Saturday, November 18, 2006


UP FRONT News November 8, 2006
Published by Tom Weiss
Editorial Advisor: Willard Whittingham

“The paper that can’t be bought and can’t be sold.”

Perhaps the most politically narcissistic piece of New York City legislation introduced in a long time, Intro. 458, was the subject of an intentionally poorly publicized hearing yesterday before the Government Operations Committee of the New York City Council. The “Intro.”, or bill, introduced by, among others, Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D.- Manh.) and Committee Chairman Simcha Felder (D.-Bklyn.), would allow the City Council to substantially raise its own comfortable salaries for what is in fact a part-time job, one often done negligently by various members. The bill, supported by Mayor Mi- chael Bloomberg, would also raise his salary and that of a bunch of other high level mayoral and Council staffers.

I found out about the hearing while reading yesterday’s Daily News as I was heading for Manhattan on the Staten Island ferry. I do not for one second believe that the scheduling of the hearing, with a minimum of public notice, for the day after a major election was an accident. Indeed, Committee Chairman Felder stated to the Daily News that he didn’t expect much of the public to come and testify. Indeed, he was right, as I was one of a very few who turned out. There is no question in my mind that, among other politicians not at all happy to see me there was Ms. Quinn, who, as far as I am concerned, is one of the negligent ones. My testimony makes specific reference to a still unanswered e-mail I sent to her, via her Chief of Staff, on January 30, 2006. That e-mail, citing her past sponsorship in 2001 of Intro. 802, denouncing Communist China for its atrocities in Tibet, urged that she introduce another resolution urging the International and U.S. Olympic Committees to rescind the decision to award the 2008 Olympic Games to Beijing and urging a boycott by the U.S. Olympic team if necessary. In fact, Ms. Quinn, a veritable combination of Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton when it comes to taking public credit for the work of others, only introduced Intro. 802 after much lobbying by me, par- ticularly with her then colleague former City Councilmember Kathryn Freed.

Ms. Quinn is hardly the only member of the Council who ignores e-mails that make her uncomfortable. (Tibet makes everyone uncomfortable because the issue is Genocide be- ing perpetrated by U.S. corporation-friendly Communist China.) My calls and an e-mail to my Councilmember, Michael McMahon on important constituent matters have gone unanswered - and not because he is so busy. I don’t know how good McMahon’s Council attendance is but one witness cited the fact that the average attendance among Council members is at 80% of meetings. I’d like the job where I can take one out of every five days off and get paid for it - and then rip the taxpayers off for a raise. Councilmembers Diana Reyna and Lewis Fidler (both D.- Bklyn.) have thus far been unable to handle my inquiries regarding who has responsibility for oversight of the corrupt and incompetent New York City Board of Elections, chaired by a hack named John Ravitz, who also doesn’t answer e-mails - at least from me. (An interesting sidelight to the hearing was seeing Mr. Fidler, somewhat resembling King Henry VIII, seated throne-like in a chair at the highest altitude, literally looking down on everyone else. A Fidler near the roof.)

The Council, almost as a whole, is guilty of fundamentally mishandling the Yankee Sta- dium matter, ignoring rising community opposition in the South Bronx, to award preda- tor George Steinbrenner a new stadium, filled with luxury boxes, presumably for folks like Donald Trump, while destroying two legendary parks. The right thing to do would be to consider landmarking the existing Stadium where the overpaid Yankees can lose with the same panache as they will in a new stadium.

The Council is to vote on Intro. 458, which contains the salary hike recommendations submitted by Bloomberg’s 2006 Advisory Commission for the Review of Compensation Levels of Elected Officials. The Commission is made up of rich people, including its Chairman, Tom A. Bernstein, President and Co-Founder of Chelsea Piers. Its members are G.G. Michelson, Chair of the Helena Rubenstein Foundation and Chair Emeritus of the Board of Trustees of Columbia University; and Stephanie Palmer, Executive Director of the New York City Mission. None of the above is anywhere near eligibility for food stamps or Section 8.

At the hearing Ms. Quinn bleated about the fact that Councilmember haven’t received a raise in seven years. She said less about the “lulus” (extra payments to Committee chairs) which the rest of us pay for. It took one of the public witnesses to remind us that the City Councilmembers are part-time workers. This, by the way, places them into a category not unlike (albeit at a lesser salary) George Steinbrenner’s Alexander Rodriguez, who still can’t perform in the clutch while “earning” almost $27 million annually for a part-time job.

Before the hearing started I chatted for awhile with City Councilmember Helen Sears, (D.-Queens), a very strong advocate of health care rights for the poor. She somewhat hes- itantly acknowledged that, at least at the time, she was in support of the Intro. but told me that one Councilmember is opposed. She smilingly, however, wouldn’t reveal the identity.

The good guy is Tony Avella, (D.-Queens), not a Committee member but who testified at the hearing. Mr. Avella’s press release states as follows, “I am flabbergasted that the Commission has suggested a 25% increase of $22,500 for Council Members, effective immediately upon approval by the City Council. Most New Yorkers would be thrilled to receive the present salary of $90,000 for what is basically a part-time job.” Mr. Avella, who chairs the very important Zoning Committee, backs up his words by refusing to ex- cept his lulu. After the meeting, I told Mr. Avella that he was a breath of fresh air.

In my testimony, aside from mentioning Ms. Quinn/Tibet, McMahon, Reyna, Fidler, and Yankee Stadium, I asked Ms. Quinn and the others if they could imagine how a homeless person might feel about their desire for more even money than they take now.
Several Councilmembers, including Mr. Avella and Alan Gerson (D.-Manh. (who told me that I had “spoken well”), agreed with me that more public Committee hearings should be held before this matter is voted on.

The argument that is brought up, ad nauseum, by people like Quinn and Bloomberg, is that you have to pay very high salaries in order to attract good help these days. B.S.! At that level, what you end up attracting is not the best but only the greediest. In my testi- mony I quoted a Lower East Side community activist who is known to be both eloquent and to the point. Rebecca Moore, the founder and president of the Ludlow Orchard Com- munity Organization (LOCO) fighting gentrification and bar proliferation on the Lower East Side, once said at a hearing involving a potential real estate grab that it is time for takers to “give back.” I agree.
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