The inimitable, irreplaceable, and indispensible Bob Boyle gives testimony on fracking in Albany in the video above, taking the New York State DEC to task as only he can.
The inimitable, irreplaceable, and indispensible Bob Boyle gives testimony on fracking in Albany in the video above, taking the New York State DEC to task as only he can.
Assembly candidate Cheryl Roberts has finally conceded the 107th State Assembly race to Steve McLaughin, according to the Troy Record. Roberts’ grudging concession comes a week after McLaughlin declared victory on election night.
In the Record article, a McLaughlin campaign spokesman barely conceals his annoyance with Roberts’ lack of grace in defeat:
“It was very clear on election night that Assemblyman McLaughlin won re-election and was given the honor to serve another term in the state assembly... There was certainly no need to drag this out an additional six days when the obvious had already been stated when Steve had won by a margin far exceeding any need for a recount.”
Roberts had previously insisted that all absentee ballots be counted before she acknowledge the result, though numbers gathered from various Boards of Elections by this site a week ago made it obvious that the challenger had virtually no chance to catch up. The challenger would have had to garner almost 4 out of every 5 absentee ballot filed, even though 3 out of 4 of those ballots came from Rensselaer County, where McLaughlin won handily on the machine.
Roberts was cited for circulating dishonest literature against McLaughlin by the League of Women voters’ non-partisan Fair Campaign Practices organization. She campaigned as an environmental champion, despite having advocated one-sidedly for the interests of Swiss industrial polluter Holcim and notorious Connecticut construction firm O&G Industries over thousands of citizen concerns about the future of Hudson’s South Bay.
Nevertheless, Columbia County Democratic officials cynically promoted Roberts’ green bona fides using the (now-disproven) rationale that “she can win”—the same reason given for the party’s switch of its allegiance from progressive Congressional candidate Joel Tyner to CIA lawyer Julian Schreibman. Roberts reportedly wasted more than $100,000 in campaign funding from the Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee, while Schreibman ran through $1 million on his race, not counting expenditures by outside groups.
In the 107th Assembly District race, GOP incumbent Steve McLaughlin declared victory late Tuesday night, with results (as reported by three County Boards of Elections) showing him ahead by 2,282 votes.
However, challenger Cheryl Roberts refused to concede, based on some theoretical possibility that absentee ballots could alter the outcome. But could they, really? Basic math suggests a reversal in her favor is extremely unlikely.
Calls to area Boards of Elections indicate that the number of absentee ballots issued to voters for this race totals about 4,600. So far, approximately 3,900 of those have been returned. If postmarked by election day, some additional ballots may be received. Generously, maybe 4,150 will come back. Of those, a few ballots will be deemed invalid for some technical reason, while other voters will be found to have skipped over the 107th Assembly race—or have written someone else in. Reasonably and for argument’s sake, let’s estimate that there a total of 4,000 more votes will be counted toward this race.
So does Roberts have a shot? With McLaughlin already ahead by 2,282, the raw numbers suggest her remaining chances are a longshot at best.
Years ago while handling a similar dispute for a Hudson candidate, I devised the simple formula pictured above for quickly computing how many votes a candidate who is behind in an election needs to get from the remaining voters to come from behind to win.
By that basic math, Roberts would have to get 3,141 of those 4,000 absentee ballots just to tie McLaughlin—3,142 to win. McLaughlin would have to garner only 858 of the 4,000 absentees to lose.
In other words, 78%.5 of all the absentee ballots would have to break for Roberts, and only 21.5% to McLaughlin. By contrast, the machine votes broke 52%-48% for McLaughlin.
In other words, Roberts would have to increase her tally +30% among absentee voters than among Election Day voters just to make this close. In my experience of contested absentee ballot races, the ballots generally follow the same pattern as the rest of voters, and even when they deviate, they rarely if ever deviate more than 5-10% from the “machine” votes.
Furthermore, the demographics of those absentee ballots also do not favor Roberts (whose chances were diminished during the campaign when she was cited for dishonest campaign literature by the non-partisan Fair Campaign Practices organization). 73% of the absentee ballots received so far come from Rensselaer County, which McLaughlin won easily by about 7.5%; whereas only 24% of the absentees come from Columbia, which Roberts won by a similar margin. Washington County was a dead heat, and only a handful of absentees will come from there in any case.
