Page 1

Vol. 1, No. 13

www.cityandstateny.com

June 4, 2012

CAN FIVE QUARTERS CHANGE A LIFE? LAWMAKERS ARGUE IT CAN. PAGE 6

Was the living-wage compromise just the start? Page 12

Shelley Mayer doesn’t see her election to the Assembly as a step down. Page 18

Is there still hope for campaign finance reform? Page 19

The Onion’s outgoing editor on why politics is funny and Andrew Cuomo isn’t. Page 23


UPFRONT

WHAT ARE YOU WORTH?

I

have always bristled at the terms applied for centuthe word values. Though ries by philosophers and the term is so widespread theologians to the code now it is difficult to think of of conduct by which we a time when it wasn’t in use, should seek to live—is not the etymology of the word just a matter of semantics. in the sense of meaning It’s one that we increasingly feel in our gut. principles or More and standards dates more, we have back only to the come to think of 1920s. our own signifiThe ubiquity cance as based of the term in upon how much politics is even money we make more recent, and how our and can be salaries compare connected most with others’. notably to a 1992 Morgan Pehme Often we judge speech by then EDITOR Vice President Dan Quayle in which he scolded the fictional title character of the television show Murphy Brown, an unapologetically single mother, as an example of how popular culture was in part to blame for our “poverty of values.” Almost instantly thereafter the loaded language of “values” was embraced by the culture warriors of the right wing, and soon it was on the lips of Democrats as well, who felt they had to co-opt the term for fear that if they did not, they would be denounced as indulgent of immorality. My objection to the word values, however, has nothing to do with the ideological connotations it has taken on since the ’90s. The problem I have with values is that a word that has always been associated first and foremost with monetary worth has been insidiously transposed to encapsulate our most important and heartfelt beliefs, and in so doing has contributed to the diminution of our core convictions to quantifiable commodities. The difference between a society based upon values and one that speaks of virtue, morality and ethics—

people’s greatness not by the magnitude of their accomplishments but by their ranking on the Forbes 400 list; movies not by merit but by box office dollars; candidates not by their qualifications but by the heft of their fundraising. Implicit in the Occupy protests of last year was this feeling that humanity has been monetized and we haven’t gotten much out of the exchange. It is against this backdrop that Albany is now taking up the issue of raising the minimum wage and the New York City Council is facing off with Mayor Michael Bloomberg over living- and prevailing-wage measures. Beneath the discussion of indices, inflation, inequality and job killing lies a more succinct question: How much are we worth? $7.25 an hour? $8.50? $79,500 a year? More? Ultimately our lawmakers will make a determination that New Yorkers will have to accept. But however it plays out, perhaps we would all benefit from changing the way we think about wages, and instead ask if we can ever truly assign a value to ourselves.

Editorial (212) 894-5417 Advertising (212) 284-9712 advertising@cityandstateny.com General (212) 268-8600 City & State is published twice monthly. Copyright © 2012, Manhattan Media, LLC 2

JUNE 4, 2012 | www.cityandstateny.com

AROUND NEW YORK The best items from The Notebook, City & State’s political blog City & State’s political blog, The Notebook, is your key source for political and campaign developments in New York. Stay on top of the news with items like these at www.cityandstateny.com/thenotebook. 1. ROCKLAND COUNTY Angered by Democratic State Sen. David Carlucci’s refusal to introduce a bill allowing a sales-tax increase for Rockland County, a local Democratic legislator is strongly considering running a primary against the freshman lawmaker. A source told us that the vice chairman of the Rockland County Legislature, Alden Wolfe, is considering a Carlucci challenge— and in an interview Wolfe did not deny making phone calls to local Democrats about a possible run. “I’ll do a ‘no comment’ on that—but I’m not going to deny that I’m dissatisfied with the way the whole process was handled [by Carlucci],” said Wolfe. In a statement Carlucci (pictured) defended his record on the sales-tax issue and his record in Albany. “I’m proud of my record of opposing regressive tax increases on Rockland County residents,” Carlucci said. 2. MANHATTAN Add another very explosive element to the mix in the 2013 New York City mayoral race. Randy Credico, a political comedian and activist who is well-known in New York politics, will kick off his mayoral bid on June 7 at Rocky Sullivan’s, a bar in Red Hook, Brooklyn. “All of the other candidates are hacks, and there will now be a candidate in the race that represents real progressives,” Credico said, citing what he described as less-than-impressive support for abolishing stop-and-frisk by the other contenders as the main issue he will be pushing. Credico, known for his frequent pranks, also said he would be producing

and circulating videos mocking the other mayoral contenders, including one featuring former Republican New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani endorsing Council Speaker and mayoral front-runner Christine Quinn. A strident opponent of the now-abolished Rockefeller drug law, Credico ran an unsuccessful, uphill campaign in 2010 against Democratic U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer. 3. QUEENS A family feud is boiling over in Queens. In a move seen as retribution for Queens Councilwoman Liz Crowley’s unexpected decision to run for Congress, the Queens Democratic Party is very likely to leave Crowley (pictured) off of its petitions as she runs for reelection this fall as a party district leader, according to Crowley’s congressional campaign and two other elected officials in her area. Crowley, who is running in a fourway congressional primary in northeast Queens, went against the Queens Democratic Party— and her cousin Queens Democratic Leader/Congressman Joe Crowley—by running for Congress against the party’s preferred candidate, Assemblywoman Grace Meng. “I’ve heard the same thing,” said Queens Assemblyman Mike Miller. “I do not believe she’s going to be on there, but we’ll have to wait until the petitions are printed.” 4. BROOKLYN On paper, you would think the Tea Party in Brooklyn would

support Brooklyn/ Queens Rep. Bob Turner’s Senate candidacy, given that he’s the party’s 1 hometown congressman. But over the 2 3 weekend the organization, 4 somewhat surprisingly, decided instead to back Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos. The head of the Brooklyn Tea Party, Joseph Hayon, said that while all three GOP Senate candidates had some support, the decision had in large part come down to the fact that Maragos decided to come speak to his organization, while neither of Maragos’ opponents, Turner or Wendy Long (pictured), paid similar tribute. “One of the biggest complaints Tea Parties have is that in general, elected officials take us for granted,” Hayon said. “[Maragos] was willing to humble himself to get Tea Party support.” There is also an alternative theory floating around. Hayon was disillusioned by Turner’s reluctance to campaign on the gaymarriage issue during his 2011 congressional special-election race, in the wake of the legalization of gay marriage in New York. Hayon says gay marriage did play a role in the Brooklyn Tea Party’s endorsement decision—because Maragos is the only candidate to publicly back a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage—but insisted that no “payback” against Turner was involved. —cbragg@cityandstateny.com

