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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Politics, Term Limits, and The 3 Castes in New York City

Tom Golisano,(pictured at right) a billionaire, has entered the fight about term limits and his position is: no extension, people need to be heard.

Is Mr. Golisano running for office again?

Limits By Caste
Room Eight, posted by Larry Littlefield, Tue, 10/21/2008 - 8:31pm

You have three castes in New York: the executive caste, the political caste, and the serfs. The executive caste rides around in taxis and black cars, or drives their own luxury cars to paid-for corporate parking spaces, lives in the wealthier parts of Manhattan or the more affluent suburbs, and sends its children to private or suburban schools. Its capital gain and investment income is taxed at favorable rates, but this caste nonetheless pays much of the city’s taxes. The political caste drives its own or city cars to public parking spaces reserved for it by placard, receives much its pay in tax-advantaged retirement income and employer-financed health care, lives in the middle-caste suburbs (even if required to live within the city) or in a limited number of suburban-type city neighborhoods, and sends its children to suburban or “special” city public schools. To the extent that in the past there were special “middle income” housing deals on offer, such as Mitchell-Lamas, the political caste got them.
It seems that both the political caste and the executive caste are in favor of extending, in fact repealing, term limits. And based on the polls, the serfs are not.

All the newspapers are for term limit extension (as a first step), and so are most of the unions. I suspect that even those members of the City Council and unions that have come out against the term limit extension are actually for it, but have make a PR decision to say otherwise, giving democracy and air kiss. The city’s top executives pushed for repeal, and the former patron saint of term limits ditched it in favor of having one of his own in the Mayor’s office. All these interests are, in reality, fine with the lack of competitive elections (though they say otherwise) as long as their privileges and prerogatives are protected in bad fiscal times and expanded in good fiscal times. It is the serfs are against extending term limits, no matter what their newspapers and unions and employers say. They know that the only real elections are for open seats, and that real elections are the only defense they have against a worse and worse deal.

The political caste, through labor unions and other organizations such as the Greater New York Hospital Association, controls the City Council and State Legislature, which provide it with favors at everyone else’s expense, leading to diminished public services despite high taxes. Among their clients are those public employees who are either poor performers and do not earn their pay, are retired, or about to retire; senior citizens whose children and grandchildren live elsewhere and who don’t care about those living there; and those who use their special connections and insider information to get the best of what limited public services and facilities are available, privatizing them in effect. Some clients of the political caste score with public contracts rather than public employment, though it is more common for clients of the executive caste. At the core of the political caste are the perpetual incumbents in legislative offices and those without administrative responsibilities (ie. borough presidents), their much-larger-than average staffs, along with certain agencies and departments given over to them – such as part of the judiciary.

The executive caste, which does not require public services, is mostly interested in influencing elections for executive positions such as Mayor and Governor, in part through the control of the media, in part by threatening to leave town. Among its clients are firms seeking special tax breaks, developers seeking exceptions to land use rules for development sites bought cheap as a result of those rules, and wealthy people looking to access public funds for the non-profits they see as their legacy. I guess one could say that the political caste attempts to seize public space for itself to use for parking, while the executive caste tries to do the same to make money. But the executive caste makes most of its money by tricking people into getting ripped off in the marketplace, rather than having the tax collectors seize their money and give it to them, which is the political caste MO. So the executive caste is most concerned with preventing regulations that would stop it from ripping off the serfs.

The political caste is in favor of extending term limits to preserve the jobs of those in and affiliated with the City Council, and to eliminate a possible source of real elections for state legislature. The executive caste wants to continue to have one its own as Mayor, rather than risking a shift to a member of the political caste.