In other words, for Roberts to win she’d not only have to do significantly better than on Election Day, she’d have to do so in the less-friendly territory of Rensselaer County. While the general perception is that in Columbia County, absentees come more heavily from liberal weekenders than from longtime Republican residents, as one moves northward a higher percentage of the absentees emanate from nursing homes and more conservative retirees.
It thus would be remarkable, verging on highly improblable, for McLaughlin’s margin not to hold up. But that may not prevent Roberts’ more rabid partisans from mounting a long, exhausting and expensive ballot fight.
Former New York State Assemblyman and gubernatorial hopeful Patrick R. Manning filed petitions yesterday to compete in a crowded Republican primary for the 105th District seat, which covers most of Dutchess County.
Manning, a Vassar grad, previously served in the Assembly from 1995-2006, first in the 99th and then in the 103rd District, before being unseated in a GOP primary by current Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro.
Also seeking the GOP line are Kieran M. Lalor and Richard C. Wager. Lalor also filed for the Independence Party line. Meanwhile, Paul F. Curran filed uncontested for the Democratic and Working Families lines. Republicans outnumber Democrats in Dutchess by about 6,000 voters.
As expected, more than one Democratic candidate has filed petitions to compete in a primary for the new 107th Assembly seat, The new district covers all of Rensselaer, plus a handful of towns in Columbia and Washington.
The Register-Star only mentioned one of the candidates. The paper also missed a separate primary on the Working Families line.
Rensselaer County’s Keith Hammond and Columbia County’s Cheryl Roberts both submitted signatures to secure the Democratic line. 76% of the Democrats in the newly-mapped district live in Rensselaer County.
In addition, Roberts faces a challenge for the Working Families line from Brenda Mahar. Again, the vast majority of Working Families voters in the new 107th live in Rensselaer—90% of them.
Meanwhile quasi-incumbent Steve McLaughlin (of the former 108th) is unchallenged on the Republican, Conservative and Independence line. Republicans, Conservatives and Independence Party voters outnumber Democrats in the 107th by a 3-2 ratio.
The State Board has deemed all of these petitions valid on their face, meaning that they appear to contain more than the minimum necessary signatures to get on the ballot for the primary (where there’s more than one candidate) or the general (if the line is uncontested). Election boards in New York do not question the validity of signatures unless a citizen files a challenge to them.
NOTE: For a short introduction to FOIL, including key terms such as “agency” and “record,” see the New York State Committee on Open Government’s FAQ.
Regular readers know that this site is not a big fan of the way Hudson government operates. However, on occasions when a City leader does try to do the right thing, that ought to be acknowledged without stubborn adherence to personal or partisan allegiances.
In the case of proposed changes to how Hudson handles Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests, Mayor Bill Hallenbeck appears in this case to be trying to do the right thing. Hallenbeck has proposed making his office the central point of contact for such requests.
That is not only a legally proper step; it’s also a long-awaited reform. Those of us who have submitted FOILs fairly often over the past decade have agitated repeatedly for this change, and it ought to be welcomed.
Now, some are understandably skeptical of the move. Such skepticism seems based less upon the particulars of FOIL or an understanding of how it plays out in practice, and more upon some general distrust of local government. The City certainly has earned that distrust, and its leaders can hardly be surprised by it. But in this rare case, the skeptics are wrongly conflating leadership concerns with legal ones. Again, this is a change that should be embraced, and here’s why:
Let’s say you wanted to get copies of public records held by the City of Hudson relating to how the 2012 budget was decided upon. 99% of the time, citizens are entitled to such documents 99%. But such records tend to be spread across multiple offices and agencies: spreadsheets in the Treasurer’s office, funding requests from department heads, emails between Aldermen and the Mayor, minutes of meetings with the Police Chief, memoranda from the State, and so on.
As it now stands in Hudson, each “agency” of the government has its own Records Access Officer, an improper and convoluted system instituted by Scalera, in part due to a previous City Clerk not wanting to serve as RAO for the whole City. Even so, most FOIL requests tend to land on the desk of City Clerk Tracy Delaney—who in my experience makes a sincere and prompt effort to respond with any documents in her office’s possession.
Yet technically under Hudson’s FUBAR system, it is not the City Clerk’s job—or anyone else’s—to coordinate responses to FOIL. And she has no particular power to compel Hudson’s many other officials, agencies, boards and departments to respond.