EDITORIAL Editor Morgan Pehme mpehme@manhattanmedia.com Reporters Chris Bragg cbragg@cityandstateny.com Laura Nahmias lnahmias@cityandstateny.com Jon Lentz jlentz@cityandstateny.com Copy Editor Helen Eisenbach Photography Editor Andrew Schwartz ADVERTISING Associate Publishers Jim Katocin, Seth Miller Advertising Manager Marty Strongin Senior Account Executives Ceil Ainsworth, Monica Conde Director of Events & Special Projects Andrew A. Holt Digital Sales Director Gary P. Bronson Executive Assistant of Sales Jennie Valenti PRODUCTION Art Director Christie Wright Production Manager Heather Mulcahey Ad Designer Quarn Corley MANHATTAN MEDIA President/CEO Tom Allon CFO/COO Joanne Harras Director of Interactive Marketing and Digital Strategy Vinny DiDonato

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UPFRONT THE KICKER: A CHOICE QUOTE FROM CITY & STATE ’S FIRST READ EMAIL “I think that the governor has a mixed record, and, frankly, doesn’t do anything for poor and working-class people that we don’t make him do.” —Brooklyn State Sen. Kevin Parker to The New York Times

THE FOOTNOTE: A real press release, annotated Sent 3:48 p.m. on Wednesday, May 23 from Rep. Charles Rangel’s campaign Powell served in the state Assembly from 2001 to 2010.

Powell wasn’t so supportive in 1994 and 2010, when he ran against Rangel and lost. In the 2010 race Powell called Rangel “corrupt,” adding that the incumbent’s campaign was “pointless” and that his father “would be turning over in his grave” if he had witnessed Rangel’s career.

Rangel is facing a tough challenge from State Sen. Adriano Espaillat, who could benefit from the district’s changing demographics.

At the risk of Adam Clayton Powell overkill, the endorsement was also made on Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard.

Endorsements from Latinos like Díaz and Serrano could be more important in the district, which has become less of an African-American stronghold and is now majority Hispanic.

ADAM CLAYTON POWELL IV—SON OF LEGENDARY CONGRESSMAN—ENDORSES RANGEL FOR RE-ELECTION NEW YORK, NY—Today, the Honorable Adam Clayton Powell, IV, son of Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.—the first African-American from New York elected to Congress—backed Rangel for re-election. “My father would be proud of me today, as I stand here in solidarity with Congressman Rangel, and officially support him for re-election,” said Powell.“ We are in a critical time in our country’s history which requires demonstrated leadership. When it comes to this race, there is simply no comparison as to who is the better man for the job.” The event fittingly took place in front of the Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. State Office Building and was attended by a host of community supporters. “I am thrilled to receive Adam’s endorsement and humbled by his kind words,” said Congressman Rangel. “Adam’s commitment to public service has been unquestionable. The support I have received over the last few weeks has been overwhelming and I am even more committed to doing everything I can to serve my district.” Yesterday, Rangel also picked up the endorsement of Congressman José E. Serrano. He also received the support of Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. and the entire East Harlem/ El Barrio political leadership. OTHER RANGEL ENDORSEMENTS INCLUDE: (LABOR) American Federation of Government Employees, American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees, American Federation of Teachers Committee, American Maritime Officers Voluntary PAC, Committee on Letter Carriers’ Political Education, Communication Workers of America COPE, Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, International Union of Operating Engineers Local #15 PAC, International Association of Fire Fighters FirePAC, International Association of Heat & Frost Insulators, International Brotherhood of Teamsters DRIVE Fund, International Longshoremen’s Association PAC, Ironworkers PAL, Laborers Political League, Metallic Lathers Local #46 PAC, Organization of Staff Analysts, Plumbers Local Union #1 NYC, Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union Voluntary, Seafarers Political Activity, Service Employees International Union COPE, Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association PAL, The National Postal Mail Handlers Union, Transport Workers Union, Unite Here Tip Campaign Committee, United Association Political Education Committee, United Steel Workers Of America, 1199SEIU, 32BJ and United Transportation Union. POLITICAL CLUBS ENDORSEMENTS INCLUDE: Sojourner Truth Democratic Club, Tioga Carver Democratic Club, Fred

Rangel picked up an endorsement from Assemblyman Guillermo Linares days later, though the campaign erroneously claimed Linares was “the first Dominican elected to public office in the U.S.,” a distinction actually held by Kay Palacios, a councilwoman for Englewood Cliffs, N.J. Less than two hours after issuing the initial release, the Rangel campaign sent out a correction, this time calling Linares “the first Dominican elected to a major political office in the United States.” 4

JUNE 4, 2012 | www.cityandstateny.com

Powell was born Adam Clayton Powell Diago, but changed his name in 1980. Rangel made fun of the name change in the past, noting that another Powell descendant is also named Adam Clayton Powell IV.

The legendary preacher and congressman was ousted in 1970 by Rangel, who has held the seat ever since.

Rangel, who has faced ethics charges in recent years, gave up his powerful position atop the Ways and Means Committee. His predecessor, the elder Powell, was also dogged by allegations of financial misconduct and stripped of House leadership roles.

In a recent New York Times article, John Gutierrez, an instructor in Latin American and Latino studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, suggested that Rangel’s plethora of endorsements “might serve as a substitute for more laborious campaigning that, because of his age and serious back problems, is more challenging this year.”

BY THE NUMBERS

1 World Trade Center Whether 1 World Trade Center is designated as America’s tallest building won’t be decided until its completion in early 2014. But while the structure’s official height is in question, depending on whether an antenna is included in the final measurement, there are plenty of other ways to quantify the skyscraper.

