Thursday, October 6, 2011

Like Medvedev, Like Quinn

From The New York Times :

Like Putin, Like Bloomberg

October 4, 2011, 8:44 AM

Political ploys under way in Russia could almost serve as an instruction manual for the leadership at either end of New York’s City Hall. You have to slap your forehead in wonder that the New Yorkers didn’t think up comparable high jinks for themselves.

In case your idea of foreign news is a revised menu at the International House of Pancakes, allow us to explain.

Dmitri A. Medvedev, who is Russia’s president but not the guy in charge, plans to step aside so that his place can be taken by Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin, Mr. Medvedev’s predecessor and still the true power. Once Mr. Putin is installed anew as president, Mr. Medvedev will move in as prime minister. In some countries, leaders swap political favors. In Russia, it seems, they swap jobs.

The reason for this folderol is that Mr. Putin, though not thrilled with the idea, yielded the presidency three years ago in accordance with a constitutional provision limiting him to two consecutive terms.

In other words, this former K.G.B. man, known for strong-arm tactics, was more scrupulous about observing the niceties of term limits than were New York’s political leaders: Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and his Medvedev equivalent, Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker.

You will recall that Mr. Bloomberg and Ms. Quinn could not bother themselves with observing the letter, let alone the spirit, of a voter-imposed city law limiting them to two terms. With the help of complaisant council members, they simply changed the law to reward themselves with third terms. Generally speaking, it’s not a good idea to look less faithful to democratic formalities than Vladimir Putin.

There is no need to belabor the wobbly nature of this third term. Names and phrases like Cathleen P. Black, the 2010 blizzard, Stephen Goldsmith and the CityTime scandal tell you at a glance how things have often gone.

For the privilege of presiding over all that, Mr. Bloomberg distorted campaign financing beyond all recognition — yet again — by spending $108 million in 2009.On Monday, he was forced to testify at the trial of a political consultant accused of stealing $1.1 million from that campaign. Theft, if proved, is bad, of course. But Mr. Bloomberg tosses around money so freely that his losing a million dollars is like an average person’s having coins slip between the sofa cushions.

Nor are finances the only area of distortion. The normal balance between the executive and legislative branches in this city has been knocked askew in the Bloomberg-Quinn era. Theirs is not quite the Putin-Medvedev relationship, but it bears a certain resemblance, sort of a second-rate Moscow on the Hudson. Not unlike the Russians, Mr. Bloomberg and Ms. Quinn are trying to make sure that power remains within their alliance.

He leaves no doubt that he wants her to take his place after 2013. His administration goes out of its way to include her in news conferences even when the Council’s role is close to nonexistent, whether the issue is Hurricane Irene or, as was the case last week, an announcement that New Yorkers were eating more fruits and vegetables.

In turn, Ms. Quinn often acts as if she were not the Council speaker but, rather, the deputy mayor for legislative affairs. The latest example came a week ago when she bottled up a bill loathed by the mayor. It would have required mayors, including the wandering, Bermuda-loving Mr. Bloomberg, to let the rest of us know when he strays far from the city — certainly when he leaves the country, as he did before the 2010 blizzard. Ms. Quinn made sure that the Council would not even debate this proposal.

There is, however, such a thing as excessive coziness. A NY1-Marist College poll last week confirmed that, for now anyway, Ms. Quinn is the Democratic front-runner in the 2013 mayoral election. But it also showed that nearly half of Democratic voters would be less likely to vote for a candidate who had Mr. Bloomberg’s support.

How does that aphorism go about being careful what you wish for?

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