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Stated Meeting: 2010 City Council's First Day

Photo (cc) Courtney Gross


Day one for the City Council 2010 class felt like the first day of school.

Thirteen new members buzzed with excitement as they raised their right hand to take the oath of office. Many of them, including Margaret Chin of Lower Manhattan, will be serving in public office for the first time and even the roll call proved thrilling. When it was her turn, Chin, who was fifth from the top, answered "ay" with authority and a smile.

"It feels good. It feels good to be here," said Chin following the vote.

On Wednesday family members, friends and former politicos filed into the council chamber to officially recognize the new City Council -- a body that for the first time will have a majority of minority members, four members who are openly gay and one Queens politician (Karen Koslowitz) who starts a second stint in the same office. The body had only one official duty: to name a speaker.

As expected, the City Council voted 48 to 1 to re-elect Speaker Christine Quinn to a second, four-year term as leader -- a choice some council members saw as personal, while others said there was no one else more capable.

"To be able to sit here in the council chambers today and vote for someone who I was out there as a community organizer with is a very special thing," said Councilmember Daniel Dromm, a new member from Queens who said he has known Quinn for 20 years.

But like any first day, there were minor calamities, including police escorts and catcalls.

If Wednesday's meeting is any indication of what's to come, one thing is clear: The City Council class of 2010 is officially at bat, and some of its teammates are coming out swinging.

Day One

There may have been 48 members that wanted Quinn to get another term as speaker. But one, Councilmember Charles Barron, a former Black Panther, wasn’t about to let it happen quietly.

As expected, Barron nominated himself for the speaker position. Invoking the names of civil rights leaders, from Malcolm X to Percy Sutton whose funeral took place earlier in the day, Barron said his doomed candidacy was a symbolic gesture to emphasize the fact that no black or Latino leader held higher office in the city.

"I put my name in nomination for Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, for Rosa Parks, for Huey P. Newton and the Black Panther Party," said Barron. "For all of those who came before us and said that we must fight for our rights, and once we have that power we should use it."

The only vote Barron received was his.

After the votes were counted, Barron's supporters catcalled from the balcony, criticizing some of the black and Latino members who voted for Quinn. Police later escorted them out.

Undeterred, Quinn gave an approximately 10-minute address welcoming the new members to City Hall and congratulating old members on the last term's accomplishments, including the passage of a solid waste management plan, the council's fight against the centralization of senior centers and securing tax rebates for New York City's homeowners.

Quinn, whose close relationship with the mayor put her on an uneasy footing with some council members after the November election, also reaffirmed the new council's priorities.

"We'll make job creation our top priority, building on existing strengths, and seeking out new sectors that are ripe for economic growth," Quinn said. "We’ll expand affordable housing across the five boroughs and look for new opportunities in the wake of the housing crash. We’ll listen to the needs of small businesses, fighting unnecessary regulation and promoting tax reform."

While the new council boosts the number of black, Latino and Asians to 27, political observers also predict its incoming members will push the council towards a more progressive agenda. Simultaneously, the new council's Republican ranks grew from three to five.

On Wednesday, new and old members attempted to celebrate their first day as the new council with humility and humor. In a satirical gesture welcoming the new members, Minority Leader Jimmy Oddo gave a fake memoir to his new colleagues titled "Felder on Felder" -- a reference to outgoing Councilmember Simcha Felder who will be joining Comptroller John Liu's office as a deputy commissioner.

Third term members, like Erik Martin Dilan, said the energy from the new class gave them some perspective. "In some way seeing the turnover it helps rejuvenate me and remind me about why I was excited about doing what I do," Dilan of Brooklyn said.

And for others, it's a day they had been waiting for for years. Councilmember James Van Bramer, the new representative for the 26th district in Queens, said he had been waiting for "a long time" for this day.

"It's a very, very special day," Van Bramer said before being sworn in. "My mother is here." The newly elected member then pointed toward her across the chamber with a smile.

Bloomberg: Take III

When Mayor Michael Bloomberg took the podium for his inauguration address, the crowd may have been cold, but they were noticeably cheerful and optimistic.