104

Number of floors

OVER

12,500

Curtain wall panels

Greenfriendly features

48 THOUSAND Number of steel beams

3 Fuel cells 162 AC units 16 Steel tanks 13 Cooling towers 11 HV units 101 Fans

3,000,000

Total square feet of abovegrade space

200,000

Cubic yards of concrete

70 9 Number of elevators

Number of escalators

1,776 Feet from top of spire to street level

1,368

Feet from top of parapet (SOURCE: THE PORT AUTHORITY OF NY & NJ)

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T:10”

T:12.75”

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S P OT L I G H T : WAG E S

HOW MUCH CAN

$1.25 CHANGE

SOMEONE’S LIFE? Albany debates minimum-wage increase, with politics playing a starring role By LAURA NAHMIAS

F

ive days a week Michelle Dawkins wakes up at 2:30 a.m. and drives from her Bronx apartment to begin her shift at JFK Airport, ferrying wheelchair-bound passengers among the airport’s eight terminals. From 4:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Dawkins—whom her co-workers affectionately call “Mother Love”—will make $7.25 an hour, or $58 for the day. If Dawkins, 42, doesn’t require an unpaid sick day, and if the airport needs her for 40 hours each week—which is not always a certainty during the lean fall and winter travel season—she will make $15,080 over the course of a year. Under a new proposal currently being debated in Albany, Dawkins and the 91,000 other New

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JUNE 4, 2012 | www.cityandstateny.com

Yorkers who make the federal minimum wage will see that hourly wage increase by $1.25. Five more quarters an hour will not be enough to lift Michelle Dawkins out of poverty, take her off food stamps or get her away from Medicaid, but she said it would make a difference. In 2002 she made $13 an hour as a security screener, but she left the job to take care of her mother, who died of breast cancer two years later. In 2005 she made $11 an hour doing the same job she has now, but for a different company. “I say any bit, even if it’s a quarter more, you’re gonna turn around and see a difference,” she said. “If it went to 10, it would make a world of difference.”

“We could go to restaurants, we could go to movies, we could get an accountant,” she joked. Minimum-wage jobs are the fastest-growing sector of the state’s economy, and the number of workers making $7.25 an hour jumped dramatically from 6,000 in 2008 to 91,000 by 2011. But whether Dawkins receives the extra $1.25 per hour, which will cost her employer an additional $2,900 a year, will have very little to do with how badly she wants or needs it—or even with what economists, business owners and voters say they want—and everything to do with politics in Albany. CONTINUED ON PAGE 9

CITY&STATE


Nutrition Facts Excessive Safety Violations

100%

Unfair Wages

100%

Illicit Business Practices

100%

Operating an Underground Economy

100%

BUILDITUNION.COM


New York City Clerical-Administrative Employees

LOCAL 1549 DC37, AFSCME, AFL-CIO

“You Don’t Need a Billy Club to Sit at a Computer” Every day in New York City there are hundreds of able-bodied police officers performing clerical administrative tasks in police facilities near you. They sit at computers, type, file and complete paperwork. In the 1960s, Mayor John Lindsay created a civil service title, Police Administrative Aide, with the intention of moving able-bodied police officers out from behind desks and onto the streets where they can perform the patrol and enforcement duties for which they are trained. Other big municipalities, such as San Jose, CA. and Suffolk County, NY, have successfully civilianized. Local 1549, DC37, AFSCME has won a series of arbitrations ordering the Police Department to put civilian employees in the positions in which they belong, instead of higher paid police officers.

“Civilianize Now!” Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly has stated publicly that he supports civilianization. The leadership of Local 1549 is calling on the Mayor, City Council and N.Y.P.D. to civilianize. Put the money in the budget to hire at least 500 civilian employees now. This is a matter of common sense. Civilianization saves money. The cost of a civilian employee, factoring in salary and benefits, is less than half that of a police officer. Additionally, more police officers on the street would result in a reduction in the overtime which results from a force that is stretched too thin. Civilianization increases public safety. More police officers on the street creates a greater deterrent to crime. The law enforcement community has well established the benefits of community policing. More police officers on the beat is the essence of community policing and will improve the relationship between the community and the police department.

www.local1549.com

Civilianization is Good Public Policy!


S P OT L I G H T : wag e s How to CalCulate a living wage

Michelle Dawkins and her 9-year-old son, Josiah continued from page 6

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has staked his legislative session on a policy move with a long history of winning seats for Democrats in tight elections. Senate Republicans won’t touch anything branded job-killing with a ten-foot pole unless they get something in return. And Gov. Andrew Cuomo is not actively championing the bill, a move seemingly designed to keep all the sides playing against one another while he maintains his position as the ultimate referee.

W

hen Speaker Silver introduced Gov. Cuomo before his State of the State Address in January, he used the occasion to announce he would seek an increase in the minimum wage as his major legislative priority for the year. Cuomo later said he was in favor of the increase. The timing of Silver’s proposal was auspicious— minimum wage is an issue that Democrats use to win campaigns. The proposed minimum-wage hike has the broadest approval of any legislative measure in recent history, with 79 percent of statewide voters and 61 percent of Republicans in favor of an increase.

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In an election year in which Republicans in the Senate must hold onto their tenuous majority, Democrats have effectively dared Republicans to let November roll around without voting “Yes” on an issue that has overwhelming popular support. “Given the state of the economy and the broad-based popularity of the issue, the increase in the minimum wage is something that could affect any race in the state,” said Sen. Mike Gianaris, chairman of the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee. “My preference is to have Senate Republicans follow their typical pattern and buckle to our agenda to avoid a political problem,” he joked darkly. If Republicans didn’t pass it, then Democrats will make the November elections into a referendum on minimum wage, he said. Dan Cantor, the executive director of the Working Families Party, said advocates are trying to urge individual Republican senators to convince Sen. Majority Leader Dean Skelos to bring the bill to the floor for a vote. “We have to convince Republican senators that this is economically, politically and morally smart,” he said, adding, “If they don’t pass it, then that’s why we

