Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Putsch

In politics you must always keep running with the pack. The moment that you falter and they sense that you are injured, the rest will turn on you like wolves.
-- R. A. Butler (1902 - 1982)

While the consensus among politicians is that most political clubs are not all that relevant any longer, you would never know that by the seriousness of the apparent attempted coup at the Downtown Independent Democrats last week. Was Reform really on everyone’s mind?

With a suddenness that belies some serious planning, it was revealed that a few D.I.D. members claimed to be less than thrilled with Sean Sweeney as President and through the powerbase of Julie Menin, Chair of Community Board #1, there was a sudden attempt to install her nominee into the club hierarchy. Prior to this there had not been either a move like this or a contested election in 25 years. Of course, this could have also, ostensibly, paved the way for Menin to take over the club in the service of supporting her presumed City Council candidacy -- Alan Gerson’s current slot as Council Member which expires next year. He’s term-limited.

Several people spoke both for and against Sweeney, someone who has been a fixture of the Downtown political scene for well over a decade and someone who was (and is) closely associated with Kathryn Freed, former Council Member. Freed, who was term-limited out, ran and won as Civil Court Judge and Alan Gerson now holds her old seat.
Sweeney is, and was, a hard worker whose idiosyncratic methods both endeared him to and aggravated political junkies both in and out of the club.
His leadership at D.I.D. and the SoHo Alliance has been both a positive and negative lightning rod for accolades as well as criticism, depending upon one’s political views.

Menin’s attempted coup has created instability and doubt among those in SoHo since it currently is the only club with the fealty of SoHo artists and residents – people who are not from Greenwich Village or from Tribeca where Menin holds court as Chair of Community Board #1. The SoHo people are a specific breed of independent and are not always sympathetic to the Machiavellian “destroy-your-enemy” brand of politics. This putsch could succeed and yet alienate many members who view crafty political moves as successful power plays but poor prognosticators of political trust.
David Reck, a District Leader at D.I.D., wielded a degree of power in this melee and is rumored to have directed a number of critical and personal remarks in a speech about Sweeney’s Presidency. One member described Reck as having had "smoke coming out of his ears." Reck is Chair of Zoning and Housing at Community Board #2, is very involved with Hudson Square issues and is a supporter of Julie Menin.

The attempted coup, if it was one, using methods such as stacking the club and forcing the issue of leadership change with blitzkrieg speed and secrecy may succeed -- but the real issue is whether SoHo would follow. Or, would D.I.D. psychically and physically move to Tribeca leaving SoHo without a political center?
There is also the issue of whether Menin’s candidacy, ostensibly supported by Boro President Scott Stringer as the Downtown Express seems to believe, is an embrace of D.I.D. members and Community Board members like David Reck – or, is a repudiation of Sean Sweeney, whose hard work helped Stringer win the election. There is no soft landing in politics, for anyone.

What is unknown is whether this kind of nastiness is likely to aggravate Kathryn Freed enough to drop her judicial robes and get into the City Council race next year. There is no question that Freed would win that race. But, while Menin is not expected to go hungry anytime soon, Freed’s motivation has to consider the financial realities. Therein lies the rub.

One unknown factor, of course, is Pete Gleason who is persistent and motivated. He wants the Gerson seat next year but, as yet, is not believed to be a real threat to Menin. However, that could change.

The archaic system is now being tested and the relevancy of belonging to a club, which occasionally picks judges, endorses politicians running for office, and ostensibly supports its members in the community -- has passed, for the most part. Candidates go through the motions when they audition at club meetings because they don’t want to risk being accused of a slight --and club members and officers don’t want to let go of the appearance of control over their political environment. There is still this dated infrastructure but it has a questionable effect on local voters. It is an illusion among activists seeking to remain relevant.
However, most aspiring and already elected politicians well know that that game is winding down. It’s more of a tradition than a political necessity. It’s polite, but not essential to political success.

We no longer live in the era of Tammany Hall when jobs and political favors were doled out by the Clubs and where members of the community were protected.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Indigestion Pricing

Politics is the art of preventing people from taking part in affairs that properly concern them.
-- Paul Valery

I don’t want any yes-man around me. I want everybody to tell me
the truth even if it costs them their jobs.

-- Samuel Goldwyn

While many politicians see the Mayor’s “Congestion Pricing” plan as inevitable, given the need to reduce pollution in Manhattan, there are dissenters who simply don’t want it.
It’s not rejected by some because they are the friends of AAA or because they love lung cancer.

It’s not a bad idea in theory; it’s just that its raison d’etre is a political idea for the most part. It’s not for our health; it’s for our budget. Shelly Silver is right in having resisted passing it in Albany. He lives Downtown too.

If Mayor Bloomberg, formerly a Republican and now an Independent, really wanted to quickly start the process of reducing pollution, especially in lower Manhattan – a quick phone call to the Molinari camp in Staten Island would get the ball rolling. They got him elected.
Nearly 15 years ago Guy, and then Susan effectively increased the pollution levels in lower Manhattan by multiples with a deal to eliminate two-way tolls on the Verazzano Bridge. Instead of traffic backing up on the Staten Island Expressway – far from residential properties – traffic overwhelmed downtown. Traffic from New Jersey and Staten Island stream into lower Manhattan free and leave via the Holland Tunnel, also free.
Trucks, buses, passenger cars and tractor-trailers – all blowing particulate heavy smoke into apartments and homes not 20 feet from the roadbed.

