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Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Bloomberg Public Relations Team Starts It's Work To Repair the Damage Done By Term Limit Extension Bill

After Prolonging Their Tenure, Councilmembers Turn on Mayor, Challenging Him on Substance
By Henry J. Stern, October 31, 2008

“Beware. Answered prayers cause more tears than unanswered ones.”
- St. Theresa of Avila (1515-1582).

Mayor Bloomberg has reason to consider St. Theresa’s wise words. On Thursday, the Council extended the term limit on city elected officials from eight to twelve years. The act is in direct contravention of Section 1138 of the New York City Charter, which was adopted by the voters in 1993, and reaffirmed by the voters in 1996 on the specific issue of barring a third term. The Council and city lawyers believe that they have the wisdom and the authority to over-ride Charter provisions, adopted by referenda, which govern eligibility for election of city officials.

Councilmembers are specifically forbidden by the Charter (Section 38) from extending their own terms, but at the time the Charter was adopted (1989), term limits were not an issue, so there is no direct prohibitory language in the Charter. Similar provisions governing elections are protected from political tampering by that Section, and it was the clear intent of the Charter drafters not to allow politicians to interfere with the election process by changing the ground rules themselves.

The dispute now goes to the courts. The U.S. Department of Justice is required to determine whether the Council action interferes with the rights of minorities. It certainly precludes additional seats for minority challengers if the non-minority incumbents, whose names are better known, are allowed to seek four more years in office. But no one can be certain of what the courts or the Justice Department will eventually do.

What Did the Self-Extending Councilmembers Do First ?

To everyone’s great surprise, the first day of the new era of emancipated Councilmembers, now free to seek third terms, ended in bitter disputes with the man who made their third terms (along with his own) possible, Mayor Bloomberg.

On page A1 of today’s Times, which means the local story is regarded as very important, the headline is: AFTER TERM LIMITS VOTE, MAYOR FINDS A LESS COMPLIANT COUNCIL. The story is by Michael Barbaro and David W. Chen of the City Hall bureau of the Times. It is illustrated by a an artistic photograph by Ruby Washington of an unsmiling Mayor with a glowering Speaker standing behind him, taken in the Blue Room of City Hall.

The lead paragraphs of the Barbaro-Chen account are of major significance in the arena of the personal politics of survival. Read them here:

“Tensions between City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn and aides to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg are erupting just a week after Ms. Quinn shepherded the mayor’s divisive legislation to loosen the city’s term limits law through the Council.

“Feelings are raw between the two sides largely because Ms. Quinn took heavy political shrapnel for the mayor during the term limits battle as she rounded up support for what became an unusually difficult vote.

“The strains at City Hall could stymie the Bloomberg administration’s agenda in the middle of the deepest financial crisis to strike New York City in decades. In closed-door meetings over the last few days that occasionally escalated into shouting, Ms. Quinn has told the mayor’s aides to back off a plan that would change how hundreds of programs for the elderly are financed, a proposal that has infuriated several council members. …

“The tensions reveal the degree to which the bruising term limits battle, initiated by the mayor so that he can run for a third term, altered the political landscape, with Ms. Quinn and her colleagues feeling empowered to challenge the Bloomberg administration as never before.”

The Times story then jumps to pA28, where it continues for parts of four columns. It totals 1137 words. The account is comprehensive, well written, and quotes numerous sources. If you will have time over the weekend, the story is worth reading in full. It is history in the making. Print it out.

What is remarkable here is that the Councilmembers believe they did the Mayor a great favor by extending term limits. That is because he and his aides put so much pressure on their weaklings, swiveling a few from prior commitments. But their payoff for helping Bloomberg was extending their own eligibility by four years. If the Mayor does not serve a third term, he will be able to devote himself to the public interest with his foundation and through national activities in which he has been engaged (guns, smoking, public health, the economy). He could be a great public citizen.

However, If the Councilmembers are found ineligible to seek a third term, or are defeated in their attempt for a threepeat, their prospects will not be nearly so bright. Only a small percentage of them will pull in the $122,500 (including lulus) per year which they collected for the past seven years.