Photo by AnDrew SchwArtz

“I say any bit, even if it’s a quarter more, you’re gonna turn around and see a difference. If it went to 10, it would make a world of difference... We could go to restaurants, we could go to movies.” Joked Dawkins, “We could get an accountant.” have elections.” So far, Senate Republicans seem content to take their chances. Skelos has routinely referred to any increase as a “job killer,” and last week the Republicans defeated Democrats’ efforts to attach a minimum-wage amendment to a tax-cut bill. In the months after Silver announced the proposed wage hike, lobbyists and economists

when cities pass living-wage laws, they require employers who do business with the local government to pay workers higher wages to help them pay their bills, get the rent in on time and put enough food on the table. But arriving at a wage that’s enough for a worker to get by isn’t so simple—especially when the issue is tied up in political debates about the impact on businesses and job creation. One of the least controversial parts of the living-wage debate is determining how much money residents need. Researchers at the economic Policy Institute and at Penn state track the cost of food, housing and several other expenses, which vary widely depending on geography and the size of a family. In Manhattan a single adult is estimated to need at least $232 a month for food, $76 for healthcare, $1,185 for housing and $188 for other expenses, according to Penn state’s online living-wage calculator. Before taxes that requires a salary of $24,662, or $11.86 an hour for a fulltime job. add a child to the equation and the single Manhattanite needs a $19.66-an-hour wage. For a worker and a stay-athome spouse, $16.29 an hour should cover the costs. Move up north to Plattsburgh and a single adult must earn $8 an hour. In Buffalo, it’s $8.25. But those figures, as well as federal measures like welfare eligibility and the federal poverty rate, are only the starting point. For one thing, living wage laws require a single wage level regardless of family size. Moreover, actual livingwage laws are also based on what is economically and politically possible, which typically ends up in the $10to $15-an-hour range. “They’re very important as a metric along the way to see what really is the need, and there’s a balance between what people really need and what’s possible,” said Ken Jacobs, chair of the

FOr a SInGLe aDuLT LIvInG In manHaTTan

$232 a month for food

+ $76 for healthcare

+ $1,185 for housing

+ $188 for other expenses

= $24,662 required salary before taxes or

$11.86 an hour for a full-time job sOURCe: PeNN sTaTe’s ONLINe LIvINg-wage CaLCULaTOR

UC Berkeley Labor Center. “Politics is the art of the possible.” “Most living-wage laws fall below that level,” he added. New York City set its current living-wage levels in 2002, when Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the City Council passed legislation aimed at low-paid healthcare workers and set a $10-an-hour wage for employees without health insurance. The latest living-wage legislation, which the City Council approved this year, maintains the same livingwage level but extends it to more workers. —Jon Lentz

continued on next page www.cityandstateny.com | June 4, 2012

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S P OT L I G H T : WAG E S CONTINUED FROM PAGE 9

opposed to the bill mobilized to amplify Skelos’ argument. The Business Council of New York State, which shares members with the Committee to Save New York, the group that spent $22 million lobbying on behalf of Cuomo’s budget this year and last year, released a statement calling the proposed wage hike “unconscionable,” arguing it would result in “lost jobs and a reduction in training opportunities for low-income employees.” Opponents like Nicole Gelinas, a policy analyst for the conservative Manhattan Institute and the Business Council, cite a 2008 economics paper coauthored by economists from Cornell and American University that tied increases in the state’s minimum wage to lost jobs for poor and lower-skilled workers. “It could cost 29,000 jobs, and only 20 percent of the benefits would go to workers working in poor households,” Gelinas said. According to Gelinas, a follow-up study by the same economists issued in January demonstrates that “the biggest effect is on lower-skilled workers and younger workers. If you raise the minimum wage, it does hit a lot of the smaller businesses. They decide ‘We’ll do more of this work ourselves.’ ” But James Parrott, an economist at the

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JUNE 4, 2012 | www.cityandstateny.com

liberal-leaning Fiscal Policy Institute who supports an increase in the minimum wage, said the widely touted study had two flaws: Its findings of an overall decrease in employment for teens in New York over the past decade had more to do with rising levels of college attendance than it did with minimum-wage increases, and the study itself was partially funded by the Employment Policies Institute, a publicaffairs firm founded by Rick Berman. Berman is a lobbyist for the National Restaurant Association, a trade association opposed to raising the minimum FACT: wage. The present Where econoRepublican opposition is a mists on both sides striking contrast of the debate agree to 2004, when is that the earnedthe Senate voted 50–8 to raise the income tax credit minimum wage by (EITC), a 15 percent 39 percent, from refund given to aid $5.15 an hour to $6.00 an hour, the working poor, is as and overrode Gov. much if not more help George Pataki’s to poor New Yorkers veto. than the minimum wage. Gelinas argues the EITC should be increased instead of the minimum wage. Parrott argues both are necessary, and that the EITC is intended as a complement to a wage floor.

“The wage floor protects workers against unscrupulous businesses who have no compunction about paying workers peanuts,” Parrott said. The present Republican opposition is a striking contrast to 2004, when the Senate voted 50–8 to raise the minimum wage by 39 percent, from $5.15 an hour to $6.00 an hour, and overrode Gov. George Pataki’s veto. Nearly every one of the current Republican senators in office in 2004 voted “Yes” on the increase, including Skelos. The only exceptions were Sens. Steve Saland, Mike Nozzolio and Jim Seward. In the current debate two senators, Joe Robach and Mark Grisanti, who have high numbers of impoverished constituents, have said they are open to supporting the increase. Though Cuomo has expressed his support for the wage hike, he said in recent weeks that passing it would be more difficult than last year’s mammoth effort to legalize same-sex marriage. “I believe it’s a political, philosophical divide,” he told reporters in the Capitol last month. “I don’t believe we’re going to be able to bridge that gap in this remaining period of time.” But Cuomo also has an interest in maintaining the balance of power in the Legislature, with a Republican majority and a Democratic Assembly. Back in 2004 Cuomo supporter and

“I believe it’s a political, philosophical divide,” Cuomo told reporters in the Capitol last month. “I don’t believe we’re going to be able to bridge that gap in this remaining period of time.” CSNY board member Kathy Wylde, the president of the Partnership for New York City, supported a minimum-wage increase. Now she, like Cuomo, seems to be taking a wait-and-see position. “We supported a minimum-wage increase in the past, but we have not taken a position on the current bill,” said Michael Levoff, Wylde’s spokesman. “We are waiting to see the final product of ongoing negotiations on various items that will be linked in the end-of-session legislative package.” Mark Dunlea, the executive director of Hunger Action Network and a welfarerights advocate, said that his hopes sank

