Sunday, August 25, 2013

NYT Editorial Board Endorses Christine Quinn for Mayor. You Should Not.

New York City will be holding the primaries for its mayoral race in just over two weeks (September 10th). Today, the New York Times editorial board finally announced its widely-coveted, long-awaited endorsement: Bloomberg's right-hand woman, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

Their endorsement begins...
Mayor Michael Bloomberg is almost gone. At year’s end there will be nothing more he can do to shape, alter or improve the City of New York. It’s the end of 12 years of governing under one man’s singular, often inspiring, sometimes maddening priorities, which were as big as a rising ocean and as small as your soda cup. It was a vision that succeeded brilliantly, but incompletely. But don’t worry, New York. Mr. Bloomberg’s is hardly the only way to run a city, and the excellent news is that there is a candidate who is ready to carry on at least as well as he did. 
 Actually, it is quite untrue to say that Bloomie's influence will be over. Bloomie is very wealthy. The wealthy do not need to be in office to have influence.

Is it too much to ask for a mayor who would be better rather than "at least as" good as Bloomberg? Especially concerning issues of civil rights and social justice.

Okay, now let's move to the heart of the endorsement:
She is one of seven Democrats who have been toiling for months in the primary race, standing before voters day and night in a marathon of civic engagement. A common complaint is that this year’s candidates look small, like dots on the slopes of Mount Bloomberg. But that isn’t fair; all but a few are solid public servants running substantive campaigns. Though the race was crashed, and distracted for a few irritating weeks, by the unqualified Anthony Weiner, it has since sobered up, and voters are paying attention. It is clear by now — and last Wednesday’s debate made it even clearer — that the best in the group is Christine Quinn.

Ms. Quinn, the City Council speaker, offers the judgment and record of achievement anyone should want in a mayor. Two opponents — Bill de Blasio, the public advocate, and William Thompson Jr., former comptroller — offer powerful arguments on their own behalf. But Ms. Quinn inspires the most confidence that she would be the right mayor for the inevitable times when hope and idealism collide with the challenge of getting something done.

Ms. Quinn has been an impressive leader since her days as a neighborhood advocate and her early years on the City Council. We endorsed her for the Council in 1999 as someone “who can both work within the system and criticize it when necessary” — a judgment she has validated many times since. She has shepherded through important laws protecting New Yorkers’ health, safety and civil rights, including measures banning public smoking, protecting tenants and small businesses, and battling slumlords. She sponsored the sweeping 2007 legislation that made the city’s exemplary campaign-finance laws even stronger. She pushed successfully for a state law making kindergarten mandatory for 5-year-olds — giving thousands of poor and minority children a better start on their educations.

As speaker, Ms. Quinn has been a forceful counterpart to Mr. Bloomberg, and has turned the Council from a collection of rambunctious, ill-directed egos into a forceful and effective legislative body. In wrestling with budgets she has shown restraint that runs counter to lesser political instincts. She fought, for example, for a Bloomberg plan to keep a year’s surplus as a rainy-day fund. There was fierce opposition from Council members who wanted to spend the money. Ms. Quinn was right, and the city had a cushion when the recession hit.

Mr. Bloomberg has raised expectations that hard decisions should be made on the merits — that the city needs a mayor who is willing to say no. More than with the other candidates, that description fits Ms. Quinn. As an early leader in the campaign, with a target on her back, she has faced anger and derision without wavering. We admire her staunch support for the city’s solid-waste management plan, which is good for the whole city but bitterly opposed in some neighborhoods. She has been willing to challenge the mayor’s misjudgment and insensitivity, as when he tried to require single adults to prove their homelessness before they were allowed to use city shelters.
 Bloomberg "raised expectations that hard decisions should be made on [their] merits"? Really? A man who compared a living wage bill to Soviet communism and red-baited Elizabeth Warren does not fit such a description.

I would also take issue with the claim that Quinn has offered strong opposition to Bloomberg. On the paid sick leave bill, for instance, she offered more opposition to her fellow Democrats, constantly delaying the legislation and only allowing a weakened version to pass. Quinn also voted against the City Council's racial profiling ban. She is also the single person most responsible for undermining NYC's law on mayoral term limits. And there's her strong support of the racist, Islamophobic, Constitution-shredding police comissioner Ray Kelly. (That'll get discussed later.)

