One in a series of Public Policy Breakfasts
sponsored by the
School of Public Affairs of
Baruch College of the City University of New York.
CEO, Power Global Strategies, former First Deputy Mayor, New York City
Chairman of the Finance Committee, New York City Council
Dean, Baruch College School of Public Affairs
Stan Altman: Today's topic is the balance of power in New York City. New York City's government has evolved over the course of almost 200 years. Thirty years ago the City's government consisted of the City Council, the mayor (or the executive branch) and the Board of Estimate. The Board of Estimate served as a meeting ground for all of the senior elected officials in New York and also to equalize power within the City. Represented on the Board of Estimate were each of the five borough presidents, who had one vote each, and the three senior elected officials - the mayor, the controller and the president of the City Council - each of whom had two votes.
So you had eight elected officials who had eleven votes among them and who made major policy and operational decisions, and every month a calendar reported the history of what was taking place in the City. That form of government continued until 1989, when the Supreme Court ruled the Board of Estimate to be unconstitutional because it didn't reflect the principle of one person, one vote. The result was a series of charter-reform commissions that finally transferred power from the Board of Estimate to the City Council in an effort to create a balance between the executive branch and the legislative branch.
Now in New York City we have two strong individuals who, in fact, serve as a focal point of major policy decisions - the mayor, the head of our executive branch, and the speaker, the head of the City Council. The question before us - now that we've gone through a series of charter reforms in the last two years, and with term limits two years away - is there in fact a balance of power in New York City?
Peter Powers: I think it would be helpful if we just reviewed for a minute something that may be obvious - how do we allocate power, what process do we have? We're governed by a city charter. And this year a charter commission has come up with recommendations that people will vote on next week. The city charter is really the mechanism for taking power from the people and giving it to government and telling government: this is how we want you to exercise this power; this is how we want you to allocate this power and what we want you to do.
However, there are a lot of misunderstandings about the city charter. I was on a charter revision commission in 1998, and they're always controversial. A lot of people would compare the charter to the Constitution and say it was as sacred as the Constitution. I have a lot of respect for the charter, but I don't think it apt to compare it to the United States Constitution, or for that matter even the State Constitution. And there's a big reason why.
Constitutions are sacred, and they're very global. They cover policy, and they cover the way things are to be done. But they leave a lot to the courts to decide and a lot to the different parts of government to work out. They're much broader. As you get closer to where services are actually performed in government and the day-to-day operations that affect people's lives, you arrive at a city charter. A city charter is much more detailed; it covers a lot more areas than any kind of constitution could.
There are actually four ways for the city charter to be amended. The state legislature can amend it, because New York City is essentially a creature of the State of New York. The City Council and the mayor can agree on a law to do it. The citizens can petition and get something on the ballot, and you can change it that way. (In fact that's why we have term limits: because citizens went out there, put their signatures on petitions and got it on the ballot, and people voted on it.) The fourth is through a charter revision commission.
The current New York City charter has been revised since 1989 over 80 times. That is an average of once every six weeks. Many of those changes are technical changes, like those on land. Something doesn't work right, and an effort is made to improve it. That's generally done through the City Council passing a law and the mayor signing that law.
The good part about a charter run that way is that it is flexible. It has to be flexible, because it deals very much with the day-to-day governance of the people of the City who have given it that power. Unlike the Constitution, which is a very difficult thing to change or amend, the charter can be amended very, very easily.
What are we doing when we give power to a charter? We're saying we want the mayor to have these powers, the comptroller to have these powers, the City Council to have these powers, and the borough presidents to have these powers. By doing it that way we're trying to fix accountability, we're trying to identify who we're going to hold responsible for what services and to whom we might say "you should have done this and you didn't do this, and we will either re-elect you or not re-elect you because of that."