Some will go back to fighting poverty (their own, first), others will go to nonprofits. At least one should find a home in the Bloomberg administration, if he should be re-elected and she not be. A handful will return to their prior careers as community organizers. The relatively few lawyers will continue to ply their trade, unencumbered by occasional Council meetings and the need to use their partners' names while suing the City of New York.

The silver lining is that some of that some of the cuppies (Council urban professionals) may be elected to higher offices which will be vacated if term limits are upheld. There are eight senior elective positions in city government which will be contested in 2009: mayor, comptroller, public advocate and the five borough presidents. Some councilmembers have already raised millions of dollars to compete for these positions. We cite rule 7-G; “Go for it.”

Our suggestion to the mayor is that he not sign the term limits bill on Monday, because he will lose his last hold over the Councilmembers once his signature is on the bill. He has saved their seats, but is already being rewarded with abuse. Those who voted with him will be accused by their rivals of being his stooges, and the frightened legislators will criticize the mayor as much as they can to dispel that image. Their primary opponents in 2009 will show them no mercy.

Let the Mayor bring the issue of term extension for himself, or the three city-wide officials, to the public in a referendum which he should win, because most New Yorkers value his unique services, even if they do not agree with everything he does. Let the “emboldened” Councilmembers fend for themselves. They have already begun to throw the Mayor under the bus. He should reciprocate their courtesy.

You have seen the Council story on page one of today’s Times. If you give those seeking extension five more years, they will make you suffer, day by day. They are animals wounded by public abuse, and who knows when and where they will strike.

At her press conference one hour before the October 23 meeting on term limits, Speaker Quinn said that one reason to extend Councilmembers’ terms was the good relationship they had with the mayor, and together they would bring the city to fiscal stability, etc. Today is October 31, and the relationship has already turned sour. If the Council succeeds in defeating the voters and the Charter, they will all be up for re-election and they will pander their hearts out for whatever support they can find. BTW, another value in a two-term limit is that, in their second four years, most Councilmembers will not be candidates for office, and might therefore have a greater incentive to do what is right rather than what is popular.

We promised last week to give you the names and boroughs of the 22 members who VOTED AGAINST the Council’s decision to overturn the referenda. Here is the list, by borough.

Bronx (1): Annabel Palma

Brooklyn (5): Charles Barron, Bill de Blasio, Mathieu Eugene, Vincent J. Gentile, Letitia James.

Manhattan (5): Gale A. Brewer, Daniel R. Garodnick, Jessica Lappin, Melissa Mark-Viverito, Rosie Mendez

Queens (8): Joseph P. Addabbo Jr., Tony Avella, Anthony Como, James F. Gennaro, Eric N. Gioia, John C. Liu, Hiram Monserrate, David I. Weprin

Staten Island (3): Vincent M. Ignizio, Michael E. McMahon, James S. Oddo

Two Relevant Rules, and a Bit of Homework

We close with two rules, which we believe are particularly pertinent to this sorry story:

Rule 35: United States Senator Robert F. Wagner (1877-1953) made this observation: “Gratitude is for favors yet to be received.”

That rule was passed along to me to me by my City Council colleague and friend, the Senator’s late grandson, Bobby Wagner (1944-93). Bobby was one of the best public servants of his generation. His early death was a great tragedy..

Rule 29-D-2: “Lie down with dogs, get up with fleas.”

This Rule is taken from Poor Richard’s Almanack, by Benjamin Franklin (1706-90). The saying was published in 1733, with the following wording:

“He that lieth down with dogs shall rise up with fleas.”

Homework for the reader: Figure out the relevance of these historic quotations to today’s article. There will be prizes for correct answers.


All four Councilmembers who are seeking election this year voted No. They are McMahon (running for Congress), Addabbo and Gennaro (running for the State Senate) and Como (running for a one-year term as Councilmember). When I was on the Council, we used to call that 'Going off the reservation'. It was all right if you received a pass from the leadership. Standards have loosened since then..

Councilmember Letitia James of Brooklyn, a plaintiff in the term limits lawsuit, also attended and spoke at the press conference on October 29.

Enjoy the weekend. Link to the Times story if you can. (see below)

October 31, 2008
After Term Limits Vote, Tensions Rise at City Hall

Tensions between City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn and aides to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg are erupting just a week after Ms. Quinn shepherded the mayor’s divisive legislation to loosen the city’s term limits law through the Council.

