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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Nicholas Kristof Wins The 2009 Bad Journalism Award

Nicholas D. Kristof

Nicholas D. Kristof is a well-known columnist for the New York Times. He has won several awards for his writing.

Thus, there is no excuse for the misleading article that he wrote and that was published in the New York Times on October 15, 2009 called "Democrats and Schools". In his honor I have thought up a new award, The Bad Journalism Award which is, without ceremony, hereby awarded to Nicholas D. Kristof, columnist at the New York Times, for writing an article about a subject he knows nothing about: "the rubberization in NYC of "incompetent" teachers.

When I read the article below written by Mr. Kristof, I thought of alot of "maybe"s:

(1) maybe Mr. Kristof didn't actually write the article but was so busy on doing other things that he simply cut and pasted it off of Steve Brill's published piece, email or pdf;

(2) maybe Mr. Kristof did not want to write the article as he doesn't know anything about the Bloomberg/Klein teacher rubberization process and didn't have any desire to find out what the NYC Rubber Rooms were really about, but he was told he had to write the article;

(3) maybe Mr. Kristof was told, "take Steve Brill's article and add to it, do not research the validity of what he is saying";

(4) maybe Mr. Kristof was told not to read any comments or articles by anyone on the false information written by Mr. Brill in his article on NYC's worst teachers;

(5) maybe Mr. Kristof does not like research, and simply re-prints someone else's article if the author is "politically correct";

(6) maybe Mr. Kristof is tired of writing and wants to retire.

In sum, I really don't know why Mr. Nicholas D. Kristof of the New York Times wrote such a piece as the one below, "Democrats and Schools" which is filled with misleading as well as absolutely wrong - if not defamatory - information. Nonetheless, I give him the 2009 Bad Journalism Award.

As I wrote in a previous post, I know all the teachers who were mentioned in Mr. Brill's article. Not a single one is incompetent. Exactly the opposite is true. All are examples of the Bloomberg/Klein administration's policy of allowing Principals to "cleanse" their schools of people they don't like, or who may speak out and reveal crimes being committed in the school by the administration.

However, Mr. Kristof's worst error is his defamatory statement about "the fifth-grade teacher" as follows:
"A devastating article in The New Yorker by Steven Brill examined how New York City tried to dismiss a fifth-grade teacher for failing to correct student work, follow the curriculum, manage the class or even fill out report cards..."

Mr. Kristof, you repeat the same lies that Mr. Brill published without knowing whether or not this teacher was "guilty" of anything other than grieving the racial/religious discrimination against her by the Principal! Shame on you.

And then you attribute to the arbitrator (Mr. Jay Siegel) a conclusion that has not been reached, due to the fact that there has not yet been closing arguments in this case. Your comment:

"...but an independent observer approved by the union confirmed the allegations and declared the teacher incompetent. The school system’s lawyer put it best: 'These children were abused in stealth'.” Shame, shame, shame on you, Mr. Kristof.

On October 27, 2009 Mr. Siegel will hear closing arguments in this case, and there will be sparks flying if indeed he now declares this teacher guilty of incompetence, and told you or Steve Brill this before he heard the summation and looked at the evidence. This will have serious consequences if what you wrote, Mr. Kristof is correct. Please keep all of your records on who gave you the arbitrator's 'decision' before the closing arguments were heard. I for one want to have this information.

Oh, Mr. Brill - you have won the 2009 Yellow Journalism Award. Congratulations.

Betsy Combier
Editor, NYC Rubber Room Reporter

October 15, 2009
Op-Ed Columnist
Democrats and Schools

The Democratic Party has battled for universal health care this year, and over the decades it has admirably led the fight against poverty — except in the one way that would have the greatest impact.

Good schools constitute a far more potent weapon against poverty than welfare, food stamps or housing subsidies. Yet, cowed by teachers’ unions, Democrats have too often resisted reform and stood by as generations of disadvantaged children have been cemented into an underclass by third-rate schools.

President Obama and his education secretary, Arne Duncan, are trying to change that —and one test for the Democrats will be whether they embrace administration reforms that teachers’ unions are already sniping at.

It’s difficult to improve failing schools when you can’t create alternatives such as charter schools and can’t remove inept or abusive teachers. In New York City, for example, unions ordinarily prevent teachers from being dismissed for incompetence — so the schools must pay failed teachers their full salaries to sit year after year doing nothing in centers called “rubber rooms.”

A devastating article in The New Yorker by Steven Brill (pictured at right) examined how New York City tried to dismiss a fifth-grade teacher for failing to correct student work, follow the curriculum, manage the class or even fill out report cards. The teacher claimed that she was being punished for union activity, but an independent observer approved by the union confirmed the allegations and declared the teacher incompetent. The school system’s lawyer put it best: “These children were abused in stealth.”

The effort to remove the teacher is expected to cost about $400,000, and the outcome is uncertain. In New York City, with its 80,000 teachers, arbiters have removed only two for incompetence alone in the last couple of years. We tolerate failed teachers —and failed arbiters — as long as it’s not our own kids who suffer.

In another case cited by Mr. Brill, the union hailed its defense of a high-school teacher — who had passed out in front of her class, allegedly smelling of alcohol, with even the principal unable to rouse her. The union fought to secure her return to teaching, Mr. Brill wrote, until she passed out again, and her “water bottle” turned out to contain alcohol.

In California, we see the same pathology — as long as the students in question are impoverished and marginalized, with uncomplaining parents, they are allowed to endure the kind of teachers and schools that we would never tolerate for our own kids.

A Los Angeles Times article this year recounted how a teacher rebuked an eighth grader who had been hospitalized for slashing his wrists in a suicide attempt. “Carve deeper next time,” the teacher allegedly advised. He was even said to have added: “You can’t even kill yourself.” A review board blocked the termination of that teacher.

The Los Angeles Times investigation found that it is so expensive to remove teachers that the authorities typically try to do so only in cases of extreme misconduct — not for something as “minor” as incompetence.

Of course, there are many other obstacles to learning: lack of safety, alcohol and narcotics and troubled homes and uninterested parents. But there’s mounting evidence that even in such failing schools, the individual teacher makes a vast difference.

Research has underscored that what matters most in education — more than class size or spending or anything — is access to good teachers. A study found that if black students had four straight years of teachers from the top 25 percent of most effective teachers, the black-white testing gap would vanish in four years.

There are no silver bullets, but researchers are gaining a better sense of what works in education for disadvantaged children: intensive preschool, charter schools with long hours, fewer certification requirements that limit entry to the teaching profession, higher compensation to attract and retain good teachers, objective measurement to see who is effective, more flexibility in removing those who are ineffective.

Unions are wary in part because school administrators can be arbitrary and unfair. Yet there are some signs that the unions are rethinking their positions in very welcome ways. The National Education Association has announced an initiative to improve teaching in high-poverty high schools, and the American Federation of Teachers is experimenting with teacher evaluation that includes student performance data.

Neither initiative reflects sufficient urgency. But let’s hope this is a new beginning. I’m hoping the unions will come round and cooperate with evidence-based reforms, using their political clout to push to raise teachers’ salaries rather than to protect ineffective teachers.

