Sunday, October 18, 2009

Challenging Bloomberg Unlimited

(Above: Bloomberg leaving City Hall just prior to Friday’s event recreating the City Hall hearing statements from a year ago that were delivered in opposition to his extension of term limits. One day Mr. Bloomberg will be departing City Hall for good. Will it be in four years at the end of a third term? In a year when he becomes governor? In three years were he to defeat Obama? Or in a just a few months if he is defeated by Thompson?)

Yesterday’s New York Times, giving us a substantial eight column inches of ink, reported how on Friday on the steps of City Hall we “gleefully recalled” our “appearance last year” at the event that recreated last year’s “raucous” City Hall term limits hearings “which paved the way for Mr. Bloomberg to rewrite the law and run for a third term.” The event, arranged by the Thompson for Mayor campaign, commemorated the anniversary of those hearings. The Times commented that the event where “New Yorkers who testified last year to return for a repeat performance” was the “most creative event” of the Thompson campaign.

Our statement, with those statements of other repeat performers, came shortly after a number of elected representatives who opposed Bloomberg’s extension of term limits spoke. Mr. Thompson was of course among them, also council members, Tish James, Bill de Blasio (now candidate for Public advocate), David Weprin (no longer running for Comptroller), and Rosie Mendez.
If you want to read the Times account of what we said which respectfully includes much of what we had to say, go to Michael Barbaro’s Term Limits Revisited. (Here as an update to this post is newly available video of the event.) Below, with helpful links is everything we said.

* * * *

Michael D. D. White’s Noticing New York Statement at the Anniversary of City Hall Term Limits Hearing

On Friday we said:

Some of you may remember the coverage of our testimony a year ago.

“Two minutes to testify?” we said. “We want five!”

Councilman Felder looked at us and said, “I’m sorry Mr. White, the two minute limit applies to you the same as everyone.”

“So, we said, you don’t like the rules about limits being changed in the middle of the game.” (The audience was in an uproar.)

And then we testified:

This is some of our testimony from 2008:
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.

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.
Our testimony in 2008 went on to include a lot more. The rest of it is on the web. [See: Tuesday, October 21, 2008, Time to Report on the Best City Council Hearing Testimony.- The article also has links to the coverage our original statement got back then.]

Instead of reading the rest of we said, we’d like to provide this as an update.

Here is the 1997 book [holding it up] where Michael Bloomberg told the world that he would be a good mayor. (He actually tells us not only that he would be GREAT mayor and a GREAT governor . . . a GREAT president- That’s something he has, in fact, been pursuing.)

But before he tells us that he’d be a great mayor, he denigrates politicians in general, telling us what is wrong with them. He has quite a few bad things to say about politicians and then he says this.
Poll after poll shows that people rank elected and appointed officials at the bottom of the most respected list . . . I am certainly not above taking cheap shots at politicians. . . .
AND, What does he tell us you can take cheap shots at politicians for?

For their:
“hypocrisy” and their “`reelection at all costs’ mentality.”
"Reelection at all costs mentality!" "Hypocrisy!"

● This is the man who secretly strategized to ram term limits through at the last minute, using surprise and intentionally preventing the possibility of a referendum, even though he’d once said it would be a “disgrace” to overturn term limits.

● This is a man who together with Speaker Quinn used every trick in the book to twist arms to make council members vote against their consciences.

● This is the man who called up charities he sends money to tell them that they should show up to testify in favor of term limits. (He sends about a quarter of a billion dollars a year to charities.)

● This is the man who in the this week’s debate with Comptroller Thompson said that he ran because friends came to him during the recession and told him he needed to run when it has been well documented that he’d decided to run well BEFORE the financial crisis.

Term limits do not just represent a limit on the number of terms someone can be mayor. They are a check and balance on power. Such checks and balances were never so needed as with this mayor (who, BTW, says he now wants to do away with other checks on his power, the office of the Public Advocate, and he wants to strip community boards of their powers).

● During his term as mayor he became the richest New Yorker in the city.

● His companies do business with almost all the companies with which the city does business.

● His wealth went up from the time he entered politics approximately 10-fold. (It’s down just a little bit now because he didn’t see the financial crisis coming!)