What then ensues under the current system (put in place by former Mayor Rick Scalera, who is no friend of FOIL) is one of two unproductive situations:
If the City Clerk doesn’t have all of the records requested in her own files, either the citizen asking for the information has to badger her to forward the request to other governmental entities, and then nag them to reply; or that citizen has to play a guessing game about where the records might exist, submitting duplicate copies of that request to every other official, agency, board, or department which might have them.
If the request is not honored, the citizen then has to appeal to multiple agencies, and potentially file multiple lawsuits to force compliance.
That’s not how FOIL is intended to work, a fact this site verified in detail with the ever-helpful and responsive Robert (Bob) Freeman of the COOG. The City of Hudson is required to have a central records access officer, for pragmatic reasons of both efficiency—reducing governmental waste—and thoroughness. Citizens shouldn’t have to play guessing games, or badger officials to respond, or blanket multiple agencies with duplicate requests. And government should not waste time and money by fragmenting and segmenting what ought to be a straightforward, efficient process of producing copies of documents for the public.
Under the proposed system, the response all document requests for the City would be coordinated by the Mayor’s office. The Mayor (or, more likely, his assistant) would distribute the request to the relevant officials, departments, agencies, etc. to make sure everyone who might hold relevant information is aware of the request. And the Mayor, unlike the Clerk, would have the clout to compel laggard or recalcitrant people in government to comply.
Now, like pretty much everything which involves human beings, any sound system can be derailed if the wrong people make the wrong decisions. If the Mayor’s office is hostile to public disclosure of documents paid for by the taxpayers, or the City Attorney is overzealous in withholding or redacting documents (as is the case currently with Cheryl Roberts), that authority obviously can be abused. The City is far too slow to respond to FOIL requests, far too eager to deny access, far too overzealous in applying the very narrow reasons allowed for withholding or redacting documents, and particularly unlikely to follow State dictates for electronic access to records.
But the current system already allows and even assists such abuse, by making citizens chase multiple agencies and officers to get at public information. The proposed reform eliminates some of the hassle and red tape, though of course it cannot remove the possibility that officials hostile to public scrutiny may still attempt to confound the law’s intent.
In short, any concerns about the proposed centralization is a political problem, whose solution is at the ballot box. Not reforming the existing methods of handling FOIL only makes it easier for abuses of the law to continue. In addition to making this policy change, the City also would do well to have a change of heart—changing its core assumption from one of “let’s figure out a way to deny this request” to “let’s figure out how to get the people public information in the most efficient efficient way possible.”
By creating a central officer, as required by State law, citizens at least can focus their attention on a single point of contact (and if necessary, a single point of appeal and litigation), rather than having to chase a disparate, moving target.
Imagine if Mitt Romney were interviewed on FOX News about his Presidential aspirations by a co-chair of the Republican National Committee. Democrats would howl that this represented blatantly biased and unethical journalism.
How can the same party which is promoting a candidate present an objective news interview of their own candidate?, Democrats would rightly ask.
Yet the progressive, Hudson-based WGXC regularly engages in a similar practice. Its nonprofit airwaves are used at times for partisan interviews of political candidates and officials with whom a host is closely alllied, and in some cases has endorsed and even is actively campaigning.
For example, County Democratic Committee vice-chair Victor Mendolia recently interviewed one of his own party’s candidates for the 107th Assembly, attorney Cheryl Roberts, on the station’s @Issue show.* (When recently asked a direct question about his then hush-hush endorsement of Roberts, Mendolia turned tail and fled in silence.)
By interviewing his own committee’s choice for Statewide office, the host not only provided his own candidate with free publicity; he also did so in a forum where that candidate could feel shielded from any serious challenge over her controversial local activities. Like Romney being interviewed by FOX, the candidate could rest assured that the interviewer would be friendly, bordering on fawning. That Roberts’ portion of the interview was barely audible did not make this episode any less contrary to basic journalism ethics.
Professional electronic journalists should present the news with integrity and decency, avoiding real or perceived conflicts of interest...
Roberts faces a primary challenge from Keith Hammond, a former Rensselaer County legislator and town councilman, in September. Given that the bulk of the new district is in Rensselaer County or even farther north, and includes only a handful of Columbia County towns, many expect that this will be a tough contest for Roberts. The winner of the primary will in turn face one of at least two Republicans also vying for the seat.
A search of the station’s website turns up no mentions of the other three candidates besides Roberts. Of the four potential candidates for this office, WGXC thus far appears to have given only one the opportunity to be heard—the preferred candidate of the host of @Issue.