And Bloomberg responded in kind, championing the city's decrease in crime, his ambitious plans for affordable housing and an unwavering focus on bettering education for the city's approximately 300,000 high school students.

"We've come a long way, and now we have a choice to make," Bloomberg said. "We could be content with what we have accomplished and preserve our gains, or we can take our beloved city even further forward -- and make the promise of opportunity real for every person in every community."

Some attendees were brought to tears by the ceremony.

That, though, was in 2006.

On Friday, the mayor rose to the podium perched on the edge of the City Hall steps to take the oath of office for a third term and begin his ninth year in office. A drastically different crowd and constituency greeted him this time around.

At the other side of the blue stage sat newly minted Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and Comptroller John Liu, who many expect to be less conciliatory than their predecessors. Much of the excitement seemed to surround Liu, who was sworn in as the first Asian ever elected to citywide office in New York. To make matters worse for Bloomberg, his administration is still smarting from a much smaller margin of victory -- 5 percent in 2009 versus 20 percent in 2005 -- and the latest edition of the City Council is expected to challenge the mayor more than he would like.

Bloomberg tried to reach out: "I want to make a personal commitment to you -- and to every New Yorker. No matter where you live and work, no matter what your race or roots, no matter who you love, who you worship, or who you voted for, I pledge to be your mayor.”

Clad in a gray, pinstriped suit and bold purple tie, the mayor continued: "And I will not stop working for you -- I will not rest -- until every job seeker finds work, every high school student graduates, every child is safe from illegal guns, every family has an affordable home, and every New Yorker with a dream finds it within reach."

That is what he expects of his third term. But he offered little indication of how he plans to accomplish such an ambitious agenda. Meanwhile, some critics say they are still waiting for the mayor to achieve the promises of his first eight years. They note many of his 2009 campaign promises will be tough to accomplish in a floundering economy and say third terms, even for the strongest of New York's mayors and governors, have rarely turned out well.

His supporters, though, say this mayor will not fall victim to the dangers of a third term or the ever-threatening lame duck death sentence. These allies believe that Bloomberg -- despite the mounting odds -- will take on the new challenges of 2010 and beyond.

History Revisited

Flashback to Nov. 9, 2005. Bloomberg, flush with the promise of improving the school system, keeping crime down and taking on poverty in New York City, had just trounced his opponent to land a second term.

He said he would reduce the city's homeless population by two-thirds by 2009 and create thousands of units of affordable housing. More than a year later, he released an environmental initiative, PlaNYC 2030, which promised to reduce the city's carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2030, when New York City could have a million more residents.

But on Nov. 4, 2009 it was a different story. Bloomberg's victory was not as inevitable as many observers believed thanks to voter animosity over the extension of term limits.

On inauguration day this year, there were more than 10,000 families in homeless shelters -- an all time high, according to statistics from the Department of Homeless Services. The foreclosure crisis is crippling neighborhoods in the outer boroughs, especially in minority areas like Jamaica and East New York. And the city's stock of affordable housing, say advocates, is actually going down. Despite some progress, many of the mayor's green initiatives have moved forward less rapidly than many expected, and the most high profile -- congestion pricing -- failed to win approval.

Some experts even question the main plank in the mayor's campaign platform: his economic prowess.

"Under the mayor over the past eight years, city spending is up 40 percent higher than inflation. We don’t have a better subway system. We don't have a better infrastructure," said Nicole Gelinas of the Manhattan Institute at a recent forum at Baruch College. "What did we get for our money? A lot of fraud in Medicaid. A lot of education spending that hasn’t made a tremendous amount of difference in objective non-state test scores."

Bloomberg's supporters beg to differ. They point to what they see as demonstrable improvement in the public schools system since the onset of mayoral control. The city has continued to see a decrease in crime (2009 saw the lowest number of murders since the 1960s), and efforts to make the city more safe and friendly for pedestrians have allowed New Yorkers and visitors to actually walk along Broadway in Times Square. Supporters argue the mayor is willing to take risks on larger policy issues, even if that means they don't always take.

"The mayor thinks big," said Bill Cunningham, a managing director at Dan Klores Communications and the communications director in Bloomberg's first term. "He got elected the first time by 3 percent, and it didn’t stop him from thinking big and planning big."