Feelings are raw between the two sides largely because Ms. Quinn took heavy political shrapnel for the mayor during the term limits battle as she rounded up support for what became an unusually difficult vote.

The strains at City Hall could stymie the Bloomberg administration’s agenda in the middle of the deepest financial crisis to strike New York City in decades.

In closed-door meetings over the last few days that occasionally escalated into shouting, Ms. Quinn has told the mayor’s aides to back off a plan that would change how hundreds of programs for the elderly are financed, a proposal that has infuriated several council members.

According to people briefed on the conversations, she has warned that the mayor’s plan to push for a property tax increase as early as next week could encounter resistance, especially since council members are still reeling from the term limits vote.

The tensions reveal the degree to which the bruising term limits battle, initiated by the mayor so that he can run for a third term, altered the political landscape, with Ms. Quinn and her colleagues feeling empowered to challenge the Bloomberg administration as never before.

“There is a sense that the mayor has damaged his popularity and that is emboldening members,” said David Yassky, a councilman from Brooklyn who supported the mayor’s term limits extension.

To calm nerves, Mr. Bloomberg, in a step that is unusual for him, has begun to personally call every council member, telling them they must find ways to work together even if they disagreed over term limits. But some of those calls are not going very well, as council members say the mayor expressed fleeting gratitude for their support before launching into lectures about taxes.

“I thought that the phone call was going to be simply and purely, ‘Thanks for casting a tough vote,’ ” said Councilman Lewis Fidler of Brooklyn, who voted to change the term limits. “I didn’t expect him to talk about the next tough vote.”

Charles Barron, another council member from Brooklyn who was an outspoken opponent of the term limits change, ended his telephone conversation with the mayor by vowing “to meet you on the battlefield” over the measure, which is now the subject of legal wrangling.

In discussions with senior administration officials, Ms. Quinn pointedly described a new political reality following the difficult term limits fight, which drew unusual attention and almost daily criticism of the Council. Members are reluctant to quickly tackle another contentious issue, council members and administration officials said.

Next week, the mayor is expected to rescind, six months early, a 7 percent property tax cut and lay out a 5 percent annual cut in spending for city agencies, according to city officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the plans are not yet public.

Both measures require the support of council members, and Ms. Quinn has already embraced Mr. Bloomberg’s call for swift action on the budget.

A Bloomberg spokesman, Stu Loeser, said the administration was aware of the frayed feelings and, in response, began to brief Ms. Quinn and her staff on Mr. Bloomberg’s budget cuts and tax plans unusually early in the process. Traditionally, the administration tells the speaker about its plans a day or two before they become public. This time, it gave her nearly two weeks’ warning.

“We are working with the Council on both the seniors and the budget to give them as much planning time and advance notice as possible,” Mr. Loeser said.

But the administration’s actions have inflamed Ms. Quinn and her colleagues. Several days ago, the speaker learned that the Bloomberg administration would resume a push to bring corporate-style accountability measures to the city’s network of programs for the elderly, to improve services and increase the number of people using them. Council members are especially outraged by the mayor’s plan to centralize up to $20 million in financing for senior centers across the city. The council members say that would minimize their influence over the process.

Two lawmakers who voted for Mr. Bloomberg’s term limits legislation, James Vacca and Maria del Carmen Arroyo, both of the Bronx, immediately expressed their anger over the plans for the seniors programs to Ms. Quinn. Mr. Vacca said that early this week, he told the speaker’s staff members that “if we don’t fight this, the Council will be the emperor with no clothes.”

“I walked right down the hall to the speaker’s office, and within minutes, I talked to her, and she was upset,” he said.

Ms. Quinn went on the offensive. In a heated meeting on Tuesday, she scolded Linda Gibbs, the deputy mayor for health and human services, for what Ms. Quinn described as an ill-timed, politically sensitive measure, according to people briefed on the meeting.

Ms. Quinn told Ms. Gibbs that she should at the least delay the plan, which would change the way service centers for the elderly seek money from the City Council and the city’s five borough presidents. In the past, the centers have relied on those elected officials to dole out millions of dollars a year in discretionary funds.