The station’s stock reply to such observations made privately by several people has been, “Well, hy don’t you do a show then?” But community radio should not have to mean that every single one of the area’s countless interests group needs to have its own separate public affairs program in order to be heard. Many groups and constituencies only have newsworthy content a few times a year. The whole point of public affairs programming is to gather that content from diverse sources, and present timely issues as they crop up, in a reasonably objective forum.
The normal and proper manner of handling such political interviews would be to assign them to a netural host who has no obvious potential conflicts, real or perceived. That independent interviewer would also quiz the other candidates as well. Among the questions that the RTDNA suggests that radio and other electronic media should ask themselves about conflicts of interest are:
Now, perhaps what WGXC attempts to offer isn’t journalism at all. But in the absence of such guidelines, the station would appear to be offering certain candidates friendly to one or more of its hosts free advertorials—which might even constitute campaign donations of in-kind services.
Naturally, hosts like Mendolia are free to speak their own partisan opinions. But generally such figures are media guests, not gatekeepers. Passing such opinions off as “news” or “public affairs” or “just discussion,” without full disclosure of an clear bias or at least providing balancing viewpoints, is best left to disreputable outlets like FOX.
Meanwhile, Mendolia’s cohort and CCDC chair Cyndy Hally has cynically whitewashed what she has called Roberts’ “environmental sensitivity.” Hall somehow imagines that thousands of residents will forget how Roberts repeatedly brushed aside their environmental, quality of life and economic concerns about the fate of Hudson’s South Bay.
As legal advisor to the Hudson waterfront plan (LWRP), Roberts used her position to gloss over the details of written comments from citizens, obtusely misinterpret substantive issues, and offer glib rejections of both well-researched and heartfelt concerns. Instead of being “sensitive” to local concerns, Roberts on the contrary employed slipshod reasoning, incomplete research, and pretzel legal logic to incorporate virtually all the demands of the Swiss-owned mining/cement company Holcim, and its subcontractor O&G, based in Connecticut.
Hall is well-familiar with this recent history, thus making her claim of “environmental sensitivity” all the more cynical.
* ENDNOTE: Such conflict-of-interest problems have been raised by this site in the past year with two of the station’s key personnel, both on the station and in relation to @Issue, where Mendolia also frequently interviews other candidates and allied officials on the show. When the show launched, it was co-hosted by Register-Star reporter Francesca Olsen, an attempt to somewhat temper the show’s slant; but Olsen has moved elsewhere, and Mendolia is almost always the sole interviewer. I myself have once been a reluctant guest on @Issue, though declining subsequent WGXC appearance requests due to this and other reservations about the overall enterprise.
Rep. Chris Gibson (R-Kinderhook) is looking like the only real winner of the 19th Congressional District contest, to the extent that more than 9 out of 10 Democrats showed no interest in participating in the widely-publicized vote.
In a district of nearly 150,000 registered Democrats, barely 10,000 voted. That’s a turnout of only 7%.
93% stayed home. But this did not stop Democrats such as Columbia County Chair Cyndy Hall* from spinning the dismal day as a “tremendous” ratification of the party commitee. She can at least feel marginally better than the Democratic commitees in Dutchess and Otsego counties, where party endorsements were repudiated by some 60% of Dem voters.
Across 11 counties, Schreibman’s average margin of victory against a grievously underfunded opponent was about 160 per county, with a sizeable part of his cushion coming from his home county of Ulster. In November, he will face Republican opponent who currently has roughly four times the funds in hand (see below).
Despite blanketing the district with paper and vastly outspending his opponent, nominal winner Julian Schreibman garnered only about 6,000 votes to Tyner’s 4,000. In the fall against Gibson, he now will need to find some better way to energize the other 140,000 Democrats who did not care enough to vote in the primary, and plainly were not motivated by arms-length appeals such as mass-mailers and emails.
Schreibman also faces the daunting task of winning back the progressive base of his own party. What ought to have been a friendly “let the best man win” primary that left the nominee stronger has greatly dampened enthusiasm among Democrats, as evidenced both by Tyner’s surprisingly strong showing and the low overall turnout.
In garnering 41.2% of the vote, Tyner might also take solace from the fact that he spent only about $4 per vote earned. Schreibman (not counting a flurry of late expenditures yet to be reported) spent more like $16 per vote.
Tyner earned the support of more than 2 out of 5 Democrats despite that 4-to-1 spending deficit, despite hostility from his own party’s commitees, despite being mocked by much of the press right up to primary day, despite his opponent being endorsed by the popular Maurice Hinchey, and despite enduring what increasingly sounds like a spurious last-minute campaign finance charge from within his own campaign.