This is the central front in the war on poverty, the civil rights issue of our time. Half a century after Brown v. Board of Education, isn’t it time to end our “separate but equal” school systems?

Norm Scott weighs in on Kristof's lack of journalistic integrity.

See also:
The Baltimore Sun Falls Victim To The Brill/Klein Propaganda

Chicago Teachers File Racial Discrimination Suit Against Obama Administration's School “Turnaround” Plan

by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

"The fired teachers are disproportionately African American, and the newly hired teachers are not.”


In May, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan declared the Obama administration's intent to close and “turn around” 5,000 "underperforming” public schools in poorer neighborhoods across the country. Duncan's last job was CEO of Chicago's public schools where he shut down dozens of neighborhood schools, practically all in lower income areas, and dismissed thousands of committed and experienced teachers, the vast majority of them African American women.

When the Chicago Teachers Union made no effort to reach out to parents, students or their communities, refused to organize teachers to oppose the wave of school shutdowns and privatizations, teachers organized what they call CORE, the Coalition of Rank & File Educators. CORE has now filed suit against the Chicago Board of Education, charging that the mass dismissal of hundreds of mostly black veteran teachers and their replacement with uncertified and generally underqualified white teachers is racially discriminatory.

“We looked at the number of teachers who lost their jobs in these 'school turnarounds,'” CORE research director Carol Caref told BAR, “and we looked at the number of African American teachers who were employed in those same schools or in the charter schools which replaced them and there was a huge discrepancy which couldn't be accounted for by chance. The fired teachers are disproportionately African American, and the newly hired teachers are not.”

“Even if it's inadvertently discriminatory, it's still discriminatory because the majority of the teachers wiped out in these turnarounds are African American,” offered Chicago teacher Wanda Evans. The fired veteran teachers, CORE also maintains, are being replaced by a much younger, much whiter and much less experienced corps of instructors graduated from a handful of accelerated programs funded by Boeing, the Bill and Melinda Gates, Bradley, Walton Family, Rockerfeller and other foundations, and favored by City Hall and the Commercial Club. “The new teachers are paid half or less what experienced teachers with advanced degrees were making."

"The fired veteran teachers are being replaced by a much younger, much whiter and much less experienced corps of instructors."

They are forced to work longer hours. They are reluctant to stand up for themselves or their students and tend to be fearful of participating in union and other activities. A high percentage of them burn out or are not asked to stick around after their first year,” according to Jackson Potter, another CORE teacher.

“The young, mostly white replacement teachers are de-skilled temp workers, teaching test-preparation skills. They are neither connected nor committed to the communities their students come from,” added Evans.

The prospect that Chicago's disastrous educational policies are about to go national is frightening, say the teachers BAR talked to. “We all hoped that Obama would not fall for this okie-doke of high-stakes testing, No Child Left Behind, of demonizing teachers and dismantling public education,” Ms. Evans continued. “But he (Arne Duncan) was the president's basketball buddy. It was a slap in the face locally to even have a CEO rather than an educator in charge of our schools here, and a slap in the face for us all nationally to have such a terribly unqualified person as Secretary of Education. Mr. Duncan has not taught in any classroom a single hour, and is in fact not qualified to teach anyplace.”reform

The Chicago-style “school turnaround” model does indeed owe more to the culture of corporate asset stripping and raiding than it does to any known strategy for educational improvement. In school “turnaround” operations, every teacher, food service worker, building engineer and custodial staff person is fired and the slate wiped clean. Experienced teachers who have invested their careers in urban education and are not rehired are, in the board's terminology “honorably terminated”, with no specific reason given for their dismissal. “Show me a hospital, no matter how bad it's doing,” asked one CORE teacher, “where you walk in and fire every doctor, every nurse, every administrator and tech without bothering to professionally evaluate them? It just sounds foolish. Why does anybody imagine this would help improve a school?”

Wanda Evans, a veteran former teacher at Chicago's Orr High School saw “a solid four restructuring processes in ten years. In ten of the eleven years I taught at Orr there were six principals. In the last year there were three principals.” The next to last, she relates was a 27 year old accountant who graduated from some principals training program favored by City Hall. Like Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan, he had no classroom teaching experience. But in corporate-raider fashion he didn't need it. “He was their cleanup man. He came in to downsize departments, fire people, to cut programs, and clean the books,” Lewis explained. Later that school year City Hall replaced him with still another closeout principal who would spend the remaining money on showy projects, frequent field trips, T-shirts, special events and other nonsense that had little or nothing to do with instruction in the classroom but were heralded in the corporate media as good faith efforts to correct the situation at the troubled high school.

"In school 'turnaround' operations, every teacher, food service worker, building engineer and custodial staff person is fired and the slate wiped clean."

During the ten years of corporate school-busting reform, Orr was broken up into four smaller schools, only one of which remains today. That was a military academy, whose director took his institution off campus so as to escape the stigma of the parent high school's corporate-engineered “failure.” And as it happens, turning public high schools and even middle schools over to the military was another hallmark of the Duncan regime in Chicago.

Ruled for more than 40 of the last 55 years by two men named Richard Daley, Chicago has given the nation dubious education reforms before this. The New Orleans model, in which the entire public school workforce was fired at one stroke immediately after Katrina, and nearly all the city's public schools replaced with charter schools was implemented by Arne Duncan's predecessor at the Chicago Board of Education, Paul Vallas. Like Duncan, whose longest period of employment before the Chicago Public Schools was as a professional basketball player, Vallas was no educator either. Vallas was an accountant. And as in New Orleans, the closing of neighborhood public schools in Chicago and their wholesale replacement with charter and other special schools has destabilized vast residential areas of the city and greatly contributed to gentrification.

CORE teachers pointed out that Chicago still has laws on the books enabling elected councils of parents to veto the contracts of principals and certain portions of individual school budgets. The turnaround policies allow authorities to strip these last vestiges of democratic control over educational outcomes from those who ought to be among the primary stakeholders -- parents.

The widening craters of collateral damage caused by these misguided policies extend well beyond the affected students, families and their immediate neighborhoods, into the broader communities that teachers live in. These experienced black teachers were part of the bedrock of stable African American communities. Up till now, they could buy homes, raise their families, send their own children to college and play active roles in their churches, sororities and a wide variety of local and civic affairs. Dispersing and dispossessing hundreds of such teachers in Chicago, and tens of thousands nationally of their livelihoods and agency in mid-career will be a severe blow to African American communities across the country. For the nation's first black president - a former community organizer at that - to embrace such a socially destructive policy is puzzling indeed.

"These experienced black teachers were part of the bedrock of stable African American communities."

But just as bad policies and bad examples come from Chicago, so do good ones. “CORE has only been in existence a year. In 2008 we were only able to get a single neighborhood pubic school off the 'turnaround' list,” Potter told us. “This year we have stopped the turnarounds at six schools. We've done what the Chicago Teachers Union never did, reaching out and building partnerships between teachers and community organizations and parents and students.” In 2010 CORE may field a slate of candidates in the union elections in an effort to reclaim the union for its members.

