What a difference a day makes. Tuesday, November 4, 2008 brought the election of the nation’s first African-American president, a milestone by any standard. Yet just one day earlier, New York City’s democracy took a giant step backward. With a stroke of the pen, Mayor Bloomberg enabled himself and nearly three-quarters of the City Council to do an end run around the twice-expressed will of city voters and run for a third term. A poll found that 90% of New Yorkers preferred to make that decision in another referendum. It was an unusually crass, Tammany-like effort on the mayor’s part. But even more surprising is that 22 Council members overlooked their own self-interest and voted against it.
The last time such a self-interested proposition arose was in November of 2006, when the Council decided to raise its base salaries by no less than 25%, from 90k to 112,500 (by getting paid for chairing committees, members were already making over 100k; they can also hold outside jobs). That vote was 41-5. One might say that after first sweetening the pot, many council members are now helping themselves to an extra serving. In any case, what they all now owe their employers—i.e. the taxpayers—is some hard work on their behalf. Because of the financial sector meltdown, there will be tough times ahead. Yet Mayor Bloomberg has rather nonchalantly declared that “It is easier to govern in difficult times than in flush times.” In his lexicon, “govern” means “chop the hell out of the city budget.” It’s up to the City Council to make sure that any and all cuts are necessary and fair.
In the meantime, let us salute those Council members who voted both against the 25% raise and for term limits. There are only three: Michael McMahon of Staten Island, who was just elected to Congress; Hiram Monserrate of Queens, who was just elected to the State Senate; and Tony Avella of Queens, who’s running for mayor in 2009. They deserve a medal—but in the spirit of austerity, let’s make it a ribbon.