Why is it that this little matter cannot be reversed – by politicians in Staten Island -- who carried the mayoral election for both Rudy and then Mike?
Why is it that Mike doesn’t pick up the phone and make a deal to reverse that toll first? Before pressuring those in Manhattan to buy his plan?

It’s because it is not politically expedient.

So, as the reports in The Sun currently indicate, Mayor Mike is taking the matter “personally” and reportedly may try to help fund a challenge to Shelly Silver if he does not help push through Congestion Pricing.
Why the attempt at political coercion?

The M.T.A. is counting on the money for numerous deficiencies in its budget, the company that installs cameras (the method of enforcement for the plan and more Big Brother mentality) is drooling over the contract, and Mayor Mike wants a success before he leaves office. Real Estate tax income is also dropping and alternate sources of City income are needed.
Sales prices and sales volume for coops and condos are falling and the numbers of layoffs from financial markets will make tax receipts slimmer. Budget deficits of $6, $9 and $12 Billion over the next several years have been predicted.
And, of course, Obama may want to see some successes after the West Side Stadium and Pier 40 fiascos that Doctoroff handled before moving on to the golden shackles of Bloomberg media. The possible V.P. designation has been given some credence. It’s a sidelong way into the Presidency, which he has always wanted.

If Bloomberg is to be taken seriously about wanting to clear our air, the political move made FIRST, would show that he is serious about reducing the cancer, emphysema and asthma that has been killing people downtown. Not to mention the fact that police presence is a virtually non-existent and irate drivers racing to New Jersey have actually attacked pedestrians for having the gall to want to use a crosswalk with their baby carriages.
At worst, the number of passenger cars owned by those in lower Manhattan, who don’t drive every day, is a joke by comparison to the hundreds of thousands of free trips enjoyed by out of state vehicles befouling our air.
Unless, of course, this is just a PR campaign to show Bloomberg accomplished SOMETHING before leaving office.

It is unfortunate that the City Council rolled over and gave him what he wanted without weighing in on this issue. Quinn, who wants to be Mayor with Bloomberg’s help and access to his personal fortune of $14 Billion, pushed the plan through the City Council for him.
Of course, it remains to be seen how the U.S. Attorney’s investigation into the phony slush fund organizations, which Quinn and the Mayor now both have to deal with, will affect their credibility. She has blamed the oversight on her staff members who didn’t listen to her. Is that possible? While she may not be accused of being charismatic, it is hard to believe that any staff member (or even a City Council member for that matter) would not do what she told them to do. She’s tough.
Quinn denies using any of the money for political favors and Bloomberg denies knowing anything at all, even though he signed the budget where these funds were listed. Do you smell cover-up?

With a sharp tongue and irreverent wit, former Parks Commissioner, City Council member and current political blogger Henry Stern will no doubt comment on this moral quagmire – much as he did throughout the demise of Eliot Spitzer. You don’t want to piss off Henry Stern. He knows where those bones are buried.
As a side note, Stern’s review of Congestion Pricing is worth reading.

Apparently, Downtown gives us all a bad example of how a representative Democracy is supposed to work. Residents have most been told how it will be – not asked how they would like it to be. While there were a few meetings about this plan, it was a PR gambit from the beginning – replete with television ads. How many ads have been screened making a point of the Verazzano toll affect on health Downtown?
Councilman Alan Gerson was heavily lobbied in the Council to produce the Downtown vote and activists were consulted – but the decision was already made. Gerson has admitted that his vote was heavily lobbied for since it affected Downtown the most.
It is just a dog and pony show. Everyone knew the fix was in and Quinn wanted it done. The real question is why?

Shelly Silver, while criticized for holding the reigns of power close to his vest, should stand tough and reject this pig with lipstick for what it really is – a carefully cultivated con job. Money for the M.T.A. and a win for Mayor Mike. Nothing for Downtown.

Unless, of course, the Verazzano toll suddenly got reversed without requiring the mandatory “act of Congress” to vacate it. No one said the Molinaris were stupid. Now, that would show that Bloomberg really wants to clean up our air, wouldn’t it?

A non-issue has poked its ugly head into Downtown politics. Apparently, Andy Neale, of Community Board #1, has had some personal problems.
Unlike the rest of us, of course?
What was different about this piece, describing his relationship with his wife and goes into great detail about their problems, is that it apparently warranted a “news” article in the Downtown Express – one of the publications owned by John Sutter of The Villager.

If the new editorial policy of this chain of mini-newspapers is now intending to clear all of the skeletons out of everyone’s closets -- belonging to those people on the Community Boards, it is strongly suggested that that policy be reviewed for its wisdom – or, appropriateness. To work for nothing in furtherance of the community we live in is sufficient reason to leave personal lives out of the limelight.