At that rate of spending, Schreibman would need to spend about $1,600,000 in November to have a chance of beating Gibson. Schreibman, according to FEC disclosure reports, had about $250,000 on hand ten days before the primary. Gibson had over $1,000,000.
* It’s a good thing, meawhile, that my old pal Cyndy taught arts rather than math in the local schools, as she seems to think a 2.2-to-1 ratio is “almost 3-1.” Even most high school students learn that you round down under .5, not up.
Hudson Democratic operative Victor Mendolia threw a tantrum yesterday, when ordinary investigative journalism was applied here to one of his nominees. (Just because he may choose to be blindly partisan doesn't mean that thoughtful Democrats have to fall in line, too.)
And as it happens, The Albany Times-Union today is publishing its own report today on Julian Schreibman's campaign finances. Lo and behold, the paper reaches the same conclusion as I did yesterday in my own post on the topic: namely, that the Ulster County Democrat is relying heavily on New York City and out-of-State donors. This fact will surely be exploited by his GOP opponent, Chris Gibson, if Schreibman wins the primary but doesn't start raising some grassroots cash, and if the party establishment thought this would be overlooked by either Republicans or the press, they'd have to be even less politically astute than many already thought.
Meanwhile, friends in Brooklyn and Connecticut with no connections to the area, but who like me overlapped with Schreibman at Yale in the same residential college, report getting fundraising calls from his campaign at home. (Neither of us have any recollection of Schreibman from our dorm; but for all I know, I served Julian keg beer when he was a freshman and I was a senior.)
As also noted yesterday, but overlooked by Mendolia in his haste to object, I'll be doing a similar report on Gibson's finances in the near future... Gibson appears to have many more local donors, while also raking in a lot more PAC funding. He has roughly four times the cash on hand that Schreibman does.
(Or, The myth of the helpless mayor)
When complaints about a local assessor reach critical mass, the inevitable question arises for elected officials: Why don’t you fire him (or her)?
The officals’ answer is typically mumbled, and murky. “It’s complicated,” comes the sheepish reply. “Our hands are tied,” they dissemble. “Gee, we’d love to help, but the assessor has [X] years left on his/her term.”
But what is the truth of the matter? Can an assessor be removed, if their (mis-) conduct warrants it?
Hudson’s experience is instructive. Ever since the moderate and well-liked Al Kritzman (R.I.P.) retired, Hudson has had a string of controversial assessors, irate taxpayers coming before the Board of Assessment review (B.A.R.) and a long list of assessment lawsuits. These typically either get settled out of court, or tossed by a judge on some spurious “standing” ground which never addresses the substance of the issue.
Some mayors, most memorably Rick Scalera, have seemed to enjoy having things both ways: a tax assessor who sticks “those people” (i.e. the so-called newcomers and merchants) with inflated and unfair property taxes, plus plausible deniability. The message is: “Gosh, I sympathize, but my predecessor appointed the assessor... So there’s nothing I can do until his/her term expires. Sure wish I could help!”
Many Aldermen meekly accept this dodge, without looking into the details. In Hudson, the City Code provides a means for the Mayor to remove an Assessor, and State guidance appears to support that power—though with an added procedural layer to avoid its abuse.
Morever, in addition to legal means, there are also political methods within City Hall to achieving the same end, though again these may be abused. Lastly, there is the power of the purse, which in Hudson ostensibly resides with the Common Council.
On the legal side of the question, Article C4-4 of the Hudson City Charter deals with “Appointive officers and terms.” The Assessor is one of the officers listed (at Part A) as someone who shall be appointed by the Mayor “for six years.” Mayors such as Scalera have cited this (often with backup from pay-to-say City attorneys) that this ends the debate: You just have to wait until the term expires.
However, the same section of the Charter then addresses, just two items down at C4-6, the Mayor’s “Power of Removal.” Section C4-6 states in full:
The Mayor may remove any person appointed to any City officer or position at his discretion. [emphases added]
Like the sweeping protection of free speech embedded our Constitution’s 1st Amendment, this portion of the City Charter is admirably concise, clear and emphatic. It does not distinguish between type of appointees. It doesn’t care whether they have terms of office or not. It includes “any person appointed” to “any” City office or position.