CITY&STATE


S P OT L I G H T : WAG E S for the bill when it was dropped employees work for one of the from budget negotiations in March. following companies: Walmart, “I think there’s a lot of Machia- Yum! Brands, McDonald’s and vellian political games being played Target. Both McDonald’s and Walmart directly lobbied state here,” he said. The prevailing wisdom in the lawmakers against increasing the Capitol is that if the minimum- minimum wage. Another of the groups lobbying wage hike passes before the end of the session, it will be at the last at the state level is Airlines for minute, joined to other legisla- America, the trade association tion. In Albany rumors were flying that represents airlines responlast week that the wage hike will sible for Michelle Dawkins’ wages. be linked to a $136 million tax-cut Dawkins works for a company package Skelos is proposing. He called Air Serv, which has a connected the two issues in an contract through Delta Airlines interview with the Albany Times to provide services like cleaning, security, baggage handling and Union last week. “If the Speaker is serious about wheelchair attendants. The company’s leadership has creating jobs and wanting to help, especially small businesses creating also drawn sharp criticism in the jobs, he’ll support us,” Skelos told past for its low wages. An Atlanta-based company the Times Union. “The with $15–20 million in annual minimum wage, as I’ve revenue, Air Serv is headed said all along, is a job by CEO Frank Argenbright, killer right now. When who formerly headed the economy is good a national security and the private sector company called Argenis booming, we can bright Security. He was consider an increase in ousted from his previous the minimum wage.... post after September 11, It’s the wrong time now. when a federal investiOur [legislation] is about gation found his lowcreating jobs.” FACT: Most of the paid screeners allowed Skelos’ position state’s low-wage hijackers at Dulles and belies the fact that many employees Newark airports through small retail businesses work for one of the following the security system. throughout the state, companies: ones with 500 workers Walmart, or less, actually already ith the end Yum! Brands, McDonald’s and pay their workers more of the session Target. Both than the minimum drawing close, McDonald’s and wage, roughly $9 an hour Assembly Democrats are Walmart directly lobbied state on average. trying to press the point. lawmakers against On a recent conferWhen Democrats increasing the ence call with reporters convened at the Hotel minimum wage. organized in support of Albany in mid-May for the wage hike, the heads of busi- their annual convention, Speaker nesses like Costco, Brooklyn’s Silver first praised Cuomo for “his Uncommon Goods and the Greater willingness to listen,” and then New York Chamber of Commerce introduced the state’s new Demosaid that slightly higher wages cratic co-chair, Assemblyman Keith would lead to lower employee- Wright, as one of the cosponsors of turnover rates and increased the minimum-wage bill. productivity. Higher wages for “I look forward to what we can low-income workers also trans- accomplish together in the years to lated to more spending in the come. Together we are cosponsors areas immediately surrounding of highly popular legislation that workers’ homes. will increase the state’s minimum Costco senior vice president Jeff wage from $7.25 cents and hour to Long said the company’s wages, $8.50 cents an hour. We know we’re which are higher than those of committed to doing it because it’s companies like Walmart, had no a matter of human decency,” said impact on their ability to price Silver, to applause. goods competitively. Wright then spoke for a quarter “We have, demonstrably, the of an hour, applauding Cuomo’s lowest prices of any retailer that work to employ minority youth we compete with, and we pay the and his strengthening of rent reguhighest wages,” Long said. “I think lations. “I could go on and on and it’s a matter of more productive on,” he said. employees being better for the However, he did not mention the business in the long-term.” minimum-wage increase, a bill with Most of the state’s low-wage his name on it.

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When asked last week about the likelihood of the bill’s passage this year, Wright said that he has never spoken to Cuomo about it. “He and I have not talked about this,” he replied. Wright said he couldn’t explain why the Senate Republicans were putting up such a fight on the minimum-wage bill. “I don’t know,” he said. “They seem to pledge an oath of fealty to business and business interests. There’s nothing wrong with promoting businesses and such. I just don’t think they’re really looking at the facts of what a minimum wage would do.” Wright conceded the bill might not pass by session’s end, but it wasn’t gone. “It still has a life,” he said.

B

y the time November’s elections roll around, Michelle Dawkins will be preparing for the slow months of a downturn in regular air travel. In the meantime, she works double shifts when she can get them. “I can make anywhere from 90 to 100 hours,” she said, sitting in the living room of her mother’s old house as her 9-year-old son, Josiah, darted past a shelf cluttered with family photos, small plants and knickknacks. Dawkins is not going hungry, and neither are her kids. But she has no disposable income. Her kids take it well, she said. “I’m really proud of the kids that I had, because if you have to say no to them, it’s not like they don’t understand,” she explained. “I say I’m not making as much as I used to make.” She refused to get Josiah a game last week. “The minute I have a good day... If I come home with a good day of tips, I’d turn around and get him a game in a heartbeat.” If Dawkins got five quarters more an hour, she “wouldn’t get to keep all of it,” points out economist James Parrott. “It might be she’ll have to pay a little more in state, federal income taxes,” he said. “For some workers, workers who have fewer children and families where there are two earners, their EITC might actually go down, but there’s no way, after accounting for all that, her takehome pay wouldn’t be better off.” “And isn’t that what we want to happen as a society?” he concluded. “Have workers better able to pay their own way?”

No Time To Shut Down An Economic Engine By Deborah Milone

As New York’s economy slowly bounces back from the multi-year recession, it is now more important than ever for the Hudson Valley and downstate region to maintain all economic assets. One such asset is the Indian Point Energy Center, located in the heart of the Hudson Valley. Yet, there are some who would prefer that the NRC not renew Indian Point’s operating license so that the plant is forced to shut down. What must be pointed out is that many of those advocating for the shutdown of Indian Point don’t live anywhere near here. Indian Point’s contribution to the economic development and sustainability of the region is significant. The plant directly employs 1,100 highly-skilled, well-paid employees. According to a study by the Westchester Business Alliance (January, 2008-An Assessment of Energy Needs in Westchester County), Indian Point is responsible for more than $2 billion in regional gross wages and more than $5 billion in regional economic output. Additionally, Indian Point itself pays $50 million dollars annually in local and state taxes, while its employees contribute millions more. Perhaps most importantly, Indian Point provides our area with a clean, affordable, and reliable source of electric power. Indian Point generates 2,000 megawatts of electricity each day, supplying roughly 30% of downstate New York’s power. With the third most expensive electricity costs in the nation, New York is already at a disadvantage in terms of attracting new business to the state. Eliminating the single largest source of baseload power from our grid would be economically detrimental. There are examples of what can happen when a power plant is forced to close, none of which are pretty. Following a 2003 agreement to close the Lovett power plant, Rockland County and several local entities were forced to pay back $275 million in tax overcharges. Homeowners and businesses there witnessed dramatic increases in their property taxes and the North Rockland School District had to issue a 30-year, $220 million bond to pay off debt. Long Island’s Shoreham nuclear power plant closed in 1989 and was decommissioned in 1994. Long Islanders were saddled with $6 billion dollars in debt service, which will take decades more to pay off. Indian Point has been a good neighbor environmentally, economically, and community-wise for decades. There is no reason to lose it. Deborah Milone is the Executive Director of the Hudson Valley Gateway of Commerce, representing much of Northern Westchester. She is a member of the New York Affordable Reliable Electricity Alliance. S P E C I A L