“If I could get a few minutes of the president's time,” Carol Caref told us, “I'd tell him that public education and quality neighborhood public schools are the foundations of stable, livable communities. Turning schools into test-prep centers doesn't improve the quality of education. Neither does repeating the corporate propaganda about our schools being 'dropout factories,' as Arne Duncan does. What works are resources, stability, parent and community involvement and smaller class sizes. Schools in wealthier neighborhoods have all these things. Children and families everywhere deserve them.”

Effective teaching, as one CORE teacher put it, is a performance art. You need commitment, connection and experience to pull it off, not hysteria, insecurity, mass firings and more tests. Somebody, they say, needs to tell President Obama.

Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report and based in Atlanta. He can be reached at bruce.dixon(at)

Obama Ordering States to Close 5,000 'Failing' Schools!... Chicago Lies Go National
by George Schmidt

The corporate narrative that public schools in minority neighborhoods are "failing" and must be replaced by unaccountable but often highly profitable "charter schools" is an inheritance from the Bush era that the Obama administration intends to continue and intensify. Despite any proof of improved educational outcomes, and contrary to the democratic wishes of the American people the push to discredit and privatize public education appears to be a hallmark of the Obama era.


This article was originally published in the print edition of Substance, May 2009.

Using language that most of the United States has not yet heard, but which will become familiar to democratically elected school boards from rural Maine to the Mexican border south of San Diego and El Paso, President Barack Obama's Secretary of Education, former Chicago schools Chief Executive Officer Arne Duncan, launched a national campaign in May 2009 to privatize between five and ten percent of the remaining public schools in the USA.
Under the headline "Obama Wants to See 5,000 Failing Schools Close," Associated Press reporter Libby Quaid released a three-paragraph story on May 11 that rocked the nation.
"Barack Obama wants to see 5,000 failing schools close and reopen with new principals and teachers over the next five years," the AP reported.
"Education Secretary Arne Duncan says kids have only one shot at a good education. He told The Associated Press on Monday that chronically underperforming schools need a new start," the story went on.
STOP: As Chicagoans know, and the rest of the USA is about to learn, when a Chicago politicians talks about "underperforming" schools, he is slipping into that weasel wording that Chicago came to know from Arne Duncan. Just as he did in Chicago, Duncan talked about "underperforming" schools — not "failing" ones. Why? Because Duncan wanted to obfuscate, not illuminate, the complex issues arising from the use of biased so-called "standardized" tests to rank and sort schools and children. By using terms out of the corporate world — "underperforming" stocks, for example, should probably be dumped from your "portfoliio" — Duncan evades reality, rather than illuminates it. And that's how Chicago's corporate school reform wants it. "The administration wants to spend $5 billion to facilitate school turnarounds," the AP article went on. "[This] could translate to $1 billion for every school that is closed and reopened. Much of the money is already approved: The federal school turnaround program gets about $500 million a year, and the stimulus legislation boosted funding to $3.5 billion."
Among other things, Arne Duncan refuses to say how any district will know how to proclaim "underperformance." Just as it proved impossible in Chicago, so it will be across the USA.
But behind the rhetorical smokescreen typical of corporate Chicago's school reform jargon, Duncan is wielding the biggest stick in the history of American public education: the second wave of federal "stimulus" money. The Obama administration intends to force the entire country to begin the massive privatization of public education or face the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in federal money.
Of course, the feds won't be forcing any policy on anyone: "The various school districts themselves would have to actually order schools closed," the AP article concluded.

George Schmidt is a longtime Chicago organizer and activist on education issues who taught in that city's public schools for 26 years. As a former candidate for presidency of Chicago's 28,000 member teacher union he received 40% of the vote. He is a founder of Substance News, an invaluable resource for parents and educators.

The Chicago Schools Blog

Delivering Sizzling Teaching Moments

Bergen Evans, center, 1950

Every once in a while I read an article that brings me back to my days as a student, in elementary school, college, and graduate school. I remember teachers who made a difference to me, like Bergen Evans at Northwestern. His courses were held in a large auditorium, and I was lucky enough to be one of the 300 students who chose his class in my junior year. I decided to choose English as a minor (I majored in Child Psychology), and became fascinated with the use of words as images.

Anyway, I thought of Dr. Evans when I read the article below, and thought I would share it. As you read it, consider the new directives of the New York City Board of Education, and whether or not teachable moments similar to the one detailed below is possible in the classrooms of today.

Betsy Combier

Published: October 21, 2009
Teaching Secrets: How to Deliver Instruction That Sizzles
By Elizabeth Stein, Teacher Magazine

There’s a funny scene in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”—one of my all-time favorite movie moments. The teacher, played by Ben Stein (no relation), bulldozes through a lesson, oblivious to the fact that his students are bored out of their minds. From time to time, he poses a question to a classroom full of blank-faced teenagers. Nothing. Then, the immortal line: “Anyone? Anyone?”

I learned one of my most valuable lessons about teaching when I was 10 years old—only I didn’t realize it until decades later. Mr. Schulman, my 5th grade teacher, was reading from our social studies textbook. He sat on the edge of his desk in a comfortable pose, one leg anchored on the ground, while the other swayed hypnotically. Smack in the middle of this lesson, he stopped talking. As he glanced around the room, about half the class, including me, sat up straight. We folded our hands on our desks and waited for him to either continue or to reprimand the disengaged.

But he didn’t continue. And he didn’t reprimand. Instead, Mr. Schulman smiled and said, “There’s no use continuing if most of the class is falling asleep.” Rather than resume his reading, he decided to take a few minutes to review the key points and share his personal stories and thoughts about the topic. His manner was relaxed and engaging, and each student listened with intent. The class perked up.

Inside this little snippet of school-girl history lies the secret to effective lesson planning and instructional delivery. I call it: “the student perspective factor”—a teacher’s awareness of her students’ state-of-mind, individually and collectively, throughout the lesson. Mr. Schulman was aware, and when the opportunity and need for greater engagement arrived, he was ready.

Effective lessons incorporate meaningful objectives, procedures and assessments, and weave in standards and expectations. We’ve learned to write these lessons according to a specific format. But it’s within the spaces of this instructional fabric that we find the intangible student-perspective factor. Effective teachers develop a keen awareness of this dynamic and know how to work with it as the lesson plan unfolds.

How to Put Your Awareness to Work

We often hear of the “teachable moment.” The difference with this idea, however, is that we don’t wait for random opportunities to increase student connectedness. We anticipate and encourage these moments.

Here are several ways I recognize, manage, and respond to the student-perspective factor.

• Overplan—When I plan, I jot down related ideas when they come to mind. This not only saves time during future lesson planning; these linked ideas can also be pulled from my “bag of tricks” opportunistically.

• Make the topic come alive—Get past textbooks, contrived teacher manuals, and dull drill. Make the topic jump off the page with examples and stories sure to energize your age group. Allow focused excitement to take over as facts are learned.

• Get personal—Kids love to know us as “real people.” Share personal thoughts and experiences that connect to the topic being discussed.