That is a very important thing that we do. I think that we have to look back in our history and see how we've allocated this in the past, what the City looked like when we allocated it that way, and when we've made changes, what that has done. New York City has always had a very strong mayoralty. I'm in favor of a strong mayoralty. My theory of governance in the City, in a local area, is based on accountability. When we look at government, we find very often that we have created organizations where there is no accountability, where you can't hold somebody responsible.
In New York City we have a board of education. If we're not happy with education, whom can we honestly hold accountable? Can we hold the mayor accountable? The mayor has two votes out of seven through his appointees. Can we hold any borough president responsible? Each borough president only has one vote out of seven. So we have seven members of the board of education appointed by six different individuals. There isn't accountability in that. I think that's one of the failures of the education system here; it hasn't worked because we have no accountability.
When I look at a balance of power, I like to see very clearly that this branch of government or this entity or this office is responsible for this. The legislature is responsible for something else. When you invest power in a body politic, like the legislature, there is less and less accountability. I'll give you an example of that. The State of New York consistently fails to approve a budget on time. People don't get angry with anybody, because everybody points fingers elsewhere, because there's no final accountability, nothing that one person is responsible for. I'm suggesting we change that.
In the City of New York, we should be very proud of both the City Council and the mayor. They always do their budgets on time. Those budgets are negotiated, and the negotiations are sometimes acrimonious. I've been through that process; it's not easy. But we do get our budgets on time. Our system works in this city.
I talked about the four ways that you can change a charter, which is how we allocate power. The highest form of that is when the people vote on it, because that's the ultimate expression of democracy, to say "we want the people to vote on this." In fact, even though the mayor and the City Council can change the charter, they cannot move power between different office holders by doing that. Only the voters can do that. The New York State Legislature can, too. When you approve of something via the voters, you're putting up a political bar and saying that if the mayor and the City Council want to get together next week and change - which they have the power to do - there's a political bar they have to get over. They have to get over that political bar and say "we are going to go against what the people have voted on."
I'll give you an example that exists today. It's term limits. People voted for term limits. Several years later the Council put it on the ballot again, and the people voted again for term limits. I know a lot of members of the Council would like not to have term limits, for whatever reasons. And I'm not criticizing them for that. They could literally, if the mayor agreed - in fact if he didn't they could override his veto - vote term limits out under our city charter. The charter itself gives them the right to change the charter.
However, that's not going to happen. It's not going to happen even though you could maybe get a majority in the Council to do it, because there's a political barrier. The political barrier is that the people have already voted on this one. When you talk about balance of power, you want to be able to say "this is truly the voice of the people, the direct, democratic voice of the people. This is not something that comes through elective representatives." It's out there, it's open, it's debated. Very often when things get debated in the Council or with the mayor, it's really not out there; it's not out there in a broader way. When you go to the voters - especially in an off year, when there aren't a lot of other issues clouding the horizon - you're getting true democracy on certain issues. You're saying "this is the way we want it."
I'll just close this part by saying I never assume that the way we govern today is something we should lock into for 20 or 30 years. Local government is dynamic; things change so often that we must always have a flexible document. That's what I like about our charter. Even though it's been changed a lot, it works for us because it's flexible, as it must be in dealing with government services on the local level.
Ed Sadowski: Let me attempt to spark, in a small way, the fires of controversy here by saying that, while I agree with Peter that the city charter is not equivalent to a constitution, I think that we demean the document by the eternal tinkering that has been going on for the last few years. I think it's right to say that it should be focused on the distribution of power between the branches of the government. That's absolutely sound. And since that distribution of power has served the federal government very well for 200 years without too much tinkering, and the State of New York for an equal number of years without too much tinkering, I would suggest that that's what it should be in the City of New York.
We have had some massive changes recently in the distribution of powers. In my judgment, at least, that has been highly salutary. But it took a great deal of effort. While I was on the City Council, I introduced the first bill to abolish the Board of Estimate. When I got appointed to the chair of the Council's finance committee and had to negotiate budgets with the Board of Estimate and the mayor, I did not think my sponsorship of that bill was helping that situation. Once I withdrew it, I Peter Vallone took up the bill and saw it to a conclusion.