● He has not honored the proscriptions of the Conflicts of Interest Board about keeping separate from his business to avoid conflicts.

● He has now appointed all of the current members of the Conflict of Interest Board who have their own tangled relationships with him.

● Not only is Bloomberg spending over a $100 million in direct campaign funds to run for mayor- During the season of the campaign he is spending a figure with charities and even City Hall controlled funds that conceivably verges around a billion total.

Checks and balances are needed with this man. They are needed so badly that when it came time for term limits to act as a check and balance on his power, he was already too powerful; he was able to simply override them.

The voters now need to provide the check and balance against this man by voting him out of office.

* * * *
The Times account of the Friday event ends with:
Mr. Bloomberg was nowhere in sight, just as he was during the Council hearings. But his presence was still felt.

At one point, a Bloomberg campaign aide stood a few feet from the press conference, smoking a cigarette. Occasionally, he turned to blow smoke in the direction of the podium.
Other Members of the Public Speaking (and Hugo Chávez as mentioned in the El Diario Endorsement of Thompson)

Of course, other members of the public spoke as well. One of them, (it may have been Martin N. Danenberg of GED for Individuals and Communities) referred to the El Diario editorial that just came out endorsing Thompson for mayor that compared Mr. Bloomberg to Hugo Chávez, “the Venezuelan president, for his all-out campaign to upend the term limits law so he could seek a third term.” (See: Bill Thompson for Mayor, 2009-10-15, and El Diario Endorses Thompson, Likening Bloomberg to Hugo Chávez, By Michael Barbaro, October 15, 2009) The comment was made that this comparison might be a little too insulting- - to Mr. Chávez- - because Mr. Chávez had at least had pursued that extension through a public referendum. The El Diario editorial speaks of how the actions of the Bloomberg administration go beyond “ simply slick scheming” and are “a gross abuse of power.”

Other speakers included recognizable community names like, Phil DiPaolo, Lucy Koteen, Jim Vogel (who sat next to us as we testified in 2008 after waiting more than eight hours to speak) and Patti Hagan who a year ago was quoted by the Times as assailing his “strong-armed knuckle-busting” tactics and by the Times and Atlantic Yards Report as thanking the City Council, sarcastically, for holding “a shotgun hearing on the just-announced shotgun marriage of Bloomberg and Quinn.”

For contemporaneous coverage and comment on the 2008 term limits hearings we particularly recommend now and we recommended then the series of pieces written by Times columnist Clyde Haberman.

Beneath the “Bloom” of Bloomberg’s Own Self-lauding Statistics

Saturday’s Times story reporting our Noticing New York remarks on the steps of City Hall appeared next to a cartoon and story about how Bloomberg rated himself in the debates (“A++”) observing that others felt Bloomberg and Thompson were both “underwhelming” that night. With the Bloombergian spending on the campaign verging on the aforementioned possible $1 billion, we have heard a lot of statistics about how Bloomberg rates himself. Significantly, the previous day’s Times had three major stories about how Bloomberg’s actual statistics on accomplishment are not as nearly as good as frequently self proclaimed. One was on the front page and two more appeared on the first page of the paper’s New York section.

The front page story (U.S. Math Tests Find Scant Gains Across New York, by Jennifer Medina, October 14, 2009) challenges the notion that the Bloomberg’s much vaunted increase in New York School test scores represent anything else than “teaching to tests” that are, in fact, increasingly easier. The scores are also perhaps inaccurate as well. In the article Thompson calls Bloomberg the “Madoff of the American education system” while his campaign spokeswoman Anne Fenton says that “Bloomberg’s D.O.E. has systemically lied about test scores, graduation rates and dropout rates.”

On the front page of the New York section there is an article (As City Adds Housing for Poor, Market Subtracts It, by Manny Fernandez, October 14, 2009) about how Bloomberg’s programs to provide affordable housing have been pretty much overwhelmed by gentrification and rent deregulation. It is not necessarily exactly a hundred percent in accord with the analysis we might offer but it provides some important debunking. One thing it doesn’t note is how many of the new housing units Bloomberg has provided are actually already existing units whose affordability has been extended with additional expenditures and perhaps some changes in program terms.