• Connect to real life—Make time for students to evaluate the lesson by thinking about any personal context it may have. They can compare and contrast elements of the topic to their lives and current events. Make it relevant.

• Active engagement—Get the kids involved. Avoid the “Pez dispenser” teacher-directed mode of lesson delivery. Provide opportunities for students to make sense of the information—actively. This can be accomplished through cooperative-learning activities and effective questioning techniques that nudge them to engage with the material.

• Keep your “withitness” level set on high—Notice their expressions, body language, and interest level. Make eye contact, use your voice, and walk around the room. Turn up the voltage when heads begin to nod. Keep them reading, writing, listening, and speaking in a variety of ways for optimal learning.

• Specific feedback—Acknowledge each student as an individual. Provide specific feedback that encourages students to self-monitor their learning. Saying something as simple as, “Jesse, I noticed that you…” or, “Brian, what made you think that?” keeps them alert to the learning process. Sometimes your proximity to them and a quick smile is all that’s needed. You can circulate around the room during a think-pair-share session. Listen in and make each student feel like a valued member of the learning process.

I weave in the student-perspective factor naturally, yet strategically, throughout my daily lessons. As I plan lessons, my written objectives answer three questions: What will students be learning? What will they be doing? How will I know when I have taught it and they have learned it?

I always present essential questions because it becomes a focal point for students’ attention and understanding—and it keeps me on track. The best essential questions are open-ended with plenty of room for a variety of correct answers and lively discussions. The most successful lessons conclude with a room filled with students who are excited to learn more.

At the planning stage, the student-perspective factor can be sensed but not seen. It presents itself as the lesson unfolds during actual teaching moments. Teachers gain the student perspective by observing, evaluating, and caring about what students are thinking and feeling at the start, in the middle, and at the end of the class.

There is a flow to an effective lesson that good teachers can discern. When the flow begins to falter—and sometimes it will—your keen sense of the student-perspective factor will help you restore the rhythm of learning and deliver instruction that sizzles.

How are you incorporating the student-perspective factor into your lessons?

Elizabeth Stein is a special education teacher in the Smithtown Central School District on Long Island, N.Y. She also teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in special education and is currently pursuing National Board certification in the area of literacy.

Mike Bloomberg Outspends Everyone Else In the History of America On His Try at a Third Term

What can be said about Mike Bloomberg's spending on his campaign?

We - the general public - are to blame. We elect and re-elect politicians who are not putting the public interest first (see the list of City Council members who voted against the public on the third term issue, below). Think about this very undemocratic move of Mike Bloomberg and his supporters when you go to the voting booth on November 3. Vote NO to the continued sale of NYC public offices. Your vote is important.

Bloomberg Sets Record for His Own Spending on Elections

Michael R. Bloomberg, the Wall Street mogul whose fortune catapulted him into New York’s City Hall, has set another staggering financial record: He has now spent more of his own money than any other individual in United States history in the pursuit of public office.

Newly released campaign records show the mayor, as of Friday, had spent $85 million on his latest re-election campaign, and is on pace to spend between $110 million and $140 million before the election on Nov. 3.

That means Mr. Bloomberg, in his three bids for mayor, will have easily burned through more than $250 million — the equivalent of what Warner Brothers spent on the latest Harry Potter movie.

The sum easily surpasses what other titans of business have spent to seek state or federal office. New Jersey’s Jon S. Corzine has plunked down a total of $130 million in two races for governor and one for United States Senate. Steve Forbes poured $114 million into his two bids for president. And Ross Perot spent $65 million in his quest for the White House in 1992 and $10 million four years later.

“I have never seen anything like this — it’s off the charts,” said Jennifer A. Steen, a lecturer in political science at Yale who has studied self-financed candidates for the last decade. “He’s in a league of his own.”

Mr. Bloomberg has used his wealth, estimated at $16 billion, to establish what appears to be insurmountable financial dominance in the race.

He has spent at least 14 times what his Democratic rival in the race, William C. Thompson Jr., has: $6 million. A Thompson campaign spokeswoman on Friday called the mayor’s spending “obscene.”

Since late September, the pace of Mr. Bloomberg’s spending has drastically accelerated: He is now sending nearly $1 million a day into the city’s economy. The bulk of the money is devoted to advertising on television, radio and the Web, but much of it bankrol ls a first-class approach to parties, snacks and travel.

The campaign has spent $322,521 on food, $293,953 on transportation, $176,066 on furniture and $39,858 on parking.

His lavish spending has confounded political consultants and campaign finance experts, who said that his popularity with New Yorkers, and his built-in advantages as a two-term incumbent, should be sufficient to win him re-election.

“The main thing money does is allow you to get name recognition,” said Meredith McGehee, policy director of the Campaign Legal Center, a watchdog group in Washington. “But in this case, with Bloomberg, because he’s so well known, it’s more like, he can do it, so why not?”

With more than 100 employees, his campaign now has a staff larger than 97 percent of all businesses in New York City. And his political operation has become a one-man economic stimulus program, buying $8,892 worth of pizza from Goodfellas Brick Oven Pizza on Staten Island and in the Bronx. The company had suffered a big drop in business since the start of the recession.

“It’s a huge help,” said Marc Cosentino, one of the owners of Goodfellas. “They don’t have to economize like everyone else.”

Squier Knapp Dunn, the media company responsible for the mayor’s television ads, has taken in $48,313,776. While most of that money pays for TV time, media companies typically receive fees of about 15 percent.

“A number of firms are practically living off of this,” said Steve Malanga, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

The spending has drawn howls of protest from good-government groups and advocates of campaign finance reform. In interviews, several said, angrily, that the mayor’s decisions to rewrite New York City’s term limits law and then spend wildly to secure re-election, have undermined democratic principles.

“Whether Bloomberg wins or loses, the toxic combination of mega-spending and crass use of his office to bypass the voters on term limits will always be a stain on his mayoralty,” said Gene Russianoff, staff attorney for the New York Public Interest Research Group.

“These twin assaults on municipal democracy will undermine his political clout in a third term and sadly fuel public skepticism about elections and elected officials,” Mr. Russianoff said.

A spokesman for Mr. Bloomberg’s campaign, Howard Wolfson, defended the spending, saying, “Voters in this race have a choice between one candidate who is independent and doesn’t take a dime from special interests and another who practices politics as usual.”

Mr. Thompson, a Democrat, has had the unenviable task of trying to raise money in the middle of a deep recession, when many voters already assume that Mr. Bloomberg will prevail. Their lack of enthusiasm for Mr. Thompson’s candidacy was reflected in his latest campaign finance disclosure, which showed he had raised $270,000 over the last three weeks.

While donations came in at a much brisker pace than in the previous three-week reporting period, when he raised $114,000, that is unlikely to make a dent in Mr. Bloomberg’s advantage. Factoring in public matching funds, Mr. Thompson will have $3 million in the final week and a half of the race.

“This is a clear indication that the momentum of the mayoral race continues to shift towards Bill Thompson,” said Mike Murphy, a spokesman for the Thompson campaign.

