Alright, this can’t wait any longer although it has already been reported by others. We usually self-report our Noticing New York testimony in a post after hearings. Last Thursday, we testified at the City Council hearing on Bloomberg’s proposed repeal of term limits to specially give himself a third term.
We arrived home late from the hearing and phoned a Coney Island colleague, who told us that they were laughing because our testimony of a half hour before had already been reported upon by the New York Times live blog of the hearing. The next morning it also appeared in a thorough account of the day’s hearing in Atlantic Yards Report.
Well, last night we got an e-mail with a link informing us that a new website, “Term Limits: “It’s Our Decision.org”, was set up to oppose the special Bloombergian elimination of term limits and that there is a page (inset- click to enlarge) on that website proclaiming our testimony as “Best Council Hearing Testimony Comment.”
What was it in our testimony that got picked up in all these places? This is the way that Atlantic Yards Report put it:
AY opponent Michael White had a neat moment: (then quoting from the Times)(See: Friday, October 17, 2008, At the term limits hearing, AY opponents and supporters make their mark.)
Michael D. D. White, a lawyer who blogs at The Huffington Post, was the next up.
Referring to the two-minute limit on testimony, he said, “I’d like to have my limits extended to five minutes, please.” When Mr. Felder politely declined, Mr. White said, “You don’t like the rules being changed in the middle of the game.” That retort prompted applause from several of the remaining audience members — there are a few dozen now, down from hundreds earlier.
So now, perhaps it is time to self-report and tell you about the rest of Noticing New York’s testimony on Thursday.
Waiting and Access To Testify
First, some background. Though we were exhilarated by the importance of testifying, the day was grueling. We arrived at 11:00 AM and were turned away by City Hall security because we were too early. (Former City Councilman and Parks Commissioner Henry Stern, a more familiar figure, recounting about his own testimony in opposition to the Bloomberg maneuvering, says he got in at 11:00 AM.) When we returned at 2:45 we were told by security that we couldn’t come in because we were too late; we would have to wait. Then, looking at our jacket and tie, the security guard paused, “Wait,” he said, “are you going to testify?” “Absolutely,” I told him and he told me that they could let me in if I was on the list of people who were supposed to be let in to testify. Though I made him check the list I was, of course, not on it.
We couldn’t get in because there were so many people waiting to testify. There were even a fair number of people there to testify for what Bloomberg wants. Clyde Haberman of the Times has written several recent very good columns about the appalling things that are happening as Bloomberg reaches for this crowning exception that he is now so abjectly pursuing. In one of them describing the hearing, Haberman commented on the sign holders who had shown up to testify for the Mayor:
The sign holders resisted efforts to find out who they were and why they had gone to City Hall. Everything about them screamed rent-a-crowd.(See: What’s the Matter at City Hall: Democracy, the Voice of the People and All That, October 16, 2008)
In addition to the sign holders, there were the well-dressed beneficiaries of the Mayor’s “charities.” The Times has already written, about how they were pressured to be there writing, not once, but twice. We did so ourselves, not only afterwards, but maybe by not-such-a-coincidence we wrote beforehand about the Mayor and the Public Art Fund. When we were at the hearing Susan Freedman, (inset) president of the Public Art Fund, testified for her benefactor, the Mayor. She did not mention the extent to which he had `benefactored’ her. He did so substantially. You can read what we wrote.
We outnumbered the Mayor’s remunerated minions but because of them, real people had to wait to get in and testify. Were the minions on “the list” to get in? The Post described how lunch money was being doled out to them. Our waiting outside to get in was not a total loss. We got to talk to a reporter from Reuters.
We finally got in and signed up to speak at 3:38. On our way in we saw the Mayor exiting with a stressed-looking Amanda Burden, the Chairman of the City Planning Commission which deals a lot with real estate developers. We wondered what that was about in an earlier piece, given that the hearing on term limits was the order of the day.
We did not get to testify until after 10:00 PM.
Reducing Meaningful Testimony: The Two Minute Rule
Reducing meaningful testimony down to two minutes is almost impossible. It is hard enough to reduce testimony to three. I didn’t know if my jest about asking that my “limits be extended” to five minutes would work, but I began by referring to the fact that allowing for three minutes is more typical.
Here is the rest of what I was able to get into two minutes by speaking very fast:
Noticing New York believes term limits' greatest value is with respect to certain city offices. First and foremost the office of the Mayor.- Parallel to our federal system.If I’d had the microphone for a moment more I would have commented that had I been granted five minutes to speak, I could have solved the Wall Street financial crisis! As it was, with only two minutes, I had to leave out the following important points from what I was prepared to say:
While we tend to disfavor term limits, we are absolutely against their elimination in the middle of the ongoing 2009 election cycle.
Most objectionable is the Bloomberg/Lauder billionaires' pact designed to make the repeal of term limits a special event for wealthy Mr. Bloomberg.
We have been communicating with our representatives and those running for office, predicated on the understanding that term limits were the rules of the game. Meanwhile, Mayor Bloomberg was communicating privately to members of his real estate developer constituency that he was NOT planning to have these publicly understood rules apply to him. Not Fair! Not fair to any of us.
Campaign finance questions highlight just one way in which changing the rules in the middle of the game is unfair and problematic.