The second article appearing on the New York section’s front page about how Bloomberg’s job numbers are not actually as good as may be portrayed (Bloomberg Has Added Jobs, and Lost Some, Too, by Christine Haughney, October 14, 2009) provides bad news about the jobs that haven’t been created under the Bloomberg administration and how those that have been created pay less than New York jobs used to pay. This sort of falls in line with what Fred Siegel wrote about in his Post column the day before when he was complaining about the missed opportunities to address the city’s economic problems in Tuesday’s mayoral debate. Siegel wrote:
An alert challenger less concerned with pandering would have asked, as Thompson did not, why, even in the recent boom years, the city's rate of job creation has been so far below the average of the last 30 years. And asked why so many of the jobs that have been created are either in low-end hospitality work or at city-subsidized health-care facilities.
Where in New York is there a future for the private-sector middle class?
(See: A wasted debate: B'berg, Thompson ignore economy, by Fred Siegel, October 14, 2009.)

All Roads of Economic Consideration Lead to the Atlantic Yards and Sports Stadium Boondoogles

As media monitoring Atlantic Yards were quick to point out, Mr. Siegel’s column mentioned Atlantic Yards and the other sports stadiums as something that ought to be asked about “if the next debate is not to be as hapless.” He suggested:
* Ask the mayor if his massive subsidies for the well-to-do owners of the Yankees, Mets and Nets for new stadiums can be economically justified when they're being paid for by a middle class bridling under what are already the highest taxes in the continental US.
(See: Wednesday, October 14, 2009, Post columnist Siegel: ask the mayoral candidates to justify "massive subsidies" for new sports facilities)

Thompson has strongly criticized Yankee Stadium and Bloomberg’s failing megadevelopements but has been less than clarionly consistent about opposing the money losing ($220 million net loss) Atlantic Yards Nets arena. (See: Sunday, October 11, 2009, Thompson’s Campaign: Lacking a Clarion Message, Plus Issues of Confused “Respect”.) To be fair, by the Thursday morning (the 15th) following the Tuesday night debate (and Mr. Siegel's column), Thompson at a Crain’s breakfast had begun to clarify his message about what is wrong with Bloomberg’s megadevelopments calling for the Bloomberg administration’s single-developer mega-projects to be divided into multiple smaller parcels per the successful and proven Battery Park City model. This is quite consistent with what Noticing New York advocates and is also essentially the UNITY Plan for the rail yards where Bruce Ratner wants to put his Atlantic Yards arena while seizing adjacent neighborhood blocks.

To read more about the Crain’s breakfast, see Thompson on Mega-Development: Look to Battery Park City, by Eliot Brown, October 15, 2009. Be warned however that, as we have commented, we think that Mr. Brown, who wrote that article, gets one thing wrong in an observation he provides as an aside. We think that breaking the megadevelopments into multiple parcels will increase the amount that government will get in bids from developers. Mr. Brown suggests, we think misleadingly, that might not be the case.

We can envision what will happen in the next mayoral debate if Thompson, building on his suggestion that megadevelopment mega-monopolies, particularly Atlantic Yards, be broken up into multiple parcels takes on Bloomberg as sponsor of and enthusiast for the Atlantic Yards boondoggle. We would suggest the Thompson also propose that the arena and its $220 million net loss for the public be replaced with housing. Imagine Thompson saying:
* You don’t believe in competitive bids Mike? Why not?

* You don’t believe in providing jobs here and now with multiple developers working on multiple sites? Rather than in distant decades?

* You just believe in a mega-monopoly for one big developer, one that is going bankrupt to boot? Shutting out everyone else? Shutting out all the better local developers?

* You don’t want a lot more money for the MTA and it’s riders? You don’t think the MTA should get a fair market price for its yards?

* Instead of more housing you want a humongous gift package arena for Mr. Ratner at a $220 million net loss to the city with a mega-project that will inefficiently commit more than $2 billion overall in subsidies to one developer?
At that point, we believe that Bloomberg might finally find himself reaching his limits- - Imposed by the voters.

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