S P O N S O R E D

S E C T I O N

The New York Affordable Reliable Electricity Alliance (New York AREA) is a diverse group of business, labor, environmental, and community leaders working together for clean, low-cost and reliable electricity solutions that foster prosperity and jobs for the Empire State. W W W. A R E A - A L L I A N C E . O R G

lnahmias@cityandstateny.com www.cityandstateny.com | JUNE 4, 2012

11


S P OT L I G H T : wag e s

LiviNg Wage as Litmus test? How much of a difference will candidates’ positions on living wage make in the 2013 mayoral race? By Laura Nahmias In a crowded field of Democratic candidates, the issue of living wage may play an outsize role in the 2013 New York City mayoral race. All of the major mayoral candidates—City Comptroller John Liu, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and former City Comptroller Bill Thompson—have tacitly indicated their support for the wage compromise crafted by Quinn this spring. But some candidates have been more vocally supportive than others, which could go a long way toward determining which candidates receive the endorsement of some of the city’s most powerful labor groups, like the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which can provide ground operatives to help with voter turnout for their preferred candidate. And with a living-wage mandate now on the books, the next mayor will prove crucial to whether the law is expanded. Liu has been the race’s most vocal advocate for living wage, while de Blasio announced support for the bill only after it was pared down through amendments. Thompson and Stringer have been relatively quiet on the issue, while Quinn supports the more limited compromise. But each of the candidates stood on the City Hall steps at the April 30 press conference to announce passage of the compromise living-wage bill. RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum demurred when asked for clues as to whom the union might endorse, but he said that they would be looking for candidates’ willingness to build on the provisions in the bill. “I think that every one of the major mayoral candidates has expressed support for this new notion of economic development,” he said. “The question 12

All the 2013 mayoral candidates, including Council Speaker Christine Quinn and City Comptroller John Liu, attended the press conference at the passage of the living-wage bill. CourteSy offiCe of the Bronx Borough PreSident is going to be how we build on it, how we ensure that livingwage jobs are created in New York when public resources are involved.” But other unions that opposed the living-wage bill, like the DC 9 painters’ union, are more inclined to endorse a mayoral candidate with less enthusiasm for living wage, said DC 9 political director Jack Kittle. “It’s not at all a deal breaker if a candidate supports it, but I would like to get a sense that anybody running for mayor can learn from the past,” Kittle said. “The two words that come to my mind are Kingsbridge Armory, which is the most spectacular example of failure I’ve ever seen.” That was the Bronx development project whose demise was blamed on Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz Jr.’s insistence that the developers pay a living wage. Kittle said the painters’ union is interviewing candidates, but the race is too far away for endorsement speculations. “I remember when Anthony Weiner was the front-runner, so I

june 4, 2012 | www.cityandstateny.com

wouldn’t predict anything a year and a half out,” he said. The living-wage bill, as well as a prevailing-wage bill the Council also passed, has broad enough public support to ensure it will “de facto form a new policy agenda for the next Democratic mayor,” said Paul Sonn, the legal codirector of the National Employment Law Project, who helped write the new livingwage bill. While advocates anticipate the current administration’s Economic Development Corporation will avoid implementing the living-wage provisions and could even sue to block them, each of the Democratic candidates are expected to support living wage, Sonn said. As the mayoral race draws closer, though, unions and living-wage supporters expect to probe candidates’ willingness to go further than what the current bill requires, Sonn added. One issue is whether the new mayor will negotiate requiring development projects’ prospective tenants to pay the living wage, a controversial provision

“I think that every one of the major mayoral candidates has expressed support for this new notion of economic development,” Appelbaum said. “The question is going to be how we build on it, how we ensure that living-wage jobs are created in New York when public resources are involved.” that was left out of the current bill, Sonn said. Every future economicdevelopment deal that passes through the mayor’s hands would include living-wage negotiations on applying it to tenants, he added. Democratic consultant Hank Sheinkopf said the candidates’ safest maneuver will be to support the bill as written. “Labor will be less the kingmaker in a crowded field,” he said, citing the fact that city residents are generally “more to the left” on issues, even in the outer boroughs. Sheinkopf said the candidates do not need to worry that their

support for living wage might jeopardize money from the real estate industry, one of the measure’s most powerful opponents. Candidates who don’t support the bill might receive additional donations from the real estate industry, but the impact would be largely lost as public campaign financing evens out their coffers, he said. “Right now there is no right or left; there’s only the Democratic Party, which will decide everything,” Sheinkopf said. “If you’re outside the boundaries, either saying ‘no’ or saying too much, you could lose the race.”

CITY&STATE


S P OT L I G H T : wag e s

EXPERT ROUNDTABLE: WAGES New York lawmakers weigh in on city and state wage issues

SHELDON SILVER Assembly Speaker

HOWARD WOLFSON Deputy Mayor of New York City for Governmental Affairs

MELISSA MARKVIVERITO New York City Councilwoman, Civil Service & Labor Committee Member

ALPHONSO DAVID Cuomo Administration Deputy Secretary for Civil Rights

CITY&STATE

Q: What will passing the minimumwage bill do to the state’s economy? Can we expect job growth out of it, or is it more of a quality-of-life issue? SS: Increasing the minimum wage is vital to stimulating our local economies. By increasing the minimum wage by $1.25 to $8.50 an hour, minimum-wage workers will earn an extra $2,275 a year. Studies show this extra income will be spent at local businesses. Higher wages mean higher incomes. Higher incomes mean greater spending, which provides a boost to local economies and encour-

ages more hiring. Even more important, raising the minimum wage in New York is a matter of dignity. No one who works full-time should be forced to live in poverty. Full-time employees should not have to choose between paying for housing, putting food on the table and providing clothes for their children. This is a matter of basic human dignity. Someone who works full-time should not be poor.

