Friday, February 28, 2014

Screw the Voters, Indignant Mayor Bill de Blasio Upset That He Should Be Held Accountable to Other Politicians, Even to the Press

Mayor Bill de Blasio does not believe in checks-and-balances, neither from other elected officials, nor from the fourth estate.

As New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio rolls out an agenda that includes the seemingly contradictory appointment of a police commissioner who was the architect of stop-and-frisk and task him to "end the stop-and-frisk era" ; the closing down of charter schools at the same time he tries to expand public school services, like universal pre-kinder and after school programs, which he plans to pay for by slightly increasing the income taxes of the most wealthy New Yorkers ; the close incorporation of political operatives and lobbyists in his administration ; and the combative relationship he's now developing with the City Hall press corps, he has begun to upset many folks, whose support he should not take for granted : people of color, working families, the affluent, government reform activists, and the media. Complicating matters is that the mayor has yet to completely fill in his new administration.

Instead of focusing on completing his own administration, the mayor began his term as mayor by focusing his attention on lobbying the City Council on behalf of his favorite to become the Council speaker. Typically, the race for speaker is a complex, post-election endeavor that largely takes place behind closed doors. For the mayor's favorite, Melissa Mark-Viverito to be selected as Council speaker, the mayor and the teams of lobbyists working on the campaign had to undermine the political influence of U.S. Representative Joseph Crowley, who chairs the Queens County Democratic Party. Rep. Crowley had supported the mayor's arch rival, former Council Speaker Christine Quinn, in last year's mayoral race. Because the mayor has been expending great efforts to extend his power and influence over every corner of city government, the mayor was interested in weakening any competing power-centers in New York City that might challenge the mayor on controversial aspects of his agenda. Because of his stature and importance, Rep. Crowley was seen as a threat not just to Speaker Mark-Viverito's leadership race, but also as a possible check on the mayor's agenda. Three months after Rep. Crowley's favorite in the Council speaker race lost, Mayor de Blasio recruited one of Rep. Crowley's district leaders, Rebecca Lynch, into his administration. Rep. Crowley is perhaps one of the only Democratic politicians left in New York City, who can serve as a check on Mayor de Blasio, and that is why the de Blasio administration continues to focus on raiding and weakening Rep. Crowley's authority and influence.

Last week, it was announced that Council Speaker Mark-Viverito would endorse and campaign for a primary challenger to Rep. Charles Rangel. Rep. Rangel had endorsed another one of the mayor's rivals in last year's election, former Comptroller Bill Thompson. In his last re-election, Rep. Rangel barely won. Now that the mayor and his large new team of operatives occupy City Hall and City Council will be backing Rep. Rangel's opponent, if Rep. Rangel is defeated, then that would leave the Rev. Al Sharpton, a chief mayoral supporter, as the sole African American leader with the greatest influence up in Harlem. Anybody, who would potentially be in a position to criticise the mayor's agenda, is being systematically challenged.

After the mayor was sworn into office, he announced that his family would move into Gracie Mansion. Thus far, he has hesitated to make the move, and it could be that if the mayor remains in Brooklyn, his power and influence would keep former Assemblyman Vito Lopez and Brooklyn County Democratic Party chair Frank Seddio from eclipsing the mayor's influence over Brooklyn. Trying to eliminate or diminish the threat of criticism is important to the mayor, and it has taken up a lot of time and energy during his young administration. Because so much of the mayor's agenda may trigger criticism or resistance, the mayor is trying to neutralize that criticism not just to protect his agenda, but also as a way to clear the field of any possible primary challenger in 2017, when the mayor is expected to run for re-election. Mayor de Blasio doesn't want to end up as a one-term Democratic mayor, like former Mayor David Dinkins was.

When Mayor de Blasio was only a candidate, former Mayor Dinkins criticised the de Blasio plan to increase income taxes on the very wealthy in order to find the expansion of pre-kinder. As the de Blasio administration seeks to neutralise his critics, either real or imagined, it remains to be seen how the mayor and his political operatives plan to neuter former Mayor Dinkins.

As one political insider said on deep background, the cumulative effect of the mayor's heavy-handed machinations to neutralise critics and possible challengers will be the creation of a new political landscape in New York City that will yield a 20-30 year plan where the political insiders and lobbyists of the Working Families Party become the sole political power center of New York City.

"Access to information is essential to the health of democracy for at least two reasons. First, it ensures that citizens make responsible, informed choices rather than acting out of ignorance or misinformation. Second, information serves a "checking function" by ensuring that elected representatives uphold their oaths of office and carry out the wishes of those who elected them." (University of San Francisco - California)

Because so much efforting is being expended on this background campaign, the mayor is actually running two different governments : the actual functionality of governing New York City, and a permanent backroom campaign to solidify his power and influence over every other office holder in New York City, regardless of whether the office holder was elected to represent city, state, or federal office.

To keep these machinations hidden, the mayor has the monumental task of keeping as much of these machinations hidden from perhaps his harshest critics : the City Hall press corps.

Besides trying to lay the groundwork for a new political landscape across New York City, the mayor has pushed back any time the press has tried to hold the mayor accountable. The mayor has hidden controversial appointments from his public calendar, and he attends controversial meetings that are closed to the press. He ignores reporters questions on thorny issues of his young administration, and he and his reports do not shy away from telling the media what to report and when. Mayor de Blasio doesn't want the City Hall press corps to think that they can shake the mayor down for specifics about how his administration's governance.

To continue the mayor's plan to extend his influence across New York City, his administration has installed the lobbying and consulting firm of Berlin Rosen, political operatives who worked on the mayor's campaign, in the media relations role of the mayor's universal pre-kinder initiative. Berlin Rosen will be able to "control" the universal pre-kinder messaging for the mayor this way. Berlin Rosen also serves as consultants to a coalition of major police reform groups, Communities United for Police Reform. The latter allows Berlin Rosen to control the messaging coming from one of the mayor's most politically sensitive quarters : police reform activists. Tampering down police reform activists is all the more important to the mayor, even as the NYPD continues to become embroiled in more racial profiled controversies. It was reported that another political insider and lobbying firm, Pitta Bishop, helped Council Speaker Mark-Viverito with City Council staffing.

Left out in the lurch as a consequence of the mayor's machinations are voters, who will have no say in what the messaging will be that comes out of the universal pre-kinder or the police reform movements that are now controlled by the mayor's political operatives.

Already, it appears that some members of the City Hall press corps can already sense that the mayor's energies and efforts are not adding up. In an article that purported to show that the mayor has been inducing many of the city's activists into drinking the Kool-Aid of his administration, The New York Times still pointed out the nagging concern that the de Blasio administration may be becoming an "echo chamber, since almost no one in the city’s new political hierarchy seems poised to challenge Mr. de Blasio’s policies publicly." Indeed, reform activists had been pinning their hopes that some true advances were going to made after the Legal Aid Society sued the City of New York in Brooklyn federal court for the full resources to provide shelter to homeless youths, but then it was announced that to perhaps undercut the Legal Aid Society's efforts, the de Blasio administration had hired their top attorney, Steven Banks, to become commissioner of the city’s Human Resources Administration. The timing of the Legal Aid Society's lawsuit had raised hopes that some cornerstone community groups were going to stop playing the annual budget dance between the mayor and the City Council, but with Mr. Banks' departure only weeks after having filed the lawsuit against the de Blasio administration, homeless youths may have lost their only opportunity to demand and get the full resources to provide them with shelter.

Perhaps it won't be too long before the press corps catches up to the fact that the mayor's unprogressive power play machinations are deliberately creating a new political landscape whereby nobody can challenge the mayor's policies publicly ?

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