But Mr. Thompson’s fund-raising still badly trails that of the two last Democrats who lost to Mr. Bloomberg: the former public advocate, Mark Green, and Fernando Ferrer, the former Bronx borough president.

The newly released records show that Mr. Bloomberg is handsomely rewarding top aides who take leaves from their City Hall posts to join the campaign. His first deputy mayor, Patricia E. Harris, is earning about $28,000 a month. It is a healthy raise: At City Hall, she made about $21,000 a month.

The mayor also typically showers the aides with additional bonuses after Election Day.

All that money shows how far Mr. Bloomberg has come, wealth-wise. His campaign spending this year will nearly equal what his boyhood hometown of Medford, Mass., population 55,000, devotes to its annual budget.

How the Money Was Spent

October 23, 2008, 2:10 pm
Council Votes, 29 to 22, to Extend Term Limits
By Sewell Chan AND Jonathan P. Hicks, CITY ROOM

The City Council speaker, Christine C. Quinn, was congratulated by two supporters, Councilmen Lewis A. Fidler of Brooklyn, left, and Larry B. Seabrook of the Bronx, after the vote. (Photos: James Estrin/The New York Times)

Updated, 7:30 p.m. | After a spirited, emotional and at times raucous debate, the New York City Council voted, 29 to 22, on Thursday afternoon to extend term limits, allowing Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg to seek re-election next year and undoing the result of two voter referendums that had imposed a limit of two four-year terms.

The vote was a major victory for Mayor Bloomberg — a billionaire and lifelong Democrat who was elected mayor as a Republican in 2001, won re-election in 2005, became an independent last year, and decided just weeks ago that he wished to seek a third term for himself in 2009 — and for the Council’s speaker, Christine C. Quinn. But the intense acrimony surrounding the decision left a sharply divided Council and could ultimately damage the mayor’s popularity.

The new law, which earlier on Thursday sailed through a committee vote, limits elected officials to three consecutive terms and applies to all of the city’s elected officials. It has already begun to upend municipal politics, reshaping the dynamics of next year’s races.

Of the Council’s 51 members, 35 would have been barred by term limits from seeking re-election next year. On Thursday, 23 of those members voted in favor of extending term limits, and 12 voted against.

The Council has 48 Democrats and three Republicans. All three Republicans — James S. Oddo and Vincent M. Ignizio, of Staten Island, and Anthony Como of Queens — voted no.

Over two days of public hearings lasting 19.5 hours last week, and in the floor debate on Thursday, both sides argued that their position was in the best interests of the people.

Opponents of the bill accused the mayor and his supporters on the Council of flouting the will of the people — as expressed in a 1993 voter initiative that established a limit of two consecutive terms and a 1996 referendum in which voters rejected a Council-led effort to change the limit to three terms. They said that democratic procedure demanded a public vote on the issue, no matter what one thinks of Mr. Bloomberg or term limits.

Supporters of the bill said the dire economic situation confronting the city — and the possibility of multibillion-dollar budget shortfalls — demanded continuity of leadership. They said term limits deprived voters of the opportunity to return dedicated politicians to office. They argued that it would be too costly and difficult to put the matter back before the people by holding a special election early next year.

Most experts agreed that the Council had the legal authority to amend the City Charter and override a law created by a referendum, but opponents said lawmakers had no moral right to do so. Two council members had gone to court, arguing that it was a conflict of interest for lawmakers to extend their own terms, but a judge refused to block the vote.

After Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, who presides over the Council, announced the final result at 4:35 p.m., the balcony erupted in shouts of “The city’s for sale!” and “Shame on you!”

Mayor Bloomberg’s office issued a statement minutes after the Council’s vote:

Today, the majority of the City Council decided to give the people of New York a fuller choice in the November 2009 election. I believe that was the right choice, and I want to thank Speaker Quinn for her leadership. Those of us who work on both sides of City Hall must now move forward with the important decisions that face us, particularly finding ways to soften the fallout from the economic downturn and balancing our budget as revenues decline. We have a lot of work to do together to get New York through these tough times.

But the city comptroller, William C. Thompson Jr., condemned the vote, calling it “an affront to New Yorkers.”

“It says that their votes and their voice do not matter, that bullying and heavy-handed threats are more powerful than democratic ideals,” said Mr. Thompson, a Democrat who had planned to run for mayor next year. “I am saddened that our mayor and majority of City Council members have put individuals before principles. Today our government chose to empower itself rather than the people it serves.”

Representative Anthony D. Weiner of Queens and Brooklyn, who sought the Democratic nomination for mayor in 2005, said outside City Hall, “Today is a sad day for New York’s democracy, and I’m disappointed.”

He added: “I’m running for mayor. The middle class and those struggling to make it in this city deserve to have a voice. They had their voice taken away from them today, and I’m going to fight to be that voice.”
balcony crowdOpponents of the bill to extend term limits without a public vote crowded the balcony of the Council chamber.

Earlier, at 3:22 p.m., the Council rejected, 28 to 22, a key amendment that would have called for a public referendum on term limits by summoning a Charter Revision Commission, which would schedule a special election. One member, James Sanders Jr. of Queens, abstained on the amendment. Opponents of the bill to extend term limits saw the amendment as their best chance of stopping the mayor.

When Ms. Gotbaum announced the vote count on the amendment, groans erupted from the balcony, which was packed with members of the public opposed to extending term limits without a public vote.

The Council immediately turned its attention to the mayor’s bill, and so began the main floor debate.

The Floor Debate

Councilman Bill de Blasio of Brooklyn, who supported the amendment, warned his colleagues that the Council’s legitimacy would be forever tarnished.

“The people of the city will long remember what we have done here today, and the people will be unforgiving,” Mr. de Blasio said. “We are stealing like a thief in the night their right to shape our democracy.”

Councilman David Yassky of Brooklyn, one of three members who had introduced the amendment, announced that despite its defeat, he would vote for the underlying bill. He said that term limits were bad public policy and that a limit of 12 years, instead of 8, would help strengthen future lawmakers in the face of strong mayors.

Councilwoman Letitia James of Brooklyn (pictured above) adamantly disagreed. “The city of New York has never, ever in the history of our nation postponed a transfer of power, regardless of the circumstances,” she said, citing an editorial in The New York Times in 2001, when Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani sought, without his success, to extend his term by three months in the aftermath of 9/11.

“My constituency wants the opportunity to vote for this,” and if they do not have that opportunity, “they want me to vote no,” Councilwoman Rosie Mendez of Manhattan said.

Councilman Tony Avella of Queens called the term limits bill “an absolute disgrace,” and warned sternly: “You’re not conning anybody. The public of this city knows that the fix was in from the beginning.”

He added: “You should all be voted out of office for voting for this. Vote this down!”

Councilman Domenic M. Recchia Jr. of Brooklyn urged his colleagues to extend term limits, citing the economic crisis. He paraphrased Abraham Lincoln, who ran for re-election in 1864 during the Civil War, as saying, “When crossing a river you don’t swap horses halfway.”