Despite his narrow margin this time around, Cunningham among others, expect more "big things" from Bloomberg. But what?

Promises for a Third

On Friday, some inauguration ceremony attendees said they did not see those "big things" from the mayor.

"He didn't set very high goals for himself in this speech," said Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who in his own inauguration address pledged to give communities more of a voice in development and parents more of a say in education.

The mayor did promise to revitalize his administration by temporarily reassigning first deputy commissioners to other agencies -- a move that he called an "experiment" and a tool to "break down bureaucratic barriers." Some critics saw it as a gimmick.

Turning his focus toward Washington, Bloomberg pledged to work for comprehensive immigration reform. Serving as MCs at the ceremony were students from a high school for recent immigrants -- a choice that highlighted the mayor's commitment to changing immigration laws. Bloomberg also ventured into national policy in 2006 by committing to take on illegal guns.

Seeming to make some concessions because of his slim victory in November, the mayor laced his address with humility. "I realize, too that the building behind me is yours -- and the job in front of me is to listen and to lead," the mayor said. "I will not shirk from the hard decisions that lie ahead. And by continuing to reach out to every community, by tackling the toughest issues with renewed energy and without fear of failure, we will deliver innovations that improve New Yorkers' lives and strengthen our communities."

He did not, however, say what those innovations might be.

Although the weather was warmer than many expected, reactions to the mayor's proposals were not as temperate.

"It's important that the platitudes that were stated today are carried through and that means reaching out to communities that he hasn't reached out to," said Corey Bearak, the president of the Queens Civic Congress.

The address's lack of specifics allowed advocates and experts to opine on what the mayor should concentrate on, from education to development. While environmentalists, like Marcia Bystryn of the League of Conservation Voters, urge the administration to take up issues related to solid waste removal and water quality, others close to the administration, like Councilmember Simcha Felder, predict Bloomberg will "somehow" get control over the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

"What's really been missing has been jobs for middle class New Yorkers," said John Petro of the Drum Major Institute. "We see a lot of initiatives aimed at media and tech and biotechnology. Where are the initiatives that are actually going to create good jobs for New Yorkers?"

Tackling the Economy

The precarious state of the city's economy gave Bloomberg his rationale for seeking a third term. Now that he has achieved it, many think economy recovery will be the hallmark of the coming months.

And that was clear last month when Bloomberg sat before a standing room only crowd to discuss the city's sustainability. Bloomberg, who did, after all, run on the Republican line, looked comfortable even though the room was packed wall to wall with progressives.

Andrea Batista Schlesinger, who took a leave of absence from the event's sponsor, the Drum Major Institute, to join the mayor's third term campaign, sat at Bloomberg’s side on stage. She attempted to tweeze out what policies the mayor sees as necessary to make a sustainable city (the subject of a book just released by the institute).

The mayor sounded a familiar theme: how his administration has worked to diversify the economy. Google is in Manhattan with thousands of jobs, Bloomberg intoned, and a biotechnology park is about to flourish on the East Side.

"We are blessed with a great industry: banks, Wall Street (loosely defined)," Bloomberg said. "We don’t want to kill that golden goose. We just want to make sure we have the ability to survive when it's not doing well cause it will always go through cycles."

Insiders wonder how Bloomberg can make good on this, while keeping his promise to not raise taxes this year. According to the Independent Budget Office, that may be possible. The city faces an approximately $4 billion budget hole. But with federal stimulus funding and some unexpected tax revenue, the mayor could close that gap.

Despite that, the city almost certainly will cut back on spending. Late last year the mayor requested agencies cut 4 percent from their budgets this fiscal year and another 8 percent from next year's budget, spurring many to fear city services will be pared down for the New Yorkers who need help most.

Even if the city can avoid higher taxes and slashed services in the coming year, fiscal watchdogs see serious challenges ahead. Throughout his eight years in office, Bloomberg has given pay increases to the city's municipal employee unions, like the Police Benevolent Association and the United Federation of Teachers.

Now, said Charles Brecher of the Citizens Budget Commission, the city must try to rein in its labor costs. For one thing, Brecher said, the city needs to cut back its pension benefits for new employees through a fifth pension tier, which would reduce the city's gargantuan pension costs going forward.

