Thursday, November 05, 2009

The Voters' Verdict

Take Him Down a Peg,
But Keep Him Mayor,
Because He Serves Us
Better Than The Rest

By Henry J. Stern
November 5, 2009

On E-day plus two, we are still cogitating about the voters’ choices for 2009. We came across a new phrase today: ‘Wednesday morning quarterback” (Credit goes to Jonathan Martin, writing in Politico). The words define a seer in reverse, someone who masticates on the results of an election held Tuesday, telling the world what the candidates should have done, and explaining why the voters acted as they did.

Wednesday morning quarterbacks have the time-honored gift of 20-20 hindsight, to use another sports idiom. Some of what they say is true or close to it, some is reasonable supposition, and some comes from their highly personal vision of reality, which is unlikely to be shared by anyone else.

In that vein, several of today’s news stories deal with the regret of some Democrats that others did not support Thompson enthusiastically, or in a few cases, not at all. They fixate on the theme that Thompson was only five points down and, if these people had known that, he might have won, or at least narrowed the gap. They question the holdouts’ loyalty to the Democratic Party.

What the fault-finders forget, or never knew, is that many of these Democrats held back because they honestly felt that, compared to Bloomberg, Thompson was not qualified to be mayor. Party loyalty prevented them from saying so, but did not require them to use their political capital promoting a candidate whose ability they seriously doubted. Although Thompson is more articulate and less-gaffe prone than Governor David Paterson, he is miles below President Obama in oratory, writing skill, and analytic ability. In his eight years as Comptroller, he did better than the State Comptroller, but initiated few matters of substance, and scarcely warned about impending fiscal disaster.

In the Democratic primary September 15, Thompson won the nomination over Councilman Tony Avella by a 3-1 vote margin, not too high against an underfinanced unknown. Congressman Anthony Weiner, an early contender, wisely decided not to remain in the contest after months of pre-campaigning. Weiner realized that a racially-polarizing race against Thompson for the nomination would leave the Democratic Party badly split and unable to unite against Bloomberg. Weiner is 45 years old and Thompson is 56. Men, too, have biological clocks when they are in the business of politics. BTW, Bloomberg is 67 – he was first elected at 59.

This morning, we find the campaign for mayor in 2013 already under way. Bill de Blasio, public advocate elect, met with Mayor Bloomberg at a downtown coffee shop. The purpose of the photo op was to show that, despite political differences, the two men were on speaking terms and would work together when they agreed on an issue.

The breaking bread was in contrast to the other city-wide winner, John Liu, whose conduct was described in the lead story in this morning’s Times. We quote:

“But tellingly, when the mayor tried to meet with John C. Liu, the Democratic comptroller-elect, Mr. Liu said he could not find time on his schedule, a highly unusual slight. Later Mr. Liu told a reporter ‘A long time ago, the people of New York decided there would be no king nor a monarch in New York City.’”

This display of rudeness by Mr. Liu is likely to be repeated. Rule 16-J is “Nobody does it once.” Liu has succeeded, however, in making de Blasio look reasonable. And courteous. Perhaps Liu will shift gears and abide by norms of behavior. Time will tell.

In 2013 there will be a host of mayoral candidates. We assume that term limits will be restored. That is certainly the will of the public at this time. Congressman Weiner will have the advantage of not being directly involved in the fiscal disaster that is likely to impact of New York City and New York State. The recession cannot end soon enough for the city and the state to escape the consequences of reduced income from taxation and expanding demand for social services. Mayor Bloomberg told us he sought a third term because of his unique ability to deal with acute financial problems. Those abilities will now be put to the test, starting with the mayor’s preliminary budget which is due on January 16, about ten weeks from today.

During the campaign, Mayor Bloomberg was repeatedly denounced for his third-term ploy; criticism which found some traction with voters. But that issue is essentially over, or at least referred to a new Charter Revision Commission to which Ronald Lauder has been promised a mayoral appointment. That makes sense, it is better to have him inside the tent than outside the tent. And the mayor can appoint as many other people as he likes. The Charter Commission should do the comprehensive 18-month review of city government that the mayor promised in January 2008 in Queens. They should separate out the issue of term limits, and are required to submit their proposal to the City Clerk by September 5, sixty days before Election Day, November 2, in order for it to appear on the ballot in 2010, which would be desirable.

The far larger issue facing city government at this time is the budget deficit. The budget is structurally out of balance, and the city is committed to spending more than it is likely to receive. Tuesday’s election results in the state of New Jersey, and in Westchester and Nassau counties, demonstrated voter aversion to high taxes and a preference for lower levels of taxation and government spending, goals usually identified with Republicans. Both de Blasio and Liu ran to Mayor Bloomberg’s left, with the support of public employee unions whose demands for annual increases regardless of available revenues would obviously make it more difficult, if not impossible, to reduce any taxes. The controversy next year is more likely to focus on which taxes and fees should be increased.

Elections usually have a cathartic effect. They are intended to provide a fresh start, a cleansing of government. Sometimes new officials are elected, and those who remain may get a clearer sense of the desires of their constituents, if they are not totally captive to the desires of their lobbyists.

The Republican minority on the City Council increased this year from three to five. Three Republicans are from Queens and two are from Staten Island. We do not know off-hand if there are any Blue Dog Democrats in the council. Our suspicion is that there are some, but they are closeted. The role of the county leaders in dominating the members from their borough will also be re-examined in the light of setbacks to the party organizations in Brooklyn and Queens.

The Council can be divided into borough delegations: Manhattan councilmembers never listened to their county leader, and Staten Island has only one Democrat, so the mainland borough of the Bronx, historically allied with Queens since the days of Stanley Friedman and Donald Manes, could exert more influence. It is not long, however, on talented candidates for leadership positions. Nonetheless, people sometimes rise to the occasion.

The Bronx is divided into five dynasties, Most numerous are the Riveras, two assemblymembers (father and daughter) and the City Council majority leader; (son) the Serranos, the father in Congress and the son a state senator; the Diazes, the father-senator and the son-borough president, and the Espadas—the father is the majority leader of the state senate, the son was a legislator but was voted out twice. The son also lost out on a $120,000 appointive office, so he will have to go back to work at the Soundview health center along with his father and several brothers. There is one matrilineal dynasty, Councilwoman Helen Diane Foster succeeded her father, Rev. Wendell Foster, in his West Bronx council seat.

I had the opportunity to serve nine years (1974-83) as a Councilman at Large from Manhattan, elected on the Liberal line. During my first years, six of my colleagues were indicted for various alleged misdeeds. We quote Rule 29-T: “The trouble is, the charges are true.” The Ione defense is that elected officials are subject to closer scrutiny than members of the general public. That is true, but the scrutiny is often justified.

In general, where they have a choice, people will vote for the better candidate, just as juries, much more often than not, decide on reasonable verdicts. We believe that the people are basically decent, but it is difficult to escape the spider web of intrigue and favoritism which infests government. If you have the time, follow the trial of former Senator Joseph Bruno, the former majority leader of the state senate (now replaced by Pedro Espada), who stoutly denies any wrongdoing. Assemblymembers McLaughlin and Seminerio of Queens recently left public office, and who can say that the only ones guilty are the ones that were caught.

That is the kind of behavior by elected officials we have generally not endured in New York City government in recent years, except for the chronic corruption of building inspectors. But just as eternal vigilance is the price of liberty, it is also the price of good government. It is also the price of an apartment free of roaches. The good guys cannot rest in their efforts, because there are barbarians at the gate. In New York State, they are sometimes in the chamber.

StarQuest #615 11.05.2009 1544wds

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