The serfs include the unorganized working caste, younger public employees and other union members on the wrong end of the repeated cycle of “screw the newbie, flee to Florida” contracts, young college graduates trapped in “freelance” jobs without benefits, immigrants, anyone who starts a small or new business in New York, everyone else really. They ride around by subway or walk, or if they drive have to compete for scarce legal spaces, often lack health insurance and generally lack pensions. They are neither rich enough to live well without public services nor have enough connections to ensure privileged access to them when good ones are in short supply. Parochial schools have been a lifeboat for some of the serfs, but it is sinking. They get lots of parking tickets, and their wage and (worse) self-employment income is highly taxed, though in the latter case some fight back by breaking the law and accepting unreported payments in cash.

The executive caste can squeeze the serfs in the workplace, providing jobs on a take-it-or-leave it basis for a little less, in wages and benefits, each year. The political caste provides public services and benefits to the serfs on a take-it-or-leave it bases, somewhat less for somewhat higher taxes each year. The executive caste has captured a soaring share of the nation’s income. The political caste tends to have its income automatically adjusted upward for inflation each year by law. Both the political caste and the executive caste demand more and more from the serfs at a lower and lower price in the marketplace, because they can take their business elsewhere.

The term limit extension issue shows the extent to which both the political caste and the executive caste are the same sort of people – self-contained groups with an excess sense of entitlement. The use of the word caste rather than class is intentional. More and more the division between those in control of social institutions and using them primarily for their own benefit, and those forced to take what they can get, is becoming fixed. The reduction to elimination of competitive elections is one way this is happening. That is why most New Yorkers were in favor of term limits, and oppose their step-by-step repeal.

The serfs are a diverse group, with varying levels of education and income and different occupations. Not all realize they are the serfs. And some believe that votes on Election Day actually matter, even in non-swing states for offices other than President. The vote to over-ride the serfs’ votes and begin the step-by-step repeal of term limits might wake a few of them up.

Some Kind Of Show
by Ben McGrath October 27, 2008, New Yorker magazine
(picture at right: Ronald Lauder, Mayor Bloomberg, Ralph Nader)

Ralph Nader came to Cooper Union last week, railing against the corporate “fat cats” and their political allies for continuing to subvert democracy with self-serving back-room deals. “They’re going to throw this city into a very serious recession,” he said, speaking to a crowd of several hundred. “They’re going to deplete tax revenues.” He is running for President, again, but his appearance could have been mistaken for a cameo in the surprise City Hall production that we’ll call “Mayor Richie Rich and the Cosmetics”—to borrow from the nickname that a West Sider named Erik Jacobs gave the Mayor at a public hearing on Thursday—starring Michael Bloomberg and Ronald S. Lauder. One of Nader’s opening acts, the singer Nellie McKay, acknowledged as much when she introduced her third and final number by saying, “If I were mayor, I wouldn’t do three songs, because I’d have term limits.”

So Bloomberg wants to remain in office, having forgone the chance to join Nader as an independent Presidential candidate. He sees Lauder, who reportedly spent four million dollars of his Estée Lauder makeup fortune lobbying for term-limits referenda in 1993 and 1996, as the chief obstacle, and offers him a deal: a spot on a future charter- revision commission, which would be welcome to undo any damages to democratic precedent, in exchange for his support now, in this financial crisis, in extending the limits by four years. The City Council, whose members stand to benefit from the same extension, agrees to bring the matter to a vote. Enter Anthony Weiner—congressman, erstwhile front-runner in the 2009 mayoral race, and goalie for a middling men’s-league ice-hockey team—as a kind of municipal Nader, determined to defend the democratic process from conspiring billionaires, the Mighty Corporate Ducks.

During a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, Weiner said, “We already have an investigation under way of the deal with Ron Lauder,” and noted the irony of the Mayor’s presence in California, where, alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger, he stumped for a proposition that would prevent that state legislature from redrawing its districts without civilian oversight. “So he’s a hypocrite,” Adam Lisberg, of the Daily News, said, speaking for many New Yorkers who would probably prefer that Bloomberg be given a throne. “So what?”