The Assessor’s position is clearly appointive, as it appears in the Charter’s own list of appointees. This terse, declarative, and unambiguous section on Power of Removal thus gives the Mayor the power to remove the Assessor “at his discretion,” regardless of term of service.
As it happens, our State has addressed this very question already. Counsel for New York’s Department of Taxation and Finance issued an advisory opinion (see this link) on “whether an assessor who has been appointed to a six-year term may be removed from office by the town board during the six-year term for reasons other than “dereliction of duties.”
Tellingly, the State did not conclude that you can’t remove an assessor appointed to a six-year term, or any length of term for that matter. Rather, relying on Subdivision 7 of Section 1522 of the Real Property Tax Law, which begins:
An assessor may be removed from office for just cause by the appointing authority after a hearing upon notice.
Again, State Law says that that assessors may be removed, only with the caveat that there has to be some oversight to ensure that removals don’t happen capriciously, say for partisan reasons. Without that caveat, every time you had a Mayor of a different political stripe, they’d summarily remove their predecessor’s appointee just because they could. The State continues to explain that
... if an appointing authority makes a determination to remove an appointed assessor from office, its determination is subject to an administrative review by the State Board of Equalization and Assessment. The statute provides the State Board with the authority to affirm, reverse or modify the determination of the appointing authority.
The “appointing authority” in Hudson’s case would be the Mayor, per the City Charter. If the State upholds the removal, the removed assessor could appeal in court (seek “judicial review” via an Article 78 proceeding). The State further explains that
Assessors are thereby protected from capricious removal or capricious disciplinary action by the appointing authority. However, exactly what would constitute “just cause” would have to be developed in each individual situation.
Nevertheless, generations of local mayors (and the legislators who ennable them) have punted when asked what they plan to do about punitive, out-of-control assessors, even though they have the legal power to act.
Meanwhile, there is another, more political method that mayors sometimes deploy to squeeze out, rather than fire, unwanted appointees.
Any executive officer has ways of making an appointee sweat, whether in the press, or in meetings, or during the day-to-day course of their City Hall duties. A mayor more than most has the bully pulpit, and can make a lot of noise in the local press which dutifully and usually acritically reports whatever the Mayor says. He (or Council members) can demand that the Assessor appear at public meetings to explain his or her decisions, and if they don’t show, make more hay of it.
The Mayor also the ability to make an appointee uncomfortable, by moving someone to a smaller office, or require them to punch a clock, or (as Kritzman often alleged Scalera had tried with him) threaten to curtail their benefits). The goal in such cases is to get the appointee to jump over the cliff, rather than having to push them. Anyone who has seen even a couple noir films should be familiar with this routine, though again it can be used for evil ends as well as good.
In addition, in Hudson the Common Council maintains the power of the purse at its disposal. But in the case of GAR Associates’ $170,000 contract—which now has taxpayers up in arms again—the Council appears to have abdicated its right to make sure their consultant didn’t stray off the reservation.
By allowing the Mayor to “negotiate” a contract without added stipulations specifying a continued role for the Council, they lost the ability to rectify gross errors except by getting on their knees and pleading. Their only specified role after forking over the $170K was to received “monthly reports,” though according to the City Clerk there are no such records on file in her office. Council President Don Moore has yet to reply to this site’s FOIL request which covers those reports. Do those monthly reports not exist, or did they not mention that they were going to turn the local bed-and-breakfast industry upside down, or did no one read them?
At this point, there is still some $20,000 left on GAR’s contract; will the City Council refuse to pay it, if GAR and/or Assessor Garth Slocum refuse to undo the B&B switcheroo?
And oddly, the contract alludes to an expectation that the serving Assessor would not finish out his term, with GAR demanding additional time and money if they have to get up to speed with someone new.
In the end, the final GAR contract appears to be boilerplate provided by the consultants themselves, with only one obvious change: The exemption of unspecified Waterfront parcels, presumably those held by the mining company Holcim, from further review. (Interesting negotiating skills, Rick: give the consultant everything they ask, with just one special favor for a corporation with whom you’ve been closely allied. This exemption raises the question whether the City’s reval is inherently and fatally-flawed, if a single major taxpayer was given special treatment not available to others.)
In summary, the City appears to have at least three means of avoiding more nonsense with its consultants and the Assessor: (1) removal, (2) pressure, and (3) the power of the purse. Instead, even "progressive" aldermen have kowtowed to the conventional wisdom which was speciously invented by previous Mayors to provide plausible deniability for headaches some seem to enjoy inducing in the citizenry.
