Thursday, July 03, 2008

Dealing in Garbage

Politicians are like diapers. They both need changing regularly and for the same reason.
-- Unknown

As complicated as politics can become, the smell was not simply coming from the Gansevoort Pier. The only accurate fact was that it is the location where the Department of Sanitation parks its trucks and operates a salt pile for those nostalgic years before global warming.
The settlement made a few years ago with Friends of Hudson River Park under the tutelage of Al Butzel called for DSNY to be off the pier by 2012 even though it has been stymied by community opposition and a lack of responsible planning. The UPS site on Spring Street where a 14 story garage and fuel depot has become the convenient, if not flawed solution – even when a location at block 675 in Board 4 was readily available. And, instead of it being a two district garage, it was enlarged so that it would be a three district garage. So much for logic.

But, what really wafted out from between the decaying compost was the decision by Shelly Silver to suddenly push through a change in the Hudson River Park Act in order to accommodate unseen forces with virtually no prior warning to the community. His closest allies, among them Deborah Glick and Dick Gottfried, were put in a difficult situation publicly after having fought the Gansevoort Recyling plan. What appears to have been a victory for anti- NIMBYism, however, is not sufficient for downtown to appreciate the role of our elected officials in this little morality play. The electeds downtown pandered to their own political aspirations and need for campaign funds. In other words, it was not simply their fear of the convenient cry of "racism" that forced this issue. It was worse than that. This is a deal that sells out the community.

Hi-rise Mike, Quinn, Stringer and Gerson all supported this plan because it was easy. Lots of money for campaigns, lots of ego (for the the Mayor and his Harvard Boys), all cooperating to send Silver a magic bullet. Vote for this, or else. This time it worked. The use of the racism card, which has worked for Lola, a downtown bar which the community did not want, is now followed by a development that is anathema to a community where pollution is the new commuter and tourist attraction.

As politics have changed downtown, where the power bases have begun to transform from political clubhouse to Community Boards -- and from independent political parties to developers with public relation firms – it’s the media perception of a politician that counts, not the voter’s opinion. It’s no longer a matter of appealing to the community. Reality doesn’t seem to count for very much – at least that seems to be the case if you are a politician.

Many activists who are also community board members, for example, now find themselves inquiring as to whether the Borough President approves of his or her point of view before being seen in public. Community Board Chairs or Committee Chairs now worry about whether their political point of view is in synch with the Borough President and whether they will be dumped even before their two year term is up if they disagree with the party line.

Council Members concern themselves with whether the Speaker agrees with their point of view on issues. They still worry about the pork barrel even though there is a Federal prosecutor watching them dig out the meat.
And, Speaker Quinn has to be worried about whether she will get financial support from the Mayor in return for her support or lack therof. Those $500,000 donation checks to non-profit organizations buy a lot of footwork no matter who later is empowered to call in for the chips.

Formerly powerful political clubs look to the Chair of the Community Boards as well as the Borough President, to assess who the rank and file should support – since many of the clubs have members on the Boards.
At a recent fundraiser for Eric Gioia who running for Public Advocate, an old veteran of the political wars, Ray Cline, showed up. In spite of his canny knowledge of downtown politics, a supporter of Maria Derr for City Council, he appears to not fear any powerful politician. His coming out for Gioia was noticed.

So, there is no surprise that Shelly Silver, who was instrumental in killing Bloomberg’s pet Congestion Pricing, the West Side Stadium, the sub rosa Related Pier 40 plan, and who was threatened with a very expensive campaign for his own re-election which Bloomberg vowed to fund – had to deliver --something. This appears to be it. There was even the threat that the old sexual harassment issue involving one of Silver's staffers from years ago was going to be dragged up again.
Whether Bloomberg can find a new job for himself, money is not his problem. It does, however, seem to be everyone else’s problem.
While no one will ever know just exactly how the deal was done, just locating the air fresheners in the room can tell you where the smell was coming from.

Then there’s the matter of compliant behavior on the part of everyone else.

