES ON EDGE OF MAJORITY.

In the redistricting that followed the 1990 census, which was done by a Commission headed by Dr. Frank J. Macchiarola, former schools chancellor and president of St. Francis College in Brooklyn, Black and Latino districts’ representation increased substantially.

Districts were drawn to facilitate their election, because it was felt that they were underrepresented in the previous Council. This is based on the belief that no one can be represented adequately by a person of another race. That view had been adopted by the Justice Department under both Democratic and Republican attorneys general.

Mr. Roberts quotes Speaker Quinn: “New York is the most diverse city in the world. We are excited that the Council will be even more diverse and more reflective of the communities we serve.” That is the conventional wisdom – that’s us, not Ms. Quinn.

The Roberts column continues: “Henry J. Stern, a former city parks commissioner and now president of New York Civic, another watchdog group, said it was unlikely to mean much to most New Yorkers. ‘There might be a difference in terms of who gets the patronage jobs, and in attitudes toward confirming mayoral appointees.’ The article continues:

“Mr. Stern was elected to the Council in 1973 as a Liberal Party candidate for one of Manhattan’s two at large seats [the late Robert F. Wagner, Jr., was elected to the other, receiving twice as many votes], which were created [by referendum in 1961] to increase minority party representation.

“‘Minorities meant something different then,’ he said. ‘It’s morphed from someone who votes differently to someone who looks different.’”

On a related subject, Frank Lombardi, Celeste Katz and Adam Lisberg of the Daily News City Hall bureau, wrote, on p19, QUINN TIGHTROPE ACT: Confident She Will Remain Council Speaker but Has Yet to Back Thompson for Mayor. Quinn was renominated Tuesday over two opponents, she won 52 per cent of the vote in Chelsea.

Councilwoman Melinda Katz endorsed Councilman David Yassky today for Comptroller. She came in third on Tuesday, with 20 per cent of the vote. John Liu came in first with 38 per cent, but that was not enough to avoid a runoff. Many voters for Katz and David Weprin, the fourth place finisher, are likely to support Yassky in the runoff, if they vote at all. On the other hand, the Bronx Democratic organization switched from Katz to Liu. Their influence is difficult to measure.

Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum endorsed Councilman Bill de Blasio to be her successor. DeBlasio, who surprisingly outpolled Green on Tuesday, is regarded as a heavy favorite in the September 29 runoff.

StarQuest #597 09.18.2009 1,085wds

1 comment:

  1. Would you kindly add a link to the Greenbelt Conservancy's blog:

    Last night's gala photos are posted; Mr. Stern, who is on our board and was a guest, is shown in one of the photos.

    Thank you,
    Greenbelt Staff