The rules, including those of campaign finance, are already too special for Mr. Bloomberg. This specific change would probably not have been ventured were his wealth not an operative factor.
Mr. Bloomberg has told us that he is uniquely equipped to help the city during the current Wall Street financial crisis (only as mayor). We disagree.
Warren Buffett, George Soros and Felix Rohatyn were among those who offered warning about the financial crisis before it started unfolding. We are not aware of Mr. Bloomberg offering of any similarly prescient or unique warnings.
How can $15 million in public spending for a referendum setting election rules for everyone be considered too extravagant if Mr. Bloomberg himself plans to privately spend $80 million of his own money to campaign for his third term?At least I, the Times, and others have now had a chance to begin to write about the problem the Mayor’s heavy personal (and sometimes municipal) giving to the city’s cultural institutions is a problem.
The Mayor’s heavy personal giving to the city’s cultural institutions is a problem. People have pointed out that “giving” immunizes the Mayor from criticism from New York’s most influential citizens. Silence may have been more pronounced because everyone mistakenly expected him soon to be out of office because of term limits.
It is not fair that Speaker Quinn is using City Council Chairmanships designations to manipulate Council member voting. This belies the story that days ago she herself was undecidedly treating this as a difficult issue on which to make a choice.
I was able to hand in the longer written testimony which concludes this piece.
Meanwhile, get involved. For instance, check out the “Term Limits: “It’s Our Decision.org” site. Certain City Council Members need to be called and told to do the right thing. We are sorry to say that David Yassky, whom we like to support, is among those who still needs a push. Call him at (718) 875-5200.
Noticing New York’s Written Testimony:
* * * * *
October 16, 2008
Hon. Christine C. Quinn, Speaker
New York, NY 10007
Re: Proposed elimination of term limits during the ongoing 2009 mayoral election cycle- Public Hearing
Dear Speaker Quinn:
1.) Noticing New York mostly disfavors term limits while recognizing that they can have certain values. The value of term limits is likely greater with respect to certain city offices. The office which most probably should be subject to term limits is that of the Mayor. And if the executive office of the Mayor were singled out as the sole office to which term limits would apply, the City Charter would then reflect an approach parallel to that of the U.S. Constitution and our national elective offices.
2.) While we tend to disfavor term limits, we are absolutely against their elimination in the middle of the ongoing 2009 election cycle.
3.) The proposed elimination is made profoundly more objectionable by the Bloomberg/Lauder billionaires’ pact designed to make the repeal of term limits a special event applicable only to the exceedingly wealthy Michael R. Bloomberg.
4.) Noticing New York has been very attentive to the current campaigns for elective office and has based its strategies in communicating with current elected officials and those running for office, taking into careful account term limits as the publicly understood rules of the game. We are not the only ones who have so weighed our actions. At the same time Mayor Bloomberg was communicating privately with members of his real estate developer constituency that he was planning to have these publicly understood and appreciated rules not apply to him. This is not fair to any of the citizens of New York.
5.) The problematic questions that will arise with respect to campaign finance highlight how unfairly problematic it is to change rules in the middle of a game in but only one respect.
6.) The rules, including those of campaign finance, are already special for Mr. Bloomberg and tilted in his favor. His proposal for a special application of term limits to himself probably would not be possible were his wealth not an operative factor. As Atlantic Yards Report noted today, how can $15 million publicly spent on a referendum setting election rules for everyone be considered too extravagant if Mr. Bloomberg himself plans to privately spend $80 million of his own money to campaign for his third term?
7.) Because Bloomberg, LP giving is clearly an extension of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s influence, the Mayor’s heavy personal giving to so many of the city’s cultural institutions has been viewed as a problem. People have pointed out that giving quietly immunizes the Mayor from criticism. Institutions receiving the money are less like to criticize the Mayor, and each institution has associated with it huge numbers of New York’s most influential (and wealthy) citizens whose impulses to criticize the Mayor are probably also largely neutralized. The silence may have been more pronounced because people and organizations expected him soon to be out of office because of term limits.
8.) It is not fair that Speaker Quinn is using the award and withholding of City Council Chairmanships to manipulate Council member voting on this issue. This belies as disingenuous the story that Speaker Quinn told the press, saying that until days ago she herself was undecidedly treating this as a difficult issue on which to make a choice.
9.) Mr. Bloomberg has told all of us that he is uniquely equipped to help the city during the current Wall Street crisis and that the assistance he can offer requires he be granted a third term as Mayor. We disagree. We think that as time affords us perspective we will discover that being a crisis-insider actually handicaps Mr. Bloomberg’s ability to offer effective aid.
10.) Warren Buffett, George Soros and Felix Felix G. Rohatyn were among those who offered warning about the financial crisis before it started unfolding. Despite his place atop the pinnacle of so much information, we are not aware of Mr. Bloomberg’s offering of any similarly prescient or unique words.
11.) I would like to conclude my statement by saying that when I came to testify my time to speak was going to be limited to 3 minutes but I myself am now changing that rule to allow myself 5 minutes- But that might be unfair because. . ..
12.) Two recent Noticing New York articles on the issue of term limits are attached to this letter.*
Michael D. D. White
* Monday, October 6, 2008, Term Limits: Voting Against the Voters
* Wednesday, October 1, 2008, Coming to Terms With Mistakes