2008-04-18 / Columnists

From the Editor's Desk

Our Bully Mayor Finally Gets His Nose Bloodied - Twice
Commentary By Howard Schwach

Mayor Mike Bloomberg is a bully. There is no other rational way to put it.

Perhaps it's because the self-made billionaire is not accustomed to being told he is wrong.

Everybody needs to be told that he or she is wrong once in a while. Not Bloomberg. With him, it appears to be "my way or the highway." It has been that way with the smoking ban, the trans-fat ban, the school fiascos since he took control, the west side stadium, and a myriad of other programs that the mayor wanted.

Some he got, others he did not.

When he did not, he held his breath and kicked his feet.

That's why I'm glad that his nose was bloodied on two seminal issues in one week.

First came the Congestion Pricing Plan.

The mayor wanted the taxing plan so badly, he could taste it.

He twisted the arms of City Council members, promising them all sorts of perks if they voted for his plan.

A number of council members gave in, one of them being our representative, James Sanders.

The passage of the plan in the Council spiked it up to the Assembly, where Assembly Majority Leader Sheldon Silver promised to give it a fair hearing. Bloomberg tried twisting the arms of Assembly members, but it was not the same.

You see, most of the Council members are term-limited and looking for either other elected positions or for jobs in the city administration, areas where Bloomberg's support might well be critical.

There are no term limits for state officials. They do not have to kowtow to Bloomberg, and there is not much he can offer them.

When the great majority of Assembly members, including Audrey Pheffer and Michelle Titus, voiced their opposition to the plan and voiced their opinion that it would harm their constituents, Silver pulled the plug without a vote.

Pheffer called me right after the vote in response to an earlier call to her Albany office looking for information for an editorial I was writing for last week's paper. She said that the mayor's plan had no support and that sending it to a vote would be fruitless. She told me that she was glad the plan had died and only wished that the Council had had the guts to defeat it before it even came to Albany.

"Most of [the Assembly members] just don't believe in the concept. Many of them think this [plan] is flawed," Silver said. It wasn't his decision alone, his members voiced their opinion for a change.

What did the mayor say about Silver and his Assembly members?

"It takes a special type of cowardice for elected officials to refuse to stand up and vote their conscience."

Holy indictment.

Except, the mayor is wrong.

The members of the Assembly stood up and voted their conscience by refusing to vote on a plan that would have been inimical to their constituents. Bloomberg, who believes that he personally knows better about everything than all the other people who live in the city, has to attack those who don't agree with him.

To call them cowards for defeating his deeply-flawed plan shows his true colors. In fact, they were heroes for standing up to the bully mayor.

By the way, lost in all the furor over the votes is the fact that the plan is not working as expected in London, England, the city from which the mayor got his ideas for the plan.

While the plan has raised lots of money, it has not cut down on congestion or pollution - the two major goals of the program pushed by Bloomberg.

"It has mostly been a public relations triumph," a London official who runs the program said last week. "It has made London look like a modern, progressive city."

London's mayor, by the way, has promised that he will up the fee to $50 a day for SUV's next year.

Try pushing that in New York City!

While traffic congestion in London's central city fell initially, it rose last year, experts say.

"We would argue that the current London scheme is not one you would want to export," said the head of that city's Chamber of Commerce.

Right after the Assembly bloodied the mayor's nose on Congestion Pricing, it turned right around and hit him again on the issue of teacher tenure.

Bloomberg and his toady school chancellor, Joel Klein, wanted teacher tenure tied to test scores.

Of course they do.

They want everything tied to test scores.

If they had their way, kids who did poorly on standardized tests would not be allowed into the lunchroom each day.

Tenure has always been a touchy issue with non-teachers. Personally, I probably would have been fired for writing about the school board scammers fifteen years ago if tenure did not exist.

Tenure is necessary to keep politicians and administrators from getting rid of teachers whose ideas they don't like or who speak out about injustices in the system.

And, while tenure laws might need some reform, it should never be tied to student performance, because that is not a level playing field.

Under the mayor's plan, no special education teacher would ever get tenure, for example.

Even the mayor and his toadies are beginning to understand that there are at-risk kids who are different than the other kids. Many of those students are in special education or are English Language Learners. Schools with high populations of those groups of students will never achieve as well as those schools that have none, which is why the small high schools are doing so well. They have no such students.

One day, Bloomberg will learn that there are some children who cannot learn, or who do not want to learn, and that liberal mantra. "all children can learn," will become toast.

Bloomberg was irate once again that the state legislature would put an end to his plan to stop tenure for those teachers who taught underperforming students.

"He's upset," said one state senator of Bloomberg. "His signature issue is education and he feels he's being hurt here, especially coming out of congestion pricing."

Once again, the members of the state legislature knew better than Bloomberg what one of his cockamamie laws would mean to the people most impacted by those laws.

They voted their conscience and Bloomberg called them names.

That's what our mayor is like. If you don't agree with him, there's something wrong with you, and that's no way to run a government.

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