Councilman Lewis A. Fidler of Brooklyn said he would vote to extend term limits because he had always believed they were a bad idea. “I’m pleased that the billionaires have finally come around to my point of view,” he said to laughter, adding that he did not care about any of the three billionaires who have inserted themselves into the debate: Mayor Bloomberg, Ronald S. Lauder and Tom Golisano.

Councilman G. Oliver Koppell of the Bronx said the Council was acting within its full authority to amend the City Charter, which was amended in 1993 by a voter initiative that imposed a two-term limit. “The Charter can be amended in different ways for different things,” he said. “We’re acting within the rules.”

Councilman John C. Liu of Queens denounced what he called the “arrogance” of Mayor Bloomberg, who promised Mr. Lauder that he would convene a charter revision commission in 2010 to revisit the issue of term limits. Such a commission should be convened next year instead, he said.

Councilman Eric N. Gioia of Queens urged his colleagues to preserve the existing term limits, saying, “It’s no wonder that people no longer trust politics or politicians.”

‘An Ethical Bind’

Councilman Alan J. Gerson of Manhattan, one of the three authors of the amendment, drew hisses from the balcony when he announced he would support the underlying bill:

The possibility of a referendum is now impossible — unfortunately, in my opinion. We are therefore left with two stark alternatives: either we decide not to extend term limits, or we decide to extend term limits. The same democratic principles which led me to support a referendum compels me, under this choice before us, to vote yes on this bill.

While a public vote would have been preferable, Mr. Gerson said, “it would set a terrible precedent to raise a referendum result to the level of absolute constitutional principle.” He said New Yorkers deserved to have “a debate” about the merits of continuity in leadership.

As the main roll call got under way at 4 p.m., Councilman Charles Barron, a firebrand on the Council, attacked Mr. Recchia by name, saying, “We’ve got to prioritize the will of the people over the fish of your aquarium,” a reference to the New York Aquarium, which is in Mr. Recchia’s southern Brooklyn district and has received city financing. Mr. Barron told Councilman Leroy G. Comrie Jr., who earlier had quoted Thomas Jefferson. “If you’re gong to quote somebody, don’t quote Jefferson, a slave-holding pedophile,” Mr. Barron thundered.

Mr. Barron concluded, “Even though the mayor will win today, he is the big loser, because he lost democracy, he lost the favor of the people.”

Councilwoman Gale A. Brewer of Manhattan said she was in an “ethical bind” and said she felt she was open to “accusations of hypocrisy.” She decided to vote no on extending term limits.

“This is a defining moment, a game-changing moment, that marks not the end of a process, but the beginning of a process,” Ms. James said as she cast her dissenting vote.

“If my constituents are not satisfied with the work I’ve done on the City Council, they will vote me out,” Councilman Miguel Martinez of Manhattan said as he voted yes.

“Yes, we will!” came a cry from the balcony, as Ms. Gotbaum banged the gavel, calling for order.

Similarly, as Councilman James Vacca of the Bronx announced that he was voting yes, a voice from the balcony cried out, “Sell-out!”

Councilman Thomas White Jr. of Queens was in an unusual position: He was forced out by term limits after the 2001 elections but came back to the Council after defeating his successor, Allan W. Jennings Jr., who was censured by the Council for sexually harassing subordinates.

Mr. Yassky tried to preserve his image as a reformer. “I don’t think that the throw-the-bums-out policy that is embodied in term limits and in Ron Lauder’s campaign to maintain it is reform,” Mr. Yassky said before voting yes.

Councilman James S. Oddo, the leader of the three-member Republican minority on the 51-member Council, said jokingly that he was hesitant about giving a speech because “I’ve had enough YouTube exposure for two lifetimes.” (A video of Mr. Oddo cursing loudly at a Borat-style prankster was widely circulated on YouTube.)

Mr. Oddo warned, “When the gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers.” He voted no.

Debating the Amendment

The Council meeting began at 2:22 p.m., nearly an hour after the scheduled start time of 1:30 p.m., and began with a speech from the Council speaker, Ms. Quinn.

“This is a difficult vote in very difficult times,” she said. Reiterating arguments she made hours earlier, at a news conference, Ms. Quinn argued that continuity of leadership was essential, saying the city faces its gravest crisis since the Depression.

She added:

Make no mistake: I believe that our great city will get through these challenges and emerge stronger than ever before. I also believe that in challenging times like these, the voters should have the choice — the choice to continue their current leadership. They should have the right to vote for the current mayor, or a new one, for their current City Council member, or a new one. That is exactly what is at stake today.

When Ms. Quinn said it was “ludicrous” for critics to suggest the bill was the product of a “back-room deal,” a chorus of boos and jeers erupted from the balcony. Ms. Quinn said the bill had been the subject of vigorous discussion, including “two, well-attended public hearings, 20 hours of public hearings and a vigorous debate.”

“Support for this bill is broad and deep,” she said, citing union officials and former elected officials like Gov. Mario M. Cuomo and Mayor Edward I. Koch.

“From Floyd Flake to Felix Rohatyn, the brightest minds with the deepest understanding of the crisis this impact could have in our neighborhoods have come forward in support of extending term limits from two terms to three,” she said.

In one year, she said, “voters will have the right to re-elect us, or defeat us, in the voting booth.”

“The debate today is an important one, but ultimately it is a debate about process,” she said, adding, “By passing this bill, we are increasing voter choice.”

She added, “None of us are arrogant enough to believe we are indispensable. But we are confident enough and secure enough in our ability to help this city we love that we are willing to stand before voters on Election Day and ask them to re-elect us.”

Ms. Quinn tried to preempt criticism that the bill represents “a deal between billionaires, with no one else having a say,” by arguing that she and other supporters of the bill are far from billionaires.

Mr. Yassky, of Brooklyn, spoke next. He rose and proposed an amendment that would require a public referendum on term limits, by convening a Charter Revision Commission. He said the commission could call a special election on term limits for early next year.

Mr. Yassky said he opposed term limits but that the Council’s legitimacy as a democratic body was at stake. “Voters have approved term limits twice, including once when they specifically chose to keep the two-term limit rather than go to three terms. For us to reject those votes and those voters will, without question, make New Yorkers more cynical about politics,” he said.

Mr. Yassky cited a Quinnipiac University poll showing that 89 percent of voters supported a referendum. “That should tell you that a referendum is the right way to go,” he said, to scattered applause from the balcony.

“The only serious objection I have heard to a referendum is that it might lose,” he said. Mr. Yassky said that with an “extraordinarily popular mayor,” newspaper editorial pages and lawmakers on its side, a measure to extend term limits would pass a popular vote.

Mr. de Blasio agreed. “By voting yes on the amendment, we are saying to the people of New York City that we respect what they require of us as public servants,” he said.

Councilman Charles Barron, of Brooklyn, assailed Ms. Quinn’s logic. “If we are talking about a direct democracy, where the people rule, and a representative democracy, where those who represent the people come to vote — if you do this, you’re undermining the very people who vote you in to represent them, because their voices were already heard,” he said.

Mr. Barron, a fiery critic of Ms. Quinn and Mr. Bloomberg, added, “The bottom line: Mayor Bloomberg has not been the best person to run this city. It was under this watch we got into this economic mess. He came in worth $5 billion. He’s now worth $20 billion. And he comes to this Council wanting to cut the budget.”