The billionaire leads, in any event, were not among the hundreds of New Yorkers who turned up at the Council chambers on Thursday and thwarted the best efforts of the Government Operations Committee chairman, Simcha Felder, to prevent “some kind of show” from taking place. First came a parade of political has-beens—Mario Cuomo, Ed Koch, Mark Green—and later a fourteen-year-old member of the Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Singers, who wore a flowery dress and a ribbon in her hair and called Bloomberg the “worst mayor ever,” citing the gentrification that had forced the Trachtenburgs to move from the East Village to Bushwick. “Any monkey can raise taxes—no offense to monkeys—but that does not make you a great mayor,” she added. James Oddo, one of the officially undecided Council members, actually said, “I’ve been burning through seven seasons of DVDs of ‘The West Wing,’ hoping that art can give me a little insight into life,” and, as the proceedings stretched into evening, he suggested ordering seventy-five pizzas for everyone, on Lauder’s tab. Several hours in, one citizen turned to another and said, “You can’t make this stuff up.”

Back at Cooper Union, the theme of the week was reinforced when one of Nader’s deputies took the stage and offered a signed, fortieth-anniversary edition of “Unsafe at Any Speed” to the first audience member willing to pledge the maximum amount of twenty-three hundred dollars, on the spot, to the campaign. “You can put it on a credit card and pay it off over time,” he said, eliciting laughter. “Is there one person able and willing to be a hero tonight?” Finally, a hand went up near the front, to great applause. Then the would-be donor, a man in a beige sports coat, stood and morphed into a meddling tycoon. “One caveat,” he said. “I would like to be able to speak with Mr. Nader for a moment or two and ask him a couple of questions.”

“We can do that,” came the reply, and money married influence. ♦

October 21, 2008 - New Yorkers Tilt Against Third Term For Bloomberg, Quinnipiac University Poll Finds; 87 Percent Say Let Voters Decide In Referendum

By a 51 - 45 percent margin, New York City voters oppose extending the eight-year term limit to 12 years so they can elect Mayor Michael Bloomberg to a third term, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today.

This compares to a similar, but not identical, question in an October 3 survey by the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University poll in which New Yorkers supported 54 - 42 percent extending term limits for four more years of Mayor Bloomberg. That question was asked before the Mayor formally announced that he would ask to extend term limits and seek a third term.

In this latest survey, Democrats oppose extending term limits 53 - 43 percent and independent voters split with 50 percent opposed and 48 percent supporting it. Republicans support the four-year extension 54 - 44 percent. Whites back the idea 56 - 41 percent while black voters oppose it 62 - 35 percent and Hispanic voters oppose it 53 - 42 percent.

New York City voters approve 75 - 20 percent of the job Bloomberg is doing, tying his record, and 59 percent say they "definitely" or "probably' would vote for him if term limits are extended and he is on the ballot next year.

"Opponents of Mayor Bloomberg's plan to extend term limits are winning - narrowly - the battle for the hearts and mind of New Yorkers," said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

"They love Mayor Mike and two weeks ago they were ready to give him a third term, in a hypothetical situation. But now that it's real and other voices are being heard, voters are having second thoughts."

Looking at another term limit question, 50 percent of New Yorkers say changing the rules in the middle of the game is unfair, while 46 percent say Bloomberg deserves four more years to finish his work as Mayor.

Voters support 62 - 29 percent the overall concept of term limits. And in a question where no person is named, they oppose 56 - 36 percent extending term limits from eight years to 12 years for all elected New York City officials.

They also oppose 60 - 31 percent extending term limits so their local City Council member can serve for more years.

By an 89 - 7 percent margin, New York City voters say the issue of term limits should be decided by voters in a referendum, not by an act of the City Council. Even Republican voters prefer a referendum 85 - 11 percent.

If there is a referendum, voters would oppose 52 - 41 percent "extending term limits for four more years for all elected New York City officials, including the Mayor." Results among Democrats, Republicans and independent voters are consistent. White voters say 50 - 44 percent they would vote to extend term limits, while black voters would vote no 60 - 32 percent and Hispanic voters would oppose the extension 56 - 37 percent.