Quinn has wanted Bloomberg’s support for a long time. She, too, needs the money for her mayoral campaign. And, Slushgate, receding somewhat, still leaves her with the need for the many contacts that can raise the necessary funds for a successful race. With the angst over the Feds subsiding and the media interest waning, large amounts of cash are still necessary to keep her in the running. There’s Weiner, Thompson and Republican John Catsimatidis out there to deal with. And, with a Gristede’s fortune, he has no cash problems and no negative press yet. And, lest we no forget, the Molinari's in Staten Island have decided who our last two mayors have been. They like Republicans.
So, Quinn’s support of Gansevoort is no surprise, despite pronouncements that Downtown should take its fair share of garbage – in spite of the fact that it was supposed to be a park. Glick is in a tough position since she is close to Silver. She has strongly come out against this plan. Arthur Schwartz, Chair of CB2 Waterfront Committee, who has young children, has again voiced his opposition. While he has a controversial political past, he apparently is not afraid of anyone and thinks the plan is a sell-out.

As far as racism is concerned, calling downtown liberals anti-African-American is not only phony but insulting. Will this be the new way to get things?
Unfortunatley, the simple charge begets the old indefensible logical form as in "when did you stop beating your wife?"
If you are against this, you are a racist? Will this be the new Jewish guilt that makes activists work and voters choose on the basis of the horrors of the past?
Do we now choose between being able to breathe or being called racists?
Shall we all lie down and let the garbage trucks roll over us and our children so that we are loved for our proven racial neutrality?
Thanks, guys. Maybe it IS time for a real Republican. Not a born-again Julie Menin who has apparently switched parties to run for City Council and not Hi-rise Mike who also did the switcheroo a few years back and wants to be Vice President, President, Governor, Mayor again, or, whatever else strikes his fancy this week and is now "Independent."
Just get out the checkbook and screw what the people want.

Then there's Stringer’s tacit and stated support of the garbage solution on Gansevoort which is based upon his desire to keep all options open and run in step with the money. His alliance with the Mayor and his close affiliation with Julie Menin who seeks to take the City Council seat currently held by Alan Gerson as well as control of D.I.D., the downtown political club, -- is a friendship with the Bruce Menin developer money. Rumors abound over Stringer’s desire to run for Public Advocate, remain where he is – or possibly take the position of his closest political ally, Congressman Jerry Nadler, once Jerry finds a more powerful slot (like Senator). The hope is that Hilary will move on and give Jerry his shot.

What also has rankled some activists who recently felt safe in opening their mouths – since the Community Boards have become the new center of political “power” – is that Stringer failed to hold a convocation of Boards in order to arrive at a community concensus solution on the waste situation, rather than just adhere to the Bloomberg message. Properly done, this would have ameliorated the racial undercurrents that make this NIMBYism so pernicious. So, instead of using his mandate in calling upon the Manhattan Boards to address this issue and try to work at a better solution – as well as other issues like affordable housing – he allowed his political agenda to be the guiding principle. Make nice with Uptown politicians, like powerful Inez Dickens, Denny Farrell, Charlie Rangel and Bill Thompson, and ignore Downtown.

It is clear that Community Board members should not also be members of a political party. The obligation should be solely to the residents whom they are supposed to represent. Political leaders should not be permitted to sit on the Board. The possibility for a commingling of obligations – either by the Boards becoming de facto political parties for the support of the Borough President – or, for the Boards to become elaborate, de facto, fundraising political machines – is a bad precedent. It is an invitation to an inbred cycle which leaves out the interests of the community.

With the politicization of the Community Boards, with the attempts at buying the votes and fealty of residents downtown with developer money and political fortunes – P.R. companies will soon be telling us how popular our elected officials are. Not asking us. The media-fed misconception of how popular Hi-Rise Mike is, for example, when many activists can't wait for him to go, speaks to the managed publicity.
And, recently, a multi-page spread appeared in the N.Y. Post describing the works of Board #1 Chair Julie Menin. Amazingly, this spontaneous interest in her work is timed to augment both the D.I.D. putsch and a City Council run.

Forget all the hard work in winning a park for us and our children.
Forget that we will be forced to breathe even more diesel fumes in a community with the highest rates of disease from particulates.
And, forget the fact that our elected officials should be working for us, not for themselves and their next elected office.

We have a bevy of “popular” elected officials.

According to whom?

Are the PR firms that now dictate policy in Washington, going to tell us who we should support downtown?

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