Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Impeach Bloomberg

And, while you’re at it, impeach Quinn, Markowitz, Felder, Recchia, Valone, Dilan, and Sears, too.

I know I should learn more about the rules and bylaws that govern New York City’s impeachment process—and maybe I’ll get to that later—but right now I don’t care. All I know is that there is already a stack of stories on how Mayor Michael Bloomberg has used both personal and public funds in a covertly choreographed attempt to buy the support he needs to override the city’s term limits law, and he can no longer be trusted as an honest steward of our interests.

He has also used our tax dollars for his master plan, so, beyond being forced from office, he probably belongs in jail.

Someday. . . I’ll call upon you to do a service for me. . . .

It has now been reported that Bloomberg and/or Deputy Mayors Linda Gibbs, Edward Skyler, and Kevin Sheekey (all New York City employees, paid with tax dollars, in case that’s not obvious) placed calls to at least five community, arts, and neighborhood groups that had received city contracts and/or large donations from Bloomberg’s private philanthropies. The mayor and his deputies asked if those organizations might testify before the City Council on behalf of Bloomberg, or lobby council members behind he scenes to vote for the mayor’s position postponing term limits.

One leader of a civic group made it clear that it was an offer they couldn’t refuse.

Yet, when representatives from these organizations testified before the council late last week, none revealed their financial ties to Bloomberg.

It has also been revealed that money from the mayor’s previously secret slush fund (it was discovered in June after a similar, City Council Speaker slush fund was exposed) was disproportionately ferried to City Council members who sit on the committee that must first approve Bloomberg’s third term scheme before it can come to a vote before the entire council.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, a close ally of the mayor who made her support known last week, and Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, a vocal advocate for the Bloomberg plan, were also recipients of supersized amounts of Mayor Mike’s munificence.

And, just to reiterate, this largess is public money. It is from a kitty funded by New York City taxpayers.

Does not pass the smell test

Not surprisingly, two mayoral hopefuls are not pleased:

“It is an abuse of power, and it must stop,” said the city’s top financial watchdog, the New York City comptroller, William C. Thompson Jr., who may run for mayor next year.

Representative Anthony D. Weiner, another likely candidate for mayor, said that “if you rely on the mayor or the administration to fund your organization, saying no when the mayor calls is not an option.”

Mr. Bloomberg’s tactic, he said, “walks right up to the line of coercion, and it’s very corrosive.”

But there are plenty of others from many different sectors that find these abuses equally (or even more) untoward:

Kenneth Sherrill, a political science professor at Hunter College, said it was inappropriate for the mayor to be asking the groups that are so dependent on his good graces to take a position on his legislation.

“It’s distasteful. And what’s distasteful about it is leaning on weak people — people who are vulnerable,” Mr. Sherrill said. “The problem is in the implicit threat that if you don’t help, we’re going to remember.”


Fred Siegel, a professor of history at Cooper Union who has studied New York City politics for decades, said Mr. Bloomberg had cynically “reversed the flow of money” in politics to build the illusion, if not the reality, of widespread support.

“The traditional politicians are bought by special interest groups, but Bloomberg buys special interest groups,” he said.

But wait, there’s more:

Mr. Bloomberg’s critics argue that changing term limits will not expand choice because it will all but guarantee his re-election, given his willingness, in two previous campaigns, to spend $80 million to win the office.

Gene Russianoff, a senior lawyer for the New York Public Interest Research Group, said that asking groups who receive city money to support the term limits bill “looks like an administration desperately abusing its power to stay in office. It just does not pass the smell test.”

Betsy Gotbaum, New York City’s public advocate, called the tactic “wrong.” She added, “You have the right to give all the money you want, but because you give support, you shouldn’t have to get support.”

Well, “you”—meaning Billionaire Bloomberg—might have the right to give all you/he wants. . . of his money! But if public funds are allocated on a quid pro quo, that would be not just smelly, but almost certainly illegal.

And, though not yet illegal, perhaps we need a law that requires full disclosure of financial ties from those testifying before public bodies. There needs to be some counter balance, some disincentive for this and future mayors and their client organizations.

Mike Bloomberg’s obscene wealth and the way he used it to pollute the electoral process has always been problematic (to say the least), but this current power play has crossed a new and more dangerous line. The use of personal funds to create the illusion of widespread support and to, let’s face it, bribe public officials should probably be made illegal. The use of taxpayer dollars to do the same sorts of things almost certainly already is.

Forget a third term; Mayor Bloomberg should not be allowed to finish his second.

(h/t DM)

(cross-posted on guy2k, The Seminal, and Daily Kos)

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