Even so, that did not happen until the Supreme Court of the United States quite properly ruled that the Board of Estimate was an unconstitutional body. That's what it took to change the major distribution of power in New York City. And I suggest to you it should be that kind of effort that does it as a general rule. The idea of a democracy voting ad hoc on these issues sounds very good in the abstract; but there is no filter. There's no filter of experience; there's no filter of wisdom. That's why we essentially adopt in the United States a republican form of government - that is to say legislative bodies dealing with executives and not putting every issue to a popular consensus.
Some states have a far more liberal policy with respect to local referenda. Sometimes the results have been counter-productive. Term limits sounds great, and maybe the vote that was cast by the people of the City of New York is an indication of vast cynicism among the electorate these days. But ask yourself, if Mayor Giuliani does not get elected to the senate, should he not be able to run for a third term?
Ultimately, the people have shown good judgment. I would call your attention to the fact that, by the time even the great and revered Fiorello La Guardia died, he was doing very poorly at the polls. Ed Koch came into New York City as one of the most popular mayors in recent history, and then the voters got tired of him and got rid of him. After a very arduous period of slow growth and accumulation of an appropriate balance between the Council and the mayor, we've essentially eviscerated that. We are now going to deprive the City of the experience, the wisdom of candidates ineligible to run. We're going to have a totally inexperienced mayor who's going to have to go on a three- or four-year learning curve and a City Council without leadership that has any real experience in dealing with city government.
It's going to be a challenge. I know that Stan and the School of Public Affairs are going to do some work in an effort to smooth that over. But keep in mind that, although it sounds democratic, it's essentially anti-democratic, when all is said and done. Because it suggests that the people can't be trusted; that the people can't be trusted to vote for whom they want to vote for, and therefore we must impose upon ourselves a limitation that may not make any sense at all. And as far as the City of New York is concerned, I see little benefit from term limits.
As to balance of power in general, it took a massive upheaval to shift the power from the mayor to a legislative body so that there is now some balance. And it was done with a good deal of contention and concern. There were people who felt that the resolution of land-use issues prior to the charter change was in the hands of a cozy group of Board of Estimate members who made back-room deals on zoning issues. And hellfire and brimstone was predicted in the event that the City Council would get control of land use.
So far as I can see, there's been no disaster that resulted from this shift, and it has worked as efficiently as and perhaps better than it did under the old Board of Estimate. So in substance I am suggesting that the city charter is perhaps not the same as a constitution that's been in effect for 200 years and gets amended maybe a handful of times over those 200 years. Maybe it's a little bit more flexible but at the same time not something to be the subject of tinkering every year or two.
I think it's a mistake to change the charter too frequently. As I looked at the non-budget proposals, every one of them could be acted on by the public, in public debate before the City Council. You don't need a charter revision to re-organize a branch of government or create an agency. Let me give you an illustration: perhaps the most hostile and contentious initial relationship that existed in the City of New York in my lifetime was when Mayor Lindsay was elected as a Republican and stood against a solid Democratic City Council. Mayor Lindsay wanted a massive re-organization of city agencies. He said there were too many of them, they should be consolidated, there should be seven or eight super agencies called administrations, no longer commissioners. He did that, and he proposed it to the City Council.
Now, even in that environment of innate hostility, the City Council sat down and reasoned with the mayor: "This is what you want to do with the finance department, this is what you want to do with the consumer affairs department." We had some differences of opinion; he wanted to take the department of consumer affairs and put it into the department of development. We said no, we want a separate department; he agreed. And it worked out just fine, with the Council and the mayor negotiating in good faith to resolve those issues.
It's no accident that the City Council and mayor act far more effectively in adopting a budget than does the federal government and certainly far more effectively than the state government. It is because when we made that shift to the City Council we ultimately created a true balance, one that we should not be tinkering with for at least another maybe ten years.