In an interview on Thursday, Ms. Quinn said, “I have come to believe this is not the right time for this restructuring,” citing the economic turmoil, which could make the centers even more crucial to city residents.

Ms. Quinn said she had not been given the assurances she needs from the Bloomberg administration that senior centers would not lose financing — or close — under the overhaul now under consideration.

Asked about her tense meeting with Ms. Quinn, Ms. Gibbs said that the speaker “feels comfortable speaking frankly with me.”

Before the term limits vote, Ms. Quinn and her colleagues had sought to postpone the new restrictions, and had assumed that the Bloomberg administration would hold off for many months. Instead, the administration indicated almost immediately after the vote that it wanted to overhaul the system of services for the elderly by July1. “We did the issue of term limits, so what’s the rush now?” Ms. Arroyo said.

Mr. Vacca, whose district in the Bronx has a dozen senior centers, said that “this is the wrong time and the wrong reform.”

“I should say ‘supposed’ reform,” he added, “because I can’t call it that. It will force many centers to close.”

On Thursday, in response to the concerns, administration officials said the city might postpone the changes.

“I think there are a lot of questions about what’s the best process and best timing and whether doing everything at once makes the best sense,” Ms. Gibbs said.

1. October 31, 2008
10:25 am
What a laugh. Did Quinn except to emerge unscathed by helping to stage this NYC coup? If she ever decides to run for mayor, she won’t get my vote.

It is my fervent hope that the city suffers terribly over the next year so that Bloomberg and the entire City Council are booted out of office. Surely, we can do better than having these people as public servants who are only serving themselves.
— Anna Stewart

2. October 31, 2008
11:07 am
This woman have no shame, She could sell her mother for money. And Bloomberg, the Napolean of NYC. They both should go to Alaska.
— Shane

3. October 31, 2008
11:48 am
as i recall it goes something like…………………………………………… “reap what you sow”
recall quinn now bloomberg later…………
— Michael Patrick

4. October 31, 2008
11:56 am
Mike is trying to ram this thing through so that he can quickly recoup some of the political capital he lost during the term limits battle. He’ll wring every penny of that capital out of the Council’s pockets. He wants to show the homeowners whose taxes he’s about to jack that they’re not the only ones bearing the tax burden - sick, elderly people will have to make sacrifices too. He should have quit while he was ahead - without 9/11 fear and Republican backing he cannot win a third term. He should have asked Ross Perot if money along without party backing can win an election.
— gw

5. October 31, 2008
12:25 pm
I cannot believe the gullibility of the NY Times on this story. The idea that tensions are rising between the Mayor and Quinn and the Council is more strident after the term limits vote is a complete and fabricated Bloomberg/Quinn story. Notice that the Council members quoted in today’s story: Fidler, Vacca, and of course Mr. Sellout Yassky — have all been ensnared in this mess and accused by their constituents and wilting under pressure from the Mayor and the Speaker.
— Meredith Shlosky

6. October 31, 2008
12:40 pm
Those who were willing to excuse the Mayor’s trampling of term limits (you can always vote him out excuse - but actually just against him, not for a rightfully chosen alternative candidate) can begin to see the cracks in the leadership now. Will he have to try to consolidate and recoup with more draconian measures? Perhaps his assurance to Christine and city council members about voters’ short memories is a dismissive misreading of how strong New Yorkers feel about having their vote in the two referendums overturned by 29 council members who are supposed to represent them.
— CM

7. October 31, 2008
12:55 pm
From the front lines of the newly declared war on the New York City’s frailest and oldest, be assured the elderly will gratefully accept any help they can get, even from the pols who disenfranchised them on the term limits issue.

The Mayor’s reforms of senior serivices is an ill-disguised
ploy to cut services and costs associated with an already
dysfunctional agency.