Mr. Barron noted that voters in Venezuela in 2007 rejected a proposal by President Hugo Ch├ívez that would have allowed him to run for re-election indefinitely. “Mayor Bloomberg, be like Hugo, and let the people decide,” Mr. Barron said.

“I personally am against term limits, but I am against a process that doesn’t go back to the voters,” said Councilman David I. Weprin of Queens.

‘Let’s Have a Backbone’

Mr. Gerson, of Manhattan said, “We are left with selecting among alternatives which each have significant flaws,” and called it “a difficult, wrenching decision.” He noted that the amendment was structured so that if a special election could not be held early enough for next year’s election cycle, the Council could revisit the issue.

Councilman Lewis A. Fidler, a Brooklyn Democrat, called the amendment “a cure that’s worse than the disease.” Because of the need for a Justice Department voting rights review and the time to convene a Charter Revision Commission, Mr. Fidler said, there was little realistic chance that a special election could be held before nominating petitions will be circulated in June for the November 2009 election.

Council members Letitia James and Vincent J. Gentile of Brooklyn argued that extending term limits would damage the body’s legitimacy. “From the very beginning, the process has been the problem,” Mr. Gentile said. “The amendment will let the public know that their voices are being heard as clearly as ever.”

Councilman Robert Jackson of Manhattan said he had always been an implacable opponent of term limits. “Let’s have a backbone,” he said, saying his colleagues had been elected to represent their constituents.

Councilman Anthony Como of Queens said it would cost $15 million to hold a special election “and we know what the answer is going to be.” Mr. Como urged his colleagues to vote no on both the amendment and the underlying bill.

Councilwoman Rosie Mendez of Manhattan disagreed. “It doesn’t matter if the cost is $5 million, $15 million or $15 billion,” she said. “The people have a right to vote.” Council members Annabel Palma of the Bronx and Vincent M. Ignizio of Staten Island said they agreed.

Councilman John C. Liu, of Queens, said he opposed term limits, but argued that to abolish them without a popular vote would foster cynicism. “Term limits were not enacted in New York City as the result of a rich man’s ad campaign, as has been suggested, but were born out of a deep cynicism for politics, for elected officials, not only here in New York City, but all across America,” he said.

Councilman Tony Avella of Queens gave a stirring speech:

The people voted twice for term limits. Their message could not have been clearer. for this body to overturn that without going back to the people is undemocratic and disgraceful. There is no excuse for this. Pass the amendment. Put it back to the people. Anything less than that just goes to the heart of what people say about politicians. Do you want to be remembered as the politicians who voted to ignore the will of the people?

A Packed Chamber

Even before the meeting started, as members took their red leather seats, throngs of journalists had assembled on both sides of the Council’s dais. The Council’s sergeants-at-arms restricted access to the main floor of the chamber to lawmakers, their staffs and the press; ordinary members of the public were directed to the balcony, which was standing-room-only.

But many people who tried to enter the chamber were turned away by the sergeants-at-arms.

One was Gene Russianoff, the senior attorney with the New York Public Interest Research Group, a government watchdog group that has been opposed to the mayor’s effort to extend term limits. He made several attempts to plead with the Council’s doorkeepers to get access and was rebuffed each time. Finally, he said, he threw himself on the mercy of one of the Council staff members whom he had known for some time.

Councilman Charles Barron of Brooklyn denounced the effort to change term limits without a public referendum.

In the end, he was able to get a seat in the balcony. “I was able to get in because of the relationship I have with some people on the staff here,” Mr. Russianoff said. “But the average New Yorker would not have fared as well as I did. That’s a problem for the average New Yorker who wants to participate in the process.”

Dan Cantor, the executive director of the Working Families Party, was not so fortunate. He got as far as the hallway outside of the Council Chamber but was told that he couldn’t enter the large meeting room.

“It’s outrageous that they are keeping people out of the meeting,” said Mr. Cantor, whose organization has also been a leading opponent to the Council extending term limits.

“They know that this meeting would draw a lot of interest from the public,” Mr. Cantor said. “And they should have made some provisions to accommodate the public.”

Roll Call, 3:22 p.m., on an amendment calling for a public referendum on term limits:

28 no, 22 yes, 1 abstaining.

Joseph P. Addabbo Jr. of Queens, yes; Maria del Carmen Arroyo of the Bronx, no; Tony Avella of Queens, yes; Maria Baez of the Bronx, no; Charles Barron of Brooklyn, yes; Gale A. Brewer of Manhattan, yes; Anthony Como of Queens, no; Leroy G. Comrie Jr. of Queens, no; Bill de Blasio of Brooklyn, yes; Inez E. Dickens of Manhattan, no; Erik Martin Dilan of Brooklyn, no; Mathieu Eugene of Brooklyn, yes; Simcha Felder of Brooklyn, no; Lewis A. Fidler of Brooklyn, no; Helen D. Foster of the Bronx, no; Daniel R. Garodnick of Manhattan, yes; James F. Gennaro of Queens, yes; Vincent J. Gentile of Brooklyn, yes; Alan J. Gerson of Manhattan, yes; Eric N. Gioia of Queens, yes; Sara M. Gonzalez of Brooklyn, no; Vincent M. Ignizio of Staten Island, yes; Robert Jackson of Manhattan, no; Letitia James of Brooklyn, yes; Melinda R. Katz of Queens, no; G. Oliver Koppell of the Bronx, no; Jessica S. Lappin of Manhattan, no; John C. Liu of Queens, yes; Melissa Mark-Viverito of Manhattan, yes; Miguel Martinez of Manhattan, no; Michael E. McMahon of Staten Island, yes; Darlene Mealy of Brooklyn, no; Rosie Mendez of Manhattan, yes; Hiram Monserrate of Queens, yes; Michael C. Nelson of Brooklyn, no; James S. Oddo of Staten Island, yes; Annabel Palma of the Bronx, yes; Christine C. Quinn of Manhattan; no; Domenic M. Recchia Jr. of Brooklyn, no; Diana Reyna of Brooklyn, no; Joel Rivera of the Bronx, no; James Sanders Jr. of Queens, abstain; Larry B. Seabrook of the Bronx, no; Helen Sears of Queens, no; Kendall Stewart of Brooklyn, no; James Vacca of the Bronx, no; Peter F. Vallone Jr. of Queens, no; Albert Vann of Brooklyn, no; David I. Weprin of Queens, yes; Thomas White Jr. of Queens, no; David Yassky of Brooklyn, yes.

Roll Call, 4:35 p.m., on Introduction 845-A, to extend term limits for New York City elected officials to three terms from two:

29 yes, 22 no.

