On Bluster and Bluffs
Give it up, New York voters: the term limits fight will never be about what you think.
The formidable Sewell Chan and Jon Hicks, working — in shifts, I hope — for the Cityroom blog all morning, afternoon, and even as I write this, beer in hand, late Thursday night, have made it quite clear. If anyone in the room with a fancy lapel pin gave a tinker's damn what any of us thought, would they really have made those of us that went wait hours upon hours before letting us so much as clear our throats?
Like most public hearings on important issues in the five boroughs, the ones that still continue are an opportunity for politicians to show their gracious and democratic nature to the public that they serve. The decision has already been made; barring another backroom deal, that term limits legislation will pass the City Council is a fait accompli. Public voices will be audible but not listened to.
It’s clear that the line dividing the term-limits changers from the term-limits Luddites — who, it could be argued, largely oppose this new political gimmick because it bolloxes up their runs for citywide office next year — has already been drawn. And it's not clear to me that the most outspoken opponents of the deal even earnestly want it to fail.
Changes of heart come in response to pressure from interest groups like the Working Families Party, who have organizational pull because they control a fat stack of campaign finance chips and progressive Democratic street cred. Or they only appear to be a change of heart because the Council members, having seen the river, turn and flop, must now put their cards on the table and see who has drawn the winning hand.
Just look at the antics of those purported champions of the referendum — candidates for citywide office in 2009 all. They’re not really working to stop term limits being changed. Their bet is that if they stir you up enough now and draw it out until next November, you’ll remember who was “on your side” when Emperor Bloomberg slammed his scepter down.
And of course, who could forget — especially after this afternoon — Charles Barron, the Brooklyn councilman who, if I correctly interpret Cityroom’s reporting, approached the bombastic in his populist appeal to the balcony today. Brooklyn’s already had a booster, is what he was really saying — now let it have an organizer! Look at how I am the voice of the oppressed!
These people did not get to where they are by being bad at politics. Well, okay, with exception. But Ronald Lauder’s reported change of heart via back room deal would have sent a clear message to any one of them: Public opinion is moot. A bargain among gentlemen and ladies is the only way to head this thing off.
If Barron, or Liu, or even Weprin really wanted to stave off the term limits change, they wouldn’t have held hearings all day. They’d have been back in Quinn’s office, divvying up the spoils: You take the mayoralty, we’ll back Liu for public advocate. Let Gioia wait his turn. Those idiots in the Bronx get their own house in order before they send someone to Centre Street; Weprin can be comptroller. Commissionerships for everybody! If we don’t split the pot, Bloomberg will take the whole thing. Something is better than nothing.
But that’s not what they’re doing. Come on, honestly — it almost takes effort to lose an election as an incumbent. Does anyone believe for a second that a single one of these folks wants serious competition at a chance for another four years in their $100,000+-per-year job, or to have to work to topple an incumbent in one with better pay and more exposure?
City Hall’s denizens and their ilk are doing what they do best: blowing smoke straight up your ass.
You might appreciate it, New York, but don’t you buy it for one second. Or Marty Markowitz might have a bridge to bet against your cold hard cash in this next hand.
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