The mayor has shown the ability to compromise with the city's unions in the past. Last summer, the mayor and the Municipal Labor Committee agreed to have city employees provide some co-payments for emergency room and ambulatory care. Previously the city has paid 100 percent of the costs. The move will save the city $400 million over two years.

Bloomberg has said he wants more concessions from unions, especially from the teachers' union, but he almost certainly will face resistance. The United Federation of Teachers is already balking at Bloomberg's directive to use state test scores to determine whether teachers get tenure (this from the same union that refused to take sides in this mayoral race).

Expectations for a Third

By far, many say the mayor's mounting challenge in a third term will be dealing with new political forces, including the ambitious new public advocate and comptroller and a more forceful City Council.

Many point to last month's defeat of the Kingsbridge Armory -- an administration supported project to build a shopping mall in the Bronx -- as one indication that the mayor could see more opposition in a third term.

"I think he'll do well in the third term," said Councilmember Gale Brewer following Friday's ceremony. "It will be a real balance with the City Council, which I think is needed."

Following his final vote in the City Council last month, Comptroller John Liu had his own predictions for what we could see in the next four years: "I look forward to working together with the mayor and the other electeds in this great city. But nobody gets a free ride."

The Year That Wasn't: What Didn't Happen in 2009

Tolls on the East River bridges? Not in 2009.

Every year, things that everyone expects to happen don’t. Trial balloons pop. Sure things crumble. The odds-on favorite fades in the stretch. After all, 2009 was supposed to feature the inauguration of Hillary Clinton as president, more steamrolling by Eliot Spitzer and a subway World Series (we got half of one, though).

Here are a dozen other things that did not quite materialize in 2009.

Michael Bloomberg was not inaugurated as president of the United State

Whatever White House fantasies the mayor and Kevin Sheekey had (and according to an account by Joyce Purnick, they went far beyond the daydream stage) they fell victim to national enthusiasm for Barack Obama.

But don’t give up hope. Less than two weeks after Bloomberg's less than overwhelming victory in the mayoral campaign, Mark McKinnon at the Daily Beast began promoting Bloomberg for president in 2012.

Democrats did not choose the next mayor of New York in a bloody primary

Why? Because Bloomberg did not become president.

Fearing decades of idle hours writing checks, Bloomberg extended term limits and ran for a third term. Two likely contenders -- Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz both staunch allies of Bloomberg -- quickly decided not to oppose their man in City Hall. Rep. Anthony Weiner also dropped out, perhaps wondering what a second failed run for mayor might do to his eventual chances. That left Comptroller William Thompson who barely campaigned at all in the primary but handily defeated City Councilmember Tony Avella.

With the primary behind them, Democrats in this overwhelmingly Democratic city failed for the fifth straight time to elect one of their own as mayor, as Bloomberg defeated Thompson to win a third term.

Caroline Kennedy did not become a U.S. senator

A year ago she seemed so close. After all, she is rich, female, has friends in high places (Barack Obama, for one), would continue to give New York Senate star power and keep a Kennedy in the Senate. And, after years of reticence, Caroline Kennedy seemed to want the job. Even though the voting for this contest was to be done by an electorate of one (Gov. David Paterson), Kennedy stumped upstate. She gave interviews. She campaigned.

But then things unraveled. Kennedy did not seem to have inherited her family's legendary campaign skills. In an interview with the Times she said "you know" 142 times by one count, "fueling comparisons to Gov. Sarah Palin."

And the one voter? He maintained an air of mystery, issuing seemingly contradictory and sometimes befuddling statements on who he would choose. Kennedy, though, still seemed to doggedly hold the inside track.

Then, around midnight on Jan. 21, she abruptly withdrew from consideration, citing personal reasons that have never been explained. And then things got really messy. A source close to Paterson told reporters the governor never intended to appoint Kennedy. Kennedy confidantes countered the governor had told Kennedy to reconsider her decision. The governor's aides reportedly leaked various explanations -- never confirmed -- for what Kennedy's "personal reasons" might have been.