Joseph P. Addabbo Jr. of Queens, no; Maria del Carmen Arroyo of the Bronx, yes; Tony Avella of Queens, no; Maria Baez of the Bronx, yes; Charles Barron of Brooklyn, no; Gale A. Brewer of Manhattan, no; Anthony Como of Queens, no; Leroy G. Comrie Jr. of Queens, yes; Bill de Blasio of Brooklyn, no; Inez E. Dickens of Manhattan, yes; Erik Martin Dilan of Brooklyn, yes; Mathieu Eugene of Brooklyn, no; Simcha Felder of Brooklyn, yes; Lewis A. Fidler of Brooklyn, yes; Helen D. Foster of the Bronx, yes; Daniel R. Garodnick of Manhattan, no; James F. Gennaro of Queens, no; Vincent J. Gentile of Brooklyn, no; Alan J. Gerson of Manhattan, yes; Eric N. Gioia of Queens, no; Sara M. Gonzalez of Brooklyn, yes; Vincent M. Ignizio of Staten Island, no; Robert Jackson of Manhattan, yes; Letitia James of Brooklyn, no; Melinda R. Katz of Queens, yes; G. Oliver Koppell of the Bronx, yes; Jessica S. Lappin of Manhattan, no; John C. Liu of Queens, no; Melissa Mark-Viverito of Manhattan, no; Miguel Martinez of Manhattan, yes; Michael E. McMahon of Staten Island, no; Darlene Mealy of Brooklyn, yes; Rosie Mendez of Manhattan, no; Hiram Monserrate of Queens, no; Michael C. Nelson of Brooklyn, yes; James S. Oddo of Staten Island, no; Annabel Palma of the Bronx, no; Christine C. Quinn of Manhattan; yes; Domenic M. Recchia Jr. of Brooklyn, yes; Diana Reyna of Brooklyn, yes; Joel Rivera of the Bronx, yes; James Sanders Jr. of Queens, yes; Larry B. Seabrook of the Bronx, yes; Helen Sears of Queens, yes; Kendall Stewart of Brooklyn, yes; James Vacca of the Bronx, yes; Peter F. Vallone Jr. of Queens, yes; Albert Vann of Brooklyn, yes; David I. Weprin of Queens, no; Thomas White Jr. of Queens, yes; David Yassky of Brooklyn, yes.

October 24, 2008
NYC Bloomberg Got What He Wanted, but at What Price?

Having legislatively muscled his way into a possible third term as mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg now faces what may be a more onerous challenge: How to convince New Yorkers that they can believe a single thing he says.

It isn’t just that Mr. Bloomberg inched away from a position that he once cast as an inviolable principle. He did a complete 180. We’re talking, of course, about term limits for the mayor and other senior elected officials, including the 51 members of the City Council.

As you know, New York voters twice passed referendums limiting those officials to two consecutive terms. No one benefited more from the plebiscites than Mr. Bloomberg. Without them, we might well still be talking about Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani. So supposedly sacred was the people’s voice to Mr. Bloomberg that he used to proclaim, “We cannot ignore their will,” and certainly not by legislative fiat.

But on Thursday, at Mr. Bloomberg’s bidding, a majority of the Council thumbed its nose at the voters and stretched the limit to a third term. The majority was unusually narrow for a Council vote, 29 to 22, reflecting the emotional, intellectual and political ferment over the issue.

Still, in the end, the Council did exactly what the mayor and some of his fellow billionaires wanted it to do. It didn’t do badly by itself, either. Three dozen members are due to be forced out of office next year. They just bought themselves an incumbency insurance plan. In this town, it’s easier to hail a cab in the rain at 5 p.m. than it is to kick a local lawmaker out of office.

But the real issue for many New Yorkers will be Mr. Bloomberg and his credibility, now that he has turned his back so thoroughly on the expressed will of the people and on his own past statements.

His argument is that times are hard, that continuity is extra important and that voters deserve a chance to keep him.

As on other occasions, he seems to believe that because his overall approval ratings are high, New Yorkers will smile on whatever he does.

That isn’t the case. The trouncing that he took on big issues like nonpartisan elections, the West Side stadium and congestion pricing makes that clear.

What the mayor plays down in his emphasis on the financial crisis is that he was exploring ways to cling to office long before the stock market went into a kamikaze-like dive. But he hemmed and hawed for months. Had he not done that, another referendum on term limits could have easily been put on the Nov. 4 ballot to see if New Yorkers had changed their minds.

The Council has rewarded him for his dithering.

There can be no doubt how New Yorkers feel. In a survey issued this week by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, 89 percent said that a new referendum — not a City Council deal — was the way to go. A mere 7 percent preferred to go through the Council.

Till now, had you ever known 89 percent of New Yorkers to agree on anything? “You just don’t get numbers like this,” said Maurice Carroll, director of the polling institute.

On Thursday, some council members warned that their vote would inevitably increase public cynicism about politicians at the worse possible time — just when the Council will be forced to make hard fiscal choices and will need every ounce of citizen support it can muster.

That turns the spotlight on the Council speaker, Christine C. Quinn, who has been the mayor’s handmaiden on altering term limits and whose own credibility took severe hits. She, too, used to preach about the sanctity of the people’s voice.

Ms. Quinn said on Thursday that her sole interest was the common weal. New Yorkers, she said, now have a chance to vote for “consistent leadership” during this crisis. When reminded at a news conference that she used to hold a diametrically opposite position on how to change term limits, she said that elected officials go off course if they “do not evolve” when circumstances change.

In other words, she had to be inconsistent to provide consistency. We’ll let you parse that one.

No doubt, both she and Mr. Bloomberg are betting that by the next municipal elections in 2009, people will have either forgotten about this controversy or will weigh it as but one factor among many in deciding who they want in charge. (Can’t you already hear the mayor saying, O.K., you may not like what I did, but c’mon, who do you want now, me or Anthony Weiner or Bill Thompson?)

The mayor’s hope is that voters will eventually see Thursday’s action as not a betrayal of democracy, but as a blessing in disguise.

Those were the words used by Winston Churchill’s wife, Clementine, after British voters ousted him as prime minister in July 1945. “It may well be a blessing in disguise,” she told him.

To which Churchill replied, as many New Yorkers may be saying today, “At the moment it seems quite effectively disguised.”


Political Money: Deregulating American Politics
The Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace

These articles are the work of political scientists, lawyers, and economists analyzing campaign finance law and its consequences in the United States today and over the past several decades.

If It's Not Broken . . . or Is It?
Frank J. Sorauf

Campaign Finance Regulation: Faulty Assumptions and Undemocratic Consequences
Bradley A. Smith

PACs and Parties
Larry J. Sabato

Liberty of the Press under Socialism
Williamson M. Evers

Why Congress Can't Ban Soft Money
David M. Mason

Campaign Finance Reforms and the Presidential Campaign Contributions of Wealthy Capitalist Families
Michael Patrick Allen and Philip Broyles

Where Are We Now? The Current State of Campaign Finance Law
Trevor Potter

Political Money: The New Prohibition
Annelise Anderson


Partial Dissent/Partial Concurrence of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thomas in the Case of the Colorado Republican Federal Campaign Committee and Douglas Jones, Treasurer, Petitioners v. Federal Election Commission
Clarence Thomas

Partial Dissent/Partial Concurrence of Chief Justice Burger in the Case of Buckley v. Valeo
Warren Burger

Supreme Court Reconsiders Contribution Limits
Dan Manatt