2008-10-31 / Columnists

From the Editor's Desk

Commentary By Howard Schwach Sitting Shiva For Jimmy Sanders

I am sitting Shiva for Jimmy Sanders, because his political life ended on Thursday, when he voted in favor of destroying democracy in a self-serving move to keep his paltry job for four more years.

Jews sit Shiva when somebody has died. It is a mourning period, a time of remembering and thinking of what might have been.

Some use it, however, to shun a friend or relative who has stepped so far from the pale that he or she is never to be thought of again.

That is they way I feel about Jimmy Sanders. He is dead politically as far as I am concerned, and he might just as well shuffle off the scene and find a safe place to hide.

Twice, in 1993 and again in 1996, the electorate voted pretty substantially that it wanted city politicians to serve two four-year terms and then fade from the scene.

The City Council, however, did not believe that the voters are right on term limits. That it had the right to override the will of the people and give themselves four more years.

Sanders was one of 29 City Council members who voted with the mayor to give himself a shot at another term by voting to extend term limits.

Six of them were from Queens. Joe Addabbo voted no. Perhaps he did it because he has no dog in the hunt - he believes that after January 1 he will be a State Senator. Perhaps he believes in democracy. It doesn't matter. He voted no.

Sanders voted yes.

We will never know what Sanders got from the mayor for his vote. Perhaps he was promised some big deal for his district. Perhaps he was promised a job in a new Bloomberg administration.

It is clear that, at the end, the mayor was bribing any councilmember he could get his hands on.

When bribes didn't work, politicians close to the vote said, the mayor and Council Speaker Christine Quinn used threats to twist the arms of undecided council members in order to get their vote.

"Members have been told [by Quinn] that if you do the wrong thing, there will be negative consequences," Councilmember Bill de Blasio told reporters.

De Blasio said that he heard that he was to be stripped of his chair of the General Welfare Committee, but had no official word.

Darlene Mealy, who had declared that she would vote against the proposal, voted yes in the council chamber, when the chips were down.

Those close to her said that she was under such intense pressure and threats that she vomited twice at city hall before announcing her vote.

"She was very upset. She kept saying that she had to deliver for her district and that she was tired of being on the losing side," said Councilwoman Letita James.

Opponents of the bill told reporters that Mealy was told that a $25,000 grant for a Brooklyn block association would disappear should she vote no on the mayor's plan to extend the term limits.

David Weprin, who was leading the opposition to the bill and eventually voted against it, was threatened with the loss of his finance committee chair should he continue his opposition.

There is a certain power attained by being chair of the committee, as well as an extra $18,000 a year. Obviously, Weprin didn't cave in, and we'll soon see if he loses his committee chairmanship.

Nearly every member of the Council's governmental operations committee, which had to vet the plan before it went to the full council, were provided with massive funding for pet projects in their home districts.

Is it a bribe when the money goes not to the individual, but to their district? Is it a conflict of interest?

The law says no, that there is no conflict of interest if the money does not go into their individual pockets, but I say yes, that a bribe is a bribe pure and simple.

And, a threat to drop pet projects, to take away perks and committee chairs is also against all morality, even though there are those who would call that kind of action "just city politics."

In fact, the mayor told a New York Post reporter that it was Quinn's job "to corral people" to vote for the bill.

"This is an administration-sponsored bill. Don't you expect her to go out and corral people to vote for it," the mayor asked.

She certainly took a no-holds-barred approach to that job, and perhaps the electorate should ensure that she is out of a job next year as well.

The mayor, of course, called the voted a win for democracy.

"Today, the majority of the City Council decided to give the people of New York City a fuller choice in the November,2009 election," the mayor said. "I believe it was the right choice and I want to thank Speaker Quinn for her leadership."

Is it considered "leadership" to bribe council members with perks for the their districts and threaten others that don't agree with you?

That certainly is not the leadership I am looking for from my politicians.

The vote angered many other politicians and the majority of city residents.

Just the day prior to the council's vote, nearly 95 percent of those who responded to a poll said that they disapproved of the term limits changes, even though many of them wanted to see Bloomberg say in office.

"The public knows that the fix was in," said Councilmember Tony Avella. "You should be voted out of office for this."

"The mayor is a loser today," shouted Councilmember Charles Barron. "His legacy will be forever tainted."

The mayor, however, announced after the vote that he would dedicate more than $80 million of his own money in the 2009 election.

There have even been rumors that Bloomberg will try and pull a fast one by switching back to the Democratic Party and running in its primary.

Or, some say, he will run in both the Democratic and Republican primaries.

One never knows what the man who stole democracy from city voters because of his and a belief that he is the only person who can govern New York City. Obviously, anything goes.

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