Say you’re a newly-elected elected civic official whose constituents are clamoring for a public dog park. Seems like a good idea to you... Optimistically, you assume that the park will be a beneficial and non-controversial idea. So you begin to advance the proposal in good faith among your new legislative peers.
But suddenly you encounter all kinds of unexpected, nonsensical and even vicious opposition.
The powerful Cat Bloc PAC runs ads questioning why cat owners should have to subsidize the dog owners with their taxes.
Another legislator who recently lost his bid to get ferret and snake-keeping regulations changed feels jealous. Your dog idea seems to be gaining traction and gathering momentum, so he begins sharpening his political knives for insertion in your back.
Still others in the other Major Party assail your proposal as cynically motivated and “poll-driven,” pandering to the pro-dog voter demographic. (After all, their own motivations are debased, so they project that yours are, too.) They oppose it so that you can’t cite it as an accomplisment when you run for re-election. Then they turn the issue around on you, suggesting that you want to “increase taxes on senior citizens by expanding government.”
Meanwhile, the Chair of the Recreation Committee has his own pet project, a waterslide park, and he frets that funding for your idea may delay or even scuttle his.
Sensing an opportunity, the ferret/snake legislator cannily whispers in the Chair’s ear that your initiative is really a covert assault on his influence and seniority... You secretly covet his chairmanship, see. So the Recreation Chair sets about undermining all of your legislative goals, not just the dog park, while covertly spreading grotesque rumors about you on an anonymous chatboard that you’ve taken bribes from a PetCo executive with a weekend house in town.
You catch wind of these machinations, and try to reason with him, and by the end of the meeting you think you’ve bridged the divide... But then on the night of the big vote, he abstains, citing “support on both sides of the issue,” and your proposal narrowly misses getting the necessary weighted votes to pass.
What you originally thought was a no-lose proposition has now created a great deal of discomfort and headache for you within the corridors of power.
What’s your next move? The winning gambit would be to double down on the idea, by taking it even more aggressively and directly to the people:
Work the streets, and make sure your colleagues know you’re out there winning popular support daily. Have allies gather an overwhelming number of petitions in favor of the park. Inundate the paper with a steady stream of pro-park letters that make the case forcefully, or at least pull at the heartstrings. Meet with editorial boards to get their support. Arrange to speak on the issue before community and civic groups (from the Lions Club to the Neighborhood watch) to make the case. Create photo-ops, with appealing pictures of dogs enjoying their new liberty to run and jump and fetch, while their owners socialize and flirt on the sidelines. Give voters the info to contact recalcitrant legislators to make it clear their future support depends on their park vote. Make a full-court press, until it becomes politically impossible for those opposed not to get on the dog park bandwagon. Finally demand a second vote, and once you’re certain you have enough to prevail.
Either you win by redoubling your efforts and demonstrating that the will of the people still matters; or at worst you prove that you are leader of integrity, and get re-elected by the people who respect your hard work and principled stand.
But organizing a popular groundswell involves a lot of work, more heavy lifting than most politicians are willing to do—especially when it seems so much easier to just try to forge better relationships with a dozen or so insiders in City Hall, rather than dealing with the Great Unwashed on the sidewalk.
Thus even idealistic and tenacious leaders often will retreat from internal City Hall (or Statehouse, or Congressional) conflict. They circle their wagons, rather than sending out new scouting parties.
Following the failed vote, they meekly accept a “compromise” to have their cherished idea “studied” by a “task force”... which will bury the idea slowly, surely and quietly, temporizing with park supporters. This at least allows them to save face by pretending they haven’t entirely given up the fight, even though it’s totally lost.
The chastened new official begins to nod docilely to his elders who counsel that “you have to pick your battles,” and imagines that by “building political capital” now by letting go of the big idea, he will achieve greater things later.
But that dream deferred never gets realized. The politician gets no actual credit from his peers for caving. All he’s accomplished is to identify himself as an easy mark for more committed but less scrupulous power brokers.
During elections, We The People ostensibly are the main audience for politicians. They need our votes, and must at least appear to be attentive to our hopes and concerns.
Yet once elected, all but the most exceptional politicians turn their attentions to a new and far smaller audience: their fellow politicians, plus the staffers, appointees, committee members, and other insiders who populate the corridors of power.