PP: I think when you look at something like even the budget process, you've got to realize that the world has changed. Ten years ago every city solved its problems by complaining to Washington that it needed more money, by going to its state legislature for more money. There's not that much money coming out of Washington anymore. When you decide as a national policy to have a balanced budget, unless you raise taxes - and nobody seems to really want to do that - you're going to have to cut spending.
The money that comes out of federal and state programs is not going to be the same as it had been historically. Now local government has to be much more responsible in its resources and how it spends those resources and how it raises those resources than it's had to be in the past. Those running local government - and that includes mayors and the county executives and the legislatures - have to be much better managers than they were in the past. The trend now is to get more and more accountability at the local level now.
Let's look at the way things were done in the past. First of all, New York City has come to the brink of bankruptcy on more than one occasion. In the late '80s, after a big boom, all of a sudden we had incredible debt. In the '90s we had a $2.3 billion deficit in the budget. You can't do that anymore. When you talk about limiting the ability of a City Council and a mayor to increase spending, unless they certify that there's an emergency, you're not preventing them from doing anything. The people have said "we want you to keep tax increases only if there's a two-thirds vote of the Council. That's the only time you're going to do it. We only want you to increase spending if you certify that there's a reason for that." We've raised the political bar for that, because we don't want to go back to the way we had been 30, 40 - even 10, 15 - years ago, when we had these huge deficits and we didn't have a rainy-day fund to deal with that. We have to be much more managerial now, much more responsible on budget matters.
I think the proposals in this charter revision are very responsible, in the sense that they don't prevent things from happening, but they raise the bar and make people think about it. It's not just going to be a back-room deal that does it. It's going to be something out in the open.
ES: Just to give some historical perspective as we proceed into the 21st century: in 1975 the City was on the brink of bankruptcy. By a massive effort of the state, city and federal governments, we instituted controls. The controls are such that New York City is now the most conservatively run fiscal operation in the United States. During those years when the federal government was running up deficits, those were Reagan-Bush deficits. In New York State it was Cuomo deficits - and financial disarray. For each one of those years the New York City government balanced its budget. It was required by law to do so. To this day it is subject to a fiscal monitor just in case we go out of kilter. If we run deficits in certain accounts, bells and whistle go off throughout the entire city government to tell people to stop spending so that we end the year with a balanced budget.
The system works so well that almost by operation of law it generates surpluses every year, because budget estimates have been generally conservative. I think that the federal and state governments ought to look to New York City as a model of fiscal responsibility and concern.
PP: But you've got to look at how we got there to balance that budget. We have a process that says "we're going to have a balanced budget," and we do it every year. How did we get there? We taxed, and we taxed, and we taxed. We taxed everything that we could find. We had the highest hotel occupancy tax in the country. So much so that people who put together groups to come here were boycotting New York. We cut it by a third. We now make more money from a lower tax than we did from a higher tax. And we're creating more jobs by doing that.
If you balance the budget by taxing you're not accomplishing anything. That's what some of the charter reforms are trying to address. New York was one of the highest taxed cities, and businesses were leaving. We had 1.2 million people on welfare. In the four years before Mayor Giuliani got there, we lost about 350,000 jobs, during a period when there was job growth on the national level. That's how we got there. Now we're trying to say "if you're going to increase taxes to balance that budget, that's not being responsible. You can do that only by a super majority of the Council. And if the mayor vetoes it, you have to have a super super majority of the Council to do it."
We're not saying it can't be done. But balancing a budget by picking the taxpayers' pockets all the time is not the best way to do it. You drive out businesses, and when you drive out businesses, people lose their jobs and we get more people on welfare. We should be about taking care of people in many ways, one of which is giving them the ability to find a job in this city.