Q: What impact will the living-wage bill have? Who will it help and hurt? HW: Under Mayor Bloomberg’s leadership we have created an environment that encourages people and businesses to come to New York City and stay here. The businesses that have invested in New York City have created a record number of jobs in the city and helped us bounce back from the recession faster than the rest of the country. But unemployment is still far too high, and we need to do everything we can to allow business to create jobs. The living-wage

bill does exactly the opposite of that. It will impose costly conditions on businesses and make it harder for them to grow. The way to raise salaries and create opportunities is not for government to impose legislative mandates. It is for government to foster broadbased economic growth that gives people opportunities to climb up the economic ladder.

Q: Was the living-wage bill a reasonable compromise? MM: The living-wage bill adopted by the Council provides a critical step forward in our efforts to raise wage standards for all New Yorkers, and sends a strong message that we cannot continue to distribute millions of taxpayer dollars each year in exchange for poverty-wage jobs. I believe that we struck the right balance given the current political and economic climate. The exemptions we made for small businesses, affordable housing and nonprofits demonstrate our com-

mitment to targeting the legislation to the largest corporate entities receiving the largest taxpayer subsidies.

Q: One problem facing state workers is the growth of improper worker classification. What is the nature of that problem? AD: Employee misclassification occurs when an employer incorrectly labels an employee as an independent contractor or fails to report their employment (i.e., “off the books”). This illegal cost-cutting practice not only negatively impacts law-abiding employers who have to compete in the marketplace but it deprives the state of revenue due to nonpayment of taxes. Further, misclassified

employees are denied the protection of various employment and labor laws, including but not limited to eligibility for unemployment insurance, workers compensation and overtime pay.

Q: Whether or not the minimum wage See Silver oN pAGe 14

Q: What impact will the prevailingwage bill have? Who will it help? Who See wolfSon oN pAGe 14

Q: What impact will the legislation have? MM: The modest increases to employees’ wages represent a drop in the bucket for most of the large entities applying for huge taxpayer subsidies but can make a real difference for the average working family in New York City. Beyond the hundreds of jobs each year that will immediately be impacted when the legislation

A Local Business Looks At Indian Point By Mark Giordano

Without question the Indian Point Energy Center has been a boon to the local economy. The plant provides 1,100 highly skilled, well-paying jobs. In addition Entergy, the owners of Indian Point have made a concerted effort to support local businesses whenever possible. Our company, which was founded by my family more than 50 years ago and is headquartered in Ossinning, began working with Indian Point three years ago. The work we have done at Indian Point has included building parking lots, constructing buildings, and conducting upgrades to electronic systems. Indian Point is literally an economic lifeline to many in the construction trades in a part of the state where private sector projects have become scarce. At Indian Point safety has always been the number one issue. I’ve seen it first-hand. It starts with those working at Indian Point – the plant employees, as well as independent contractors and their workers. Whether you are an Entergy employee or work for an outside contractor working at the site, the screening process is unlike anything that I’ve ever seen in my career. Plant management is always looking for ways to make things better and safer for the people working at the plant and the surrounding communities. They are constantly re-building, updating, and replacing parts. They do whatever the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) asks of them. Indian Point continues to directly benefit our community and the local workforce. In 2011, our firm had between 40 and 50 people working at the facility at any given time. The plant is an economic engine for the region and the benefits it provides, from electric reliability to jobs, cannot be understated. Mark Giordano is the President of Giordano Builders, a familyowned business, and has over 30 years of construction experience in the tri-state area. He is also a member of the Building Association of the Hudson Valley.

See Mark-viverito oN pAGe 14 S P E C I A L

Q: What is the state doing to solve it? AD: New York State has and continues to address employee misclassification in a variety of ways. Principally the state established the Joint Enforcement Task Force to address employee misclassification in 2007, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo See DaviD oN pAGe 14

S P O N S O R E D

S E C T I O N

New York AREA’s membership includes some of the state’s most vital business, labor and community organizations including the New York State AFL-CIO, Business Council of New York State, Partnership for New York City, New York Building Congress, National Federation of Independent Business and many more. W W W. A R E A - A L L I A N C E . O R G www.cityandstateny.com | June 4, 2012

13


S P OT L I G H T : wag e s SILVER from page 14

WoLfSon from page 13

MaRk-VIVERIto from page 13

DaVID from page 13

is raised $1.25, should it at least rise automatically with inflation? Why or why not? SS: The legislation passed by the Assembly last week has two critical components. First, the minimum wage must be increased. Frankly, it is absurd to expect anyone, particularly a working family, to afford the cost of living today and be able to invest in their future on a salary of $7.25 an hour. People earning minimum wage are trapped in a hopeless cycle of poverty. This legislation would also index it to the rate of inflation in order to prevent further erosion as the cost of living rises in the future. It is essential that the legislation includes each of these components.

will it hurt? HW: The prevailing-wage bill says that if the city leases space in a private building, the building’s owners cannot pay its service workers what they wish—as any other building would, including the one across the street. Instead they must pay their workers a rate set by the city comptroller. Having government tell the private sector what to pay will lead to market distortions that cost taxpayers money. Building owners won’t sign leases with the city unless the city pays the additional costs the owner would incur as a result of having to pay the higher, government-mandated wages. The end result of this bill is that taxpayers will be forced to pay part of the wages of private-sector employees.

goes into effect, the bill sets up a policy framework to raise wage standards on the city’s economic-development portfolio going forward.

continued with an executive order in January 2011. The task force carries out its mission by engaging in joint enforcement sweeps, coordinating assignments among agency partners, making systematic referrals to appropriate law enforcement agencies, and implementing the sharing of data between agencies.

Q: Should a minimum wage vary across the state? Should it be higher in New York City? SS: Working families continue to struggle every day. Wages remain constant as the costs of essentials continue to rise. They need immediate relief. Cities in New York do not currently have the authority to increase the minimum wage. However, the State Senate has the power to quickly change the lives of New York’s working poor by the simple action of approving this legislation before the end of session in June.

14

june 4, 2012 | www.cityandstateny.com

Q: Should the state pass a higher minimum wage? Why or why not? HW: Yes, minimum wage should keep up with inflation, and it has been too long since the state increased the minimum wage. Raising the minimum wage will not cause a competition problem for New York, since our neighboring states have recently passed increases. Unlike the prevailing- and living-wage bills, raising the minimum wage does not favor some businesses over others, or some industries over others.