Paterson's efforts to tarnish Kennedy backfired. By the time the governor finally named upstate Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand to the Senate seat, Kennedy's possible sins were lost in discussions of Paterson's handling of the appointment.

"Caroline Kennedy may not deserve to be a U.S. senator, but she doesn't deserve to be slimed by the Paterson administration, either," wrote Bill Hammond of the Daily News. "Let Paterson be the last governor to appoint a senator from New York. No one could foul it up better, anyway."

Giuliani -- and many others -- do not choose to run

2009 ended as the year of the non-candidate, with Rudolph Giuliani in the lead. Many Republicans dreamed the former mayor would run for governor and become the tough prosecutor-turned-chief-executive Spitzer was supposed to be. But Giuliani announced he would not run, scared, some said, by the prospect of having to do battle with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Then Giuliani begged off a Senate run.

Some Democrats had their disappointments as well. Liberals, frustrated at seeing a pro-gun former tobacco lawyer holding the seat vacated by Hillary Clinton, had their hopes dashed repeatedly in 2009. One by one their candidates fell by the wayside: Rep. Carolyn Maloney, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Steve Israel, all apparently dissuaded from running by the White House and/or Sen. Charles Schumer. As the year drew to a close, outgoing City Comptroller (and defeated mayoral candidate) William Thompson remained the hope of Democrats hoping to avoid a choice between Gillibrand and Jonathan Tasini.

Some Democrats expressed equal dismay about a candidate who would not drop out. Despite pressure from the White House and plummeting poll numbers (which began edging upward in December), Paterson remained firm that he would seek election to a full term next year. That leaves many party leaders worried about holding congressional and State Senate seats, as well as the governor's mansion, in 2010.

Mark Green did not return to elected office

If everything had gone according to Mark Green's plans he'd be wrapping up his second -- and presumably final -- term as mayor right about now. Instead, he spent the last year trying to get his old job of public advocate back the only job he ever won election to despite many attempts at other offices.

"I realized how much I could do again as the No.2 citywide official during a different crisis and decade," Green said, announcing his candidacy. Although he raised little money and garnered few endorsements, experts saw the race as his to lose.

But lose he did, this time to Bill de Blasio. Few expect Green will try for office again. But, as they say, you never know.

New York does not approve same sex marriage

This was to be the year. The governor -- Paterson -- frequently and adamantly announced his support for same sex marriage. The Assembly approved it. The State Senate had switched to Democratic control due partly to financial support from gay groups. And some neighboring states had already embraced same sex marriage.

But then came the upheaval in the Senate. With Democrats holding the slimmest of majorities and one of their members, Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr., an implacable foe of same sex marriage, the Senate leadership wondered if they had the votes to pass gay marriage. Advocates countered that some Republicans would likely sign on in support, and gay families in the state deserved to have their day on the Senate floor.

And so they got it -- in the very final days of the session. As the roll was called, no Republican moved to support gay marriage, while eight Democrats broke with their party to oppose the measure. The bill went down -- 38 to 24.

As the year ended, Washington, D.C. and Mexico City acted to legalize gay marriage, leaving New York City, a birthplace of the gay rights movement, lagging behind.

Tolls were not placed on the East River bridges

It was the year the third rail of New York politics would lose its power to zap. With the Metropolitan Transportation Authority facing a deficit of hundreds of million of dollars and concerns about congestion, pollution and global warming, the reasoning went, how could transit riders be forced to constantly pay more for less while auto owners traveled into the city for free, belching pollution all the way? And at the end of 2008, a panel on transit financing proposed placing tolls on the East River bridges.

But once again the love affair between Americans and cars trumped other considerations. Legislators from the suburbs and outer boroughs blocked the tolls, reducing the Metropolitan Transportation Authority rescue plan to a pale shadow of its former self.

Just how pale became evident at the end of the year, when the MTA announced it once again faced a $400 million deficit and again proposed massive service cuts. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose congestion-pricing plan was blocked by the legislature in 2008, vowed the time had come for some kind of auto fee -- tolls or a charge to drive in Manhattan.

"Come March, they're going to have to balance a budget, and I think any kind of revenue source is going to be on the table, and it may in fact still get done," Bloomberg said.