SA: That's part of the whole issue of accountability. Some people would say that, under the old Board of Estimate, there was accountability, because there was a public record every month. Those were really wonderful documents once you learned how to read them. There was a lot of information on who voted, what the issues were. In fact that kind of a record doesn't exist today. It's very difficult to actually find out what's going on. While there are public hearings in the City Council, there isn't the same kind of record. A lot of what happens in mayoral agencies is often very difficult to find out. So how is the public is going to be informed enough to be able to address some of these high-bar issues in a way that they really do understand what they're voting on?
ES: Have we abolished the city record? Don't we publish all the proceedings and the records of every committee meeting?
PP: There are lots of things that are published. One, you do have the city record. And when agencies want to do things or put contracts out, that's all out there publicly. In this town you've got a very inquisitive press, which does a terrific job of making sure that we get information. Finally, it gets to the question of how much information you want and when you want it. Do you want the public to be able to open up all our computers? That's a debate maybe we should have. I don't know if anybody really thinks that's good government.
If you look at particular cases you can always find areas where we can change. That's why I say we must keep our charter as a flexible document. If we think something is going wrong and it's not good enough for us, or we're not getting information we need, then maybe we have to deal with the system. If the legislature and the executive don't deal with it, maybe the citizens have to go back and change the charter. That's part of the flexibility that we have.
SA: Often people say that power is vested in the budget process, and therefore whoever controls the process controls what happens in government. We have to have a balanced budget, which means that what you can debate on expenditures is limited by what the revenue estimates are. In New York City those estimates are driven now by the executive branch, unlike the federal or state level, where independent estimates are made by the legislative branch and the comptroller's office and the executive branch. Then those get debated, depending upon whose assumptions you want to believe. Currently in the City this debate is framed by only one branch of government. Is that a way of creating a balance of power in government, or is that something that needs to be debated and possibly changed?
ES: If I were going to have a charter amendment, I would address that particular issue. It's not as if all revenue estimates are generated by the mayor. He does estimates for all taxes except real-estate taxes. But once having estimated revenues from all other taxes, it locks the City Council in on the real estate and forces the real-estate tax to be the court of last resort if some additional expenditure is needed. If I were going to continue that effort to have equal power between the mayor and the City Council - subject of course to the mayor's veto, which is always a safeguard - I would address that issue and change that.
The fact of the matter is that there are so many controls on taxes in New York that I find it hard to consider it an issue. First of all, we can't pass any tax in New York City that the state legislature doesn't first authorize. If the state legislature doesn't authorize it, we can't do it. As a matter of fact, the state legislature can not only authorize taxes, it can also take authorization away, as it very foolishly did in the last session with the repeal of the commuter tax. They can be as detailed as they like. If they say "we don't want the sales tax to be a cent more than four-and-a-half percent or three percent," they can prescribe that. So the idea that this is a tax-and-spend City Council is not accurate.
I wrote a report in 1985 or thereabouts, asking for the elimination of the commercial-occupancy tax and the unincorporated-business tax. We're still struggling with that. But keep in mind the drive has come from both the mayor and the City Council to make those tax reductions. I don't see a tax-and-spend City Council, not here in New York at least.
PP: I don't think we've had that in the last few years because we've had a mayor who's pushed to cut taxes - got elected on that - and I think the Council saw that mandate, because it was raised as part of the campaign. I like the way the system works, because we're now producing surpluses. The first time I was in government, the Council convinced us that there was money coming from the federal government, so we overestimated and we spent. Then the money didn't come, and the economy changed and got tight and tax revenues dropped. The Council was there saying it's Council spending, but the mayor was the one who was going to get blamed because the mayor has to make the proposals.
That's a problem of diffused accountability. If someone estimates too high or too low, then he'll be accountable for that, but at least we know who it is; it isn't a negotiated issue. That's one of the problems at the state level: we have these state deficits because the budget is a negotiated number. It shouldn't be a negotiated number. Make someone accountable for it. If they're wrong, then you know who's been wrong and you can deal with it appropriately.