But let's get back to the NYT:
Mr. de Blasio has been the most forceful and eloquent of the Democrats in arguing that New York needs to reset its priorities in favor of the middle class, the struggling and the poor. His stature has grown as his message has taken root — voters leery of stark and growing inequalities have embraced his message of “two cities.” He has ennobled the campaign conversation by insisting, correctly, that expanding early education is vital to securing the city’s future. And yet, Mr. de Blasio’s most ambitious plans — like a powerful new state-city partnership to make forever-failing city hospitals financially viable, or to pay for universal prekindergarten and after-school programs through a new tax on the richest New Yorkers — need support in the State Capitol, and look like legislative long shots. Once a Mayor de Blasio saw his boldest ideas smashed on the rocks of Albany, then what? 
 So the opposition to DeBlasio amounts to a skepticism that he could get funding for his proposals. However, if he is "forceful and eloquent" in his argument, wouldn't you think he would succeed as a mayor, adapting his plans in light of obstacles without sacrificing core principles?
Mr. Thompson, meanwhile, who nearly defeated Mr. Bloomberg four years ago, has run a thoughtful campaign grounded on the insights he gained in important elective and appointed posts in New York City. A former president of the old Board of Education, Mr. Thompson argues that he is the best candidate to fix the city schools, but his close ties to the United Federation of Teachers, not always a friend of needed reforms, give us pause. The teachers’ union is one of the municipal unions itching for retroactive pay raises in contracts that expired under Mr. Bloomberg and need renegotiating. 
 The NYT editorial board hates teachers' unions. What else is new?
For all the growing testiness of the campaign, the Democrats share much common ground. All agree on equality, opportunity and fairness. They concede that the best of the Bloomberg years — the economic diversification and growth, the astounding drop in crime, the transit innovations, the greener and cleaner public spaces, and big plans for the future — must be preserved. And they agree that the worst must be corrected — starting with the Police Department’s unconstitutional use of stop-and-frisk, which has abused and humiliated hundreds of thousands of innocent New Yorkers. "Equality, opportunity, and fairness" (Sorry, NYT ed board, I'm going with academic, not journalistic, style and putting in the serial comma) are abstract concepts. You can't say that they all agree on those because they all have different definitions of what those words mean.

Ms. Quinn has no specific plan to require the richest New Yorkers to pay more in taxes in service of important civic goals (she says she will raise taxes as a last resort), but neither has she made a long list of unrealistic promises. The biggest challenge has not been talked about much — next year the new mayor will have to confront a budget crisis with no money to spare and all those expired municipal contracts to settle. The mayor we will need then will not be the police reformer or education visionary, but a skilled and realistic negotiator.

Some positions Ms. Quinn has supported are unwise or objectionable. She has been too strong in supporting Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, the architect and stoutest defender of stop-and-frisk. She has supported, too blindly, Mr. Kelly’s practice of spying on Muslims at prayer, a similar false choice of public safety over the Constitution. She can become mumbly when talking about things that the real estate industry opposes, like changing zoning laws to require construction of affordable apartments. She has a reputation for shouting, but has shown a capacity to listen, and to be persuaded to change her mind — attributes we will count on seeing more of if she is elected. 
 Shorter NYT: Civil liberties are so passé.
We had already made up our own minds in favor of Ms. Quinn, but the Wednesday debate would have clinched it anyway. Candidates were asked what legacy they wanted to leave after two terms. “More people in the middle class,” Ms. Quinn said. It was a perfect answer, and she could have left it there. But, Quinn being Quinn, she threw in supporting details. She wants 40,000 more apartments the middle class can afford to live in. She wants to repair crumbling public housing, providing “quality conditions” for 600,000 people. She wants to make the school day longer and replace textbooks with electronic tablets. At the buzzer, she threw in: make the city “climate-change ready.”
I watched that debate, and I didn't think Quinn sounded that impressive. She lacks sincerity when delivering a message.
A lot of good ideas that, in Ms. Quinn’s case, add up to an achievable vision, and one we would be glad to see come to pass.
But if keeping Ray Kelly--along with illegal spying and unconstitutional search & seizure-are part of that vision, do you really want it to come to pass? I guess we can assume that the NYT doesn't really mind Quinn's coziness with business interests because the ed board touted that as an asset in their endorsement of Silicon Valley and Wall Street's good friend Cory Booker for the NJ Senate race.

The downplaying of civil liberties and social justice as considerations should disabuse you of the belief that the NYT editorial board is particularly "liberal." Its fairly establishmentarian and left-of-our-political center, but it's "liberalism" only goes so far (and not far enough).

The NYT editorial board also endorsed Joe Lhota for the Republican primary. Do any Republicans really care about what the NYT editorial board has to say?

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