Even the most outspoken reformers are easily sucked into the insider dialogue, and begin to forget who brung ’em to the dance. Rather than rallies and fundraisers and meet-and-greets, political life starts to consist of routine committee meetings, perfunctory roll-call votes, and partisan caucuses, held in drab-neon lit settings rather than the streetcorners, diners, factories, festivals kitchen tables and the other standard flesh-pressing whistlestops.
The terms of success become not Am I resonating with the people but Will the party boss take my calls, Will I get a good committee assignment, and Can I get a better office when the Minority Leader retires?
On the most mundane personal level, going along to get along becomes the main priority: avoiding conflict and difficult debate, so that meetings don’t become uncomfortable. These meetings are long and boring enough already, without getting gummed up with arguments, or, gosh help us, hysterical public input.
Politicians who have become afflicted with this chronic malady—let's call it regional citeitis*—then begin to defend their increasingly cautious ways with any number of pat phrases, homiles, and clichés intoned with the utmost sincerity:
“We must work together, and learn to bridge our differences.”
“We must forge relationships with our colleagues across the aisle... to get things done.”
“It is vitally important, above all, to maintain civility.”
“There are two sides to every story.”
“We can’t be swayed by those who view things as black-and-white, unlike us leaders who are able to perceive all the shades of grey.”
“Change is all well and good, but we can’t move too fast... or appear too radical.”
On and on the platitudes roll, implying that these patriarchal politicians are the sole adults in the room, the only ones who See the Big Picture. Each of these catchphrases appeals to the nearly-universal impulse to seen as moderate, reasonable and prudent. But in politics, these slogans mainly serve to cover up a lack of backbone and determination, justifying the slow abandonment of one’s campaign promises.
As these self-satisfied feelings become more inflamed, the next stage of regional citeitis is a growing irritation with one’s pesky constituents, culminating in more severe cases in outright hostility to public input. How dare these citizens email me with their ridiculous concerns!, the annoyed politico thunders. I mean, they don’t even use spell-check... and they almost never attend meetings! (The latter is a common fallback, ignoring that we live in a representative democracy which depends on elected officials to be vigilant and speak on our behalf.)
The same citizens who, on the campaign trail, cheered the politicians' call for more open government, civic engagement, public participation, and an end to “closed-door decisionmaking” slowly become an exasperating nuisance to the citeitis sufferer.
The public’s needs and wants and dreams create friction with the politico’s desire to advance within the closed circles of City Hall and/or their political party. The people want action and change, while the politician wants to get along with other politicians, and move up within their ranks: I’m the 2nd Vice Fundraising Chair for Gymnasium Decoration, hear me roar!
Any reform or improvement in government, even the most commonsense ones, necessarily will step on the toes of some entrenched interest. And few politicians have the stomach to see conflict through t end, and survice the parliamentary infighting that can result from trying to be responsive to public wishes.
And so it goes that many who sweep into office with reform and progress in mind begin to retreat, consciously or unconsciously. Except in the rarest cases, they will never return to the offensive to fight for their own and their constituents’ beliefs—unless led back either gently by the hand, or firmly by the nose.
So keep your eyes peeled for politicians showing symptoms of regional citeitis in your own local, State and Federal government. They need both our malediction, and also our help.
* With apologies for this clumsy term to the memory of my great-grandfather, the gastroenterologist Burrill B. Crohn.
The Albany Times-Union reports that appointed Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (formerly of Greenport) is siding with Hollywood and music industry lobby groups over, well, pretty much everyone else when it comes to internet censorship. The PIPA and SOPA bills in Congress have inspired numerous sites (from Wikipedia to Boing Boing to Reddit) to go "dark" for the day. More than a passive supporter, Gillibrand actually co-sponsored PIPA in the Senate.
As if to illustrate what such censorship might be like, a reader reports that comments about these bills were being erased from Gillibrand's Facebook page, though now it appears they are coming too fast and furious for monitors to keep up with.
Public outcry has already caused some initial supporters, such as hosting provider Go Daddy, to withdraw support from these measures (which would help rich entertainment businesses eke out a modest improvement in profit, at the expense of free speech). A former attorney for Big Tobacco, Gillibrand has a history of changing her noxious positions if there is enough pressure: she formerly opposed gay marriage, and held anti-immigrant positions such as making English the "official" U.S. language.
But such pressure has rarely come from Hudson Valley Democrats, who have tended to value their personal access to a "local" politician over their own political principles. Will Columbia County Dems hold Kirsten's feet to the fire on this huge issue?At this link Google has an action page for speaking out to Congress.