I find the positions and both gentlemen contemptuous of the electorate and the people. First, on the question of experience and term limits, Mayor Giuliani was not experienced as a mayor, and all the arguments against his being mayor were the same arguments you make against term limits. The City Council, which is a pretty strong City Council - inept, but strong - didn't get the message about term limits. The people had to vote twice. Aside from term limits, I want to address my question to Peter Powers. You can't put the patina of legitimacy on a ballot question. Fourteen questions on a ballot, including gun-free zones around schools, and you say to people "do you agree with this?" And if they say "I agree with that," that means those fourteen questions on the state charter are already approved by the people. This is contemptuous of the people.
I disagree. People do read about ballot issues, they do understand what they're voting on. There's always a lot of coverage on it. The voting commission - the campaign-finance board - sends out a very readable booklet that explains the changes; people do understand it. Every charter commission has been contentious, with people saying it's terrible and the sky is going to fall in. Last year, people said terrible things. At the end of the day, 60 percent of the people voted for it because they understood that it made sense, that it was correct. We had a 60-percent victory. Not many things get 60-percent victories on a ballot in the City of New York. People understood it. Anybody who says people don't understand it is being contemptuous of the people. I trust the people; I trust their judgment. They were right on term limits. Everybody said they didn't understand it the first time. Everybody said "oh, it was the wrong thing; they really didn't understand what they were doing." So all the smarties put it back in the ballot. The people knew, and the people spoke and the political bar was there again.
First of all, last year's change was voted in by a large percentage of the electorate. However, in a year like this, a lot more people can learn about the ballot. It gets more publicity. You can break through with discussions about it, so I think it's a little different; a lot more people know about it. If they want to come out and vote for it, it's theirs to do that.
My question is to Mr. Powers. I personally find that term limits is very, very unreasonable. If I have a good member representing me in the City Council and I'd like to see that person get elected for a third term, I'm not allowed to do it. You said there were several ways we can remove term limits? What are they?
There are four ways to change it. One is to petition the state legislature to do it. Number two is to get the City Council and the mayor to agree that they're going to do it. Number three is to get a proposition on the ballot to do it. In other words, get 20,000 or 25,000 signatures to do it. And number four is if a charter revision commission does it.
I'm in favor of term limits, but I'm not happy about the way it's worked out. I wish it could have been phased in over a period of time so you didn't lose so many people who had tremendous experience all at once. That I think is something we're going to have to deal with. I think we'll overcome it. I don't think the sky's going to fall in. If we elect competent people, and if you also have a good staff on the Council, some of those people will be there to guide it through. It'll work.
A complication of the term-limits issue now is the census. As soon as the new members of the Council are elected, they're going to serve not a normal four-year term but only a two-year term because of the redistricting that will result from the census. The result is that some of the council members who are going to be carried over are going to be serving, in effect, 11-year terms. Some will only serve six-year terms. So for about four years, we're going to go through a funny process of turning over until we get to some normalcy. So there are some advantages to at least adjusting the way term limits gets implemented so we don't end up creating chaos in our government. I think that would be worth discussing.
I'm sorry to tell you, but 140,000 people whom I represent disagree. They're all beginning to realize what's going to happen with term limits. We did try - and I thought the mayor supported the effort - to phase this in. I love New York City, but this is one of the most complicated cities in the entire world. And now, the whole elected city government will be totally cleaned out with the exception of about twelve or thirteen council people - borough presidents, the mayor, the entire government will go. And those council people will only be able to serve, as you said, for two years. Then when they leave, you're going to have people who have only two years of experience. They will be the new Council body.
We all know how complicated it is to get things through this city now. The mayor appoints all the commissioners, the people who work for the Council, people who work for the City; the City will be in total turmoil. The question is, what's going to happen to our city? How do you envision the City's functioning with a totally new government and two years after that, a government with only two years of experience as council people?