Or as the residents of one outer borough have been known to say: Wait until next year.

City schools did not fall into chaos

As the law giving Bloomberg sweeping authority over the city school system was about to "sunset," Bloomberg offered dire predictions of what might happen if he did not get his way.

"I think that there'd be riots in the streets," Bloomberg said at one point. If the legislature did anything to break his iron grip, he later said, it would be tantamount to "saying to the city: ‘we want to resurrect the Soviet Union. We want to bring back chaos.''

His allies agreed. Changing the system at all, said Geoffrey Canada of the Harlem Children's Zone, "will take us straight back to the bad old days, when corrupt and self-interested bodies answered to no one."

As frequently as those supporting changes in the current system said they did not want to resurrect the former school headquarters at 110 Livingston Street (now a luxury apartment), bring back the Board of Education or return the revolving door for school chancellors, the mayor and his allies charged that they did.

And the tactic worked. Last summer, the legislature largely left the mayor totally in charge of the country's largest public school system.

For the record, though, the mayoral control bill did sunset for a few weeks in July -- largely owing to the chaos in the State Senate -- and no one rioted or raised the hammer and sickle over Tweed.

New York City schools did not return to the "bad old days." Whether the new days are all that good, though, remains a topic of never ending debate.

Swine flu did not cripple the city this fall

Following last spring's H1N1 outbreak, which shut schools and jammed city emergency rooms, officials girded themselves for the worst this fall.

While the flu did prove deadly to some, it did not wreak havoc in New York this fall. Only a hundred of so people a day appeared at emergency rooms, schools remained open, attendance stayed about 90 percent and many people ignored pleas to get flu shots.

The Nets did not play in Brooklyn

This was the year the NBA New Jersey Nets were slated to make the move from the Meadowlands and open the 209-2001 season in Brooklyn. The team, under the ownership of Bruce Ratner, would play in the edgy Frank Gehry-designed Barclay Center at Atlantic Yards.

The Nets still may move to Atlantic Yards. But not until 2012. And when that happens Bruce Ratner will not own the team. He sold it to Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, who anted up $200 million to essentially buy the team and perhaps save the beleaguered Atlantic Yards project in the process. In June, beset by an array of financial problems and legal challenges, Ratner scrapped Gehry's arena plans and brought in Ellerbe Becket, an architectural firm based in Kansas City. So instead of playing in an architectural landmark, the Nets will slam dunk (or try to) in an arena that one observer said "looks a lot like every other stadium we've ever seen."

Fans may not care. The Nets opened this season with a record of no wins and 18 losses, the worst start in NBA history, and have not improved much since.

Eliot Spitzer did not vanish from public view

For months following the disclosure of his penchant for high-priced call girls and his resignation, sightings of former Gov. Eliot Spitzer remained rare. But a year after his disgrace, the "steamroller" returned. In March, working for his father's real estate company, Spitzer bought an office building near the hotel where he met Ashley Dupree. Later that month, he granted his first television interview since leaving office, focusing on the financial crisis. As his effort at rehabilitation continued, Spitzer wrote columns for Slate and delivered a lecture on ethics at Harvard.

By September, Spitzer was denying reports that he was running for office. But then that bubble burst. Polls showed him losing to Paterson -- who then had a 20 percent approval rating -- by a two-to-one margin.

"Clearly, any thoughts he might have of a political resurrection at this point are very premature," pollster Lee Miringoff toldthe Daily News.

Paterson did not appear on Saturday Night Live

But Fred Armisen has -- again and again. Paterson has repeatedly made it clear he is not amused by the comic's impression of the governor as a bumbling blind man.

And he's not going to take it anymore. In October, the governor, who SNL usually depicts as bumping into things, vowed, "I'm going to bump into 'Saturday Night Live' one day and they're going to get what's coming to them."

And the governor began angling for a guest shot (host -- or maybe a cameo like the one by Mike Tyson last week). "I've offered to come on 'Saturday Night Live' because I thought I would help them get the ratings," Paterson said in an interview on NY1. "Humor that they had when they first had Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi ... has gone… . I thought I would show some benevolence as governor and help them out a little bit."

Lorne Michaels, are you listening?

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