"Voters to City Council: We voted for term limits twice and, if it's going to change, it should be us - not you - who decide it," Carroll said.

Despite the economic collapse and the threat that collapse poses to the city budget, Bloomberg would meet these challenges and have a successful third term, 64 percent of voters say. Another 22 percent say these challenges would overwhelm Bloomberg and damage his record.

"Remember what happened to Mayor Koch and Gov. Cuomo during their third terms? New Yorkers don't think it will happen to Bloomberg. By almost 3-1, they reject the history lesson that third terms are trouble," Carroll said.

"A reelected Mayor Mike will meet the job's challenges, New Yorkers think. Only one in five thinks he'll damage his reputation.

From October 15 - 19, Quinnipiac University surveyed 1,017 New York City registered voters, with a margin of error of +/- 3.1 percentage points.

The Quinnipiac University Poll, directed by Douglas Schwartz, Ph.D., conducts public opinion surveys in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio and nationwide as a public service and for research. For more data or RSS feed -, or call (203) 582-5201.

NYC term-limits extension set for vote Thursday
By SARA KUGLER, Associated Press Writer Sara Kugler, Oct 21, 6:07 pm ET

NEW YORK – Mayor Michael Bloomberg's proposal to extend New York's term-limits law was put on the fast track for a vote Thursday in City Council, even though some members are still undecided about bypassing voters to give themselves and the mayor a chance at third terms.

Opposition to Bloomberg's plan has gained momentum this week, and the failure of council Speaker Christine Quinn to schedule the vote Monday was seen as a sign the bill lacked support. On Tuesday afternoon, the bill was put on the agenda for Thursday's council meeting.

The bill needs 26 votes to pass the 51-member council. The latest count shows 21 have declared they will vote against it, about 17 publicly support it and the rest say they are undecided.

Councilman Bill de Blasio, an outspoken opponent of Bloomberg's effort, said scheduling the vote could be a lobbying tactic by Quinn to persuade some of the undecideds.

"They have no reason to feel confident," he said. "This is going to go right down to the wire."

It was initially believed that the majority of the council would support Bloomberg's bill because it serves them personally by letting them extend their own terms. But opponents have pushed their position with petition drives and poster campaigns in council members' districts.

Bloomberg, a billionaire former CEO of a financial information company, argues that New Yorkers need him to manage the city through the financial crisis, and that it's too late for voters to vote on the bill before the 2009 mayoral race.

Opponents say voters, not the council, should decide changes to the term-limits law. Voters set the current limit of two consecutive terms in a 1993 referendum and reaffirmed it three years later.

Opponents, including some powerful unions, gained the support Monday of politically connected billionaire B. Thomas Golisano, who pledged to buy advertising to hammer home the opposition viewpoint.

If the council knocks down the mayor's bill, Bloomberg said he would not seek to change the law through a voter referendum. Such a vote could be held on Election Day 2009, or earlier through a special election.

Bloomberg said Election Day doesn't work because it would be too confusing to decide term limits and elect a mayor on the same ballot. He said a special election might not survive scrutiny by the Department of Justice, which must approve changes to the city's voting rules.

The mayor has argued that a term limits referendum would likely not receive federal approval because of concerns about low voter turnout, and that it could be tied up in court for years for the same reasons.

But the point of the DOJ's pre-clearance is to ensure minorities have equal access to the polls, and Bloomberg has not explained why a referendum on term limits, whatever the turnout, would be discriminatory.

DOJ Civil Rights Division spokesman Scot Montrey said, "The only way that low voter turnout would be a disqualifier is if it would somehow, by intent or effect, have a disparate impact on one particular group, and I'm not aware of that being the case."

Associated Press writer Devlin Barrett contributed to this story from Washington, D.C.

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