It's more likely than not that the next mayor will be a person with extensive city government experience. So that will be a plus. So there I think you won't have that problem. But I will say this: I don't care whether you've been speaker or whether you've been a controller or advocate, there is invariably a learning curve for any new mayor, and I don't care how experienced you are.
But mostly I'm concerned about the Council. You're going to have some holdovers because they've only had one term. Fortunately, since my departure from the Council, there have been some very significant changes in staffing, so that you do have a civil-service bureaucracy serving the Council, but civil-service bureaucracies will help with techniques, and they will be good technicians. What you're depriving people of is the wisdom to deal with contentious issues. I think that not having that kind of experience is a great loss.
What about institutional memory: do you think we can maintain it when those staff people have left?
I think there will be a change, but I think we'll survive it. I think New Yorkers are resilient, and I think they do elect good people and you'll have good people running because opportunities have opened up for people. I remember when we came in, in the Giuliani administration: that was a drastic change in personnel on the mayor's side, a lot of new people. You had a mayor who had never been in city government. You had a first deputy mayor whose last job in city government was working in the mailroom of the Parks Department when he was in college. I mean no experience. A lot of new people came in and, yes, there was a learning curve, but I think the mayor's record speaks for itself. There was a drastic change; we had to get used to things.
I think you're going to find the same thing in the Council. First of all, you're going to have probably a lot of staff people there because the new council members are going to want to have some experienced people. To be honest with you, when I first came to government from the outside, the first thing I did was to look for a chief of staff who had perfect government experience. I think most people are smart enough to realize that they need someone who can show them the ropes and help them get around. I think we'll be fine. I do think the Council - and I'm speaking for myself; I don't speak for the mayor - has to be careful that the next mayor doesn't try to grab a little extra power during the reorganization.
Since we are very mindful about the potential impact of term limits and the question of institutional memory, the Baruch College School of Public Affairs is working with the leadership of the City Council to address this issue. Once before, in 1973 when the size of the City Council was expanded, the City University trained newly elected council members to make them more effective once they assumed office. We're proposing to do the same thing now. We've been working closely with the City Council and the speaker in setting up an advisory board to provide that institutional memory and to work with the newly elected members of the Council before they officially take office in 2002. Since they will not have the luxury of learning on the job during their first years in office, newly elected council members and staff will be provided training in the workings of the Council and the City. This will give them the quick start they will need to work effectively from day one. Because of term limits and the 2000 Census, many will be forced to prepare for their reelection within months of taking office.
Without trying to characterize the total Council, I am impressed by how often the Council has overridden the mayor on the budget since we've changed the charter. The budget of the City of New York has not depended on real-estate taxes for a long time. And I think that the City of New York has trouble even standing up to Albany. These are major issues, life-support issues, low-income housing, the education of our youngsters. And I don't think the people of New York are being heard. To have to vote on a charter change in this election, when there's very little else to bring you out, is outrageous. I don't think we have a balance of power, and I'd like you to convince me otherwise. I think we have a mayor-led government. It doesn't matter whether I'm for him or against him. I have trouble finding out what government is doing. How do you justify the lack of communication on these issues?
I think there's been an incredible supply of communication under this mayor. This mayor every day is in front of the press. You can see his press conferences on television, on "Crosswalks," on the City channel every day. All the reporters are there and report on him every day. I take serious objection to your saying that you're not getting information from this government. You're getting more information from this government than you've gotten from other governments. Now you may not agree with the things that the mayor's doing, because some of them have been controversial, but he's changed this government, and we now have lower crime, we have more people working than we've had before, we've created 350,000 jobs since he's been mayor. We have lower taxes, we have a safer city, we have more tourists coming to this city, we have fewer people on welfare. Over half a million people used to have to be on welfare, and they aren't there anymore. We've created jobs.
I don't think there's secrecy there at all, so I don't think I'm going to convince you about this mayor. But I'm not here to do that. I'm saying I think there is an open government here, and I think the information gets out there for those who read the papers, for those who watch it and those who dig for it.
|Baruch College, CUNY|