Caregivers of the elderly will now have to rely on the kindness of stranger because–clearly–there is no one at City Hall who gives a hoot.

all grown up
— patricia

8. October 31, 2008
1:11 pm
The mayor deserves all the problems the Council can heap on him, and the same holds true for Ms. Quinn. You cannot change the vote of the people unilaterally to suit your own needs without reaping the whirlwind.
— Paul, White Plains conservative

9. October 31, 2008
1:56 pm
Meredith Shlosky is right on . There is no way that he is closing senior centers, exactly what the plan intends, while running for relection. This fabricated story helps both bloomberg and quinn -who need each other even more after the term limit vote. Quinn looks as if she is acquiescing to the wants of her members, while appearing FINALLY, to stand up the mayor, which will help her reelection bid for speaker, all the while this plan was taken off the table the minute the vote went through. And the media continues to be asleep at the wheel! Terrible job by the Times not catch this.
— Wilber McDonald

10. October 31, 2008
3:27 pm
Who is going to run against Ms. Quinn?

Almost anybody else deservies our support.

What does State Senator Tom Duane think of Ms. Quinn’s status as a Bloomberg sycophant? Will he support her re-election or will he support a New Yorker?
— Vir Gules

11. October 31, 2008
5:33 pm
The evening after the council vote, I wrote a nice check to Anthony Weiner’s campaign. I then photocopied it and sent that photocopy to Melinda Katz, my local representative, with a note about how disappointed I am with her.

I’m now operating on their level. :)
-Jon S.

From Betsy Combier:
I agree with the comments made by readers. I do not believe for one second that newspapers would all of a sudden describe politicians who went against 89% of the public and voted in Mayor Bloomberg's plan to extend term limits as fighting Bloomberg now, without Bloomberg's public relations team giving their ok. Expect many articles in the near future supporting the "good works" of the VATLPR ("Voted Against Term Limits and Public Referendum")politicians in town.

Remember congestion pricing? Christine Quinn worked hard for Mayor Bloomberg:

New York City Mayor Bloomberg Praises Passage Of Congestion Pricing Legislation

March 31, 2008 -- The following are the New York City Mayor's remarks as delivered.

"Madam Speaker, thank you. You left one person off the list that deserves thanks and that is you because I think what is clear here is that Speaker Quinn's principled leadership throughout the Council's deliberations on congestion pricing shows this time, as it has in previous times, that she cares about the city and the interests of the city come first with her.
It is not easy to corral a lot of people; it's not easy to tackle some of the controversial issues. But Christine Quinn really did stand up and, with the power of persuasion and the arguments that we all know make a lot of sense here, she managed to get 30 votes when I think most people did not expect this to pass.

"Earlier today, as you know, we were up at Yankee Stadium. She was there expecting to have a wonderful day. And people said, 'Oh, it's raining,' but I think it's fair to say that the sun is shining on New York City's future today. The Council has now approved the congestion pricing plan that is embodied in the amended bill that Governor David Paterson is submitting to the Legislature. And as she said, it is now completely clear that congestion pricing has the strong backing of the people of New York City.

"It has the support of both sides of City Hall, of borough presidents, and of Assembly members, State Senators, and members of Congress representing us in Albany and in Washington. It has the support of New York City's organized labor leaders, who today strongly urged quick action on congestion pricing. It has the endorsement of business groups and newspaper editorial pages across the state who have urged Albany to enact this piece of legislation which will give us $354 million in federal money and a recurring, dependable source of funds to work on mass transit improvements which we sorely need in this city. And also to improve the quality of air that we and our children are breathing and to help unclog a city that is really getting stifled by the inability to get across town in the business day from one side to the other.

"Environmental and transportation advocates have long supported congestion pricing, as you know, and the amendments that have been added to this bill significantly strengthen it. They resolve several major concerns that have been expressed about making congestion pricing fair and effective. And now I am increasingly confident that State leaders will do what's right for New York City's future and promptly enact Governor David Paterson's bill.

"If they do, commuters in our city will be able to benefit immediately from mass transit improvements that you will see literally within months. And we've also created then the ability to go ahead and work on some of the long-term projects like the Second Avenue Subway.

"And so this evening's historic vote by the Council really is something that they all deserve congratulations, all of those who voted for it. I think everybody in this city either believes today or will come to believe that this is the right thing to do for New York City and I just wanted to personally applaud those who had the courage to stand up and do what was right, starting with the Speaker and all of her members. So thank you very much."

Source: New York City Mayor

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