Q: Should the city pass a stronger or broader bill? MM: This legislation has opened the door to expanding and strengthening even further what is already the strongest livingwage law in the nation. These conversations will undoubtedly continue in the next mayoral administration, especially as the cost of living continues to rise in our city and the income gap continues to grow. There is no question that we need to continue our work to create quality, middle-class jobs, especially in economicdevelopment projects where the city is investing precious taxpayer dollars. Q: How much of an issue do you think living wage will be in the 2013 mayoral race? MM: The extensive organizing efforts around this legislation have made clear that New Yorkers want to see an even broader living-wage policy in the future, and I believe our next mayor will have to make real concerted efforts to raise wage standards in this city.

Q: How widespread is the problem? AD: In February 2007 the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations issued a report estimating that approximately 10 percent of New York’s private sector workforce is misclassified each year, and that close to 15 percent of the construction industry workforce is misclassified in a given year. Q: Are there more laws that should be passed to help prevent this problem? AD: The state is focused on utilizing existing laws and policies to address this issue. However, employers, particularly small businesses, need to be educated on the issues. Accordingly, the state is engaged in a series of initiatives to educate employers about worker misclassification and other relevant issues. —Laura Nahmias

CITY&STATE


Don’t Get

ConneD by

coned This public utility is all about private gain. It takes from ratepayers Takes from taxpayers Takes from workers To enrich top executives. Con Ed CEO Kevin Burke took an increase of about $331 more an hour to give him nearly $11 million in annual compensation.

End the state’s special breaks to Con Ed and other utilities that keep building workers in poverty. Pass A9375/S7434

Contracted building service workers at Con Ed headquarters got a pay cut from $9 an hour to $8.50. 32BJ SEIU 25 West 18th Street, NY, NY 10011 www.seiu32bj.org


S P OT L I G H T : WAG E S

WAGES SCORECARD Washington $9.04

THE COUNTRY’S MAXIMUM MINIMUM WAGES New York’s $7.25 minimum wage is lower than it is in 19 other states and the District of Columbia as of the start of this year. Close to half of the states in the country have a $7.25-per-hour minimum wage, the same as New York and the federal government, while six states have none.

Vermont $8.46 Massachusetts $8.00

Montana $7.65

Connecticut $8.25 Michigan $7.40

Oregon $8.80

Rhode Island $7.40

Colorado $7.64

California $8.00

Maine $7.50

Nevada $8.25

Ohio $7.70

Illinois $8.25

Washington DC $8.25

Alaska $7.75

Arizona $7.65

SCORECARD SOURCES: NATIONAL COUNCIL OF STATE LEGISLATURES (ABOVE), INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE, NYS DEPT. OF TAXATION AND FINANCE, EMPIRE CENTER FOR NEW YORK STATE POLICY, PENN STATE LIVING WAGE CALCULATOR (BELOW)

HOW MUCH A MINIMUM WAGE GETS YOU EACH YEAR

ANNUAL BEFORE-TAX INCOME REQUIRED TO COVER LIVING COSTS Total Income

(Yearly minimum wage income is $15,080.)

THE GOVERNMENT

THE PLAYERS

Can minimum-wage workers make ends meet? A look at what $7.25 an hour means on a yearly basis, how the earned-income tax credit boosts those earnings, and what the estimated costs of living are in different parts of the state.

Cost of living for a single adult vs.

Florida $7.67

New Mexico $7.50

In Albany, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has been the driving force behind the push for a higher minimum wage, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said he supports a hike. But in the face of opposition from Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, the governor has said he doesn’t expect passage this year. In New York City, Council Speaker Christine Quinn has been careful to balance the interests of business and labor on the living-wage bill with an eye to maintaining her frontrunner status in the race to be the next mayor of New York City, while some other Democratic candidates have been more outspoken in pushing for higher wages.

THE ADVOCATES THE THINK TANKS

BUFFALO

Dozens of pro-business groups are against measures to raise wages in New York City and New York State. On the minimum-wage fight, the Business Council, Unshackle Upstate and others oppose a hike, while labor groups, the Working Families Party, and its executive director, Dan Cantor, are pushing for one. In New York City, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union and its president, Stu Appelbaum, have spearheaded the push for a living-wage bill, while Kathy Wylde’s Partnership for New York City, which initially backed a living-wage compromise, dropped its support after further changes. The five borough chambers of commerce have led the effort against a living wage. A prevailing-wage bill passed despite opposition from Republican City Council members and dozens of companies and business groups.

The Community Service Society, the National Employment Law Project, including its legal codirector, Paul Sonn, and James Parrott of the Fiscal Policy Institute have issued reports making the case for wage increases. On the other side of the issue, the Manhattan Institute and the Empire Center for New York State Policy, including senior fellow Russell Sykes, have published research and commentary questioning the benefits of a minimum-wage hike.

$16,956 $18,374

ONONDAGA

$24,662

MANHATTAN

Christine Quinn

BONU$: Yearly minimum-wage income with earned-

James Parrott

Russell Sykes

income tax credits (outside NYC with two children): $21,726. 16

JUNE 4, 2012 | www.cityandstateny.com

CITY&STATE


BETTER NEWSPAPER CONTEST EXCELLENCE AWARDS

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Earn an Executive M.P.A. in: Writer of the Year: Chris Bragg

Writer of the Year Runner-up: Laura Nahmias

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Coverage of Elections and Politics: Third Place

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Register online for an information session In-Person: June 6, 2012 6-8 p.m. Online: June 18, 2012 6-7 p.m.

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CITY&STATE

Learn more sipa.columbia.edu/joinempa

www.cityandstateny.com | June 4, 2012

17


PERSONALITY

Assemblywoman Shelley Mayer at her Yonkers district office, which she opened a few months ago.  Photo By Andrew Schwartz

a rookie veteran

First-term Assemblywoman Shelley Mayer is banking on experience and relationships to turn Yonkers around By Jon Lentz

A

fter a quarter century of navigating the state capital as a lobbyist and legislative staffer and forging tight bonds with some of Albany’s biggest power brokers, Shelley Mayer is doing something she had never done before: serving as an elected official. “I’m a newcomer—one of the oldest newcomers,” said Mayer, who won a special election for an open Assembly seat in Yonkers this spring by a whopping 78–22 margin after her opponent, Republican

18 june 4, 2012 | www.cityandstateny.com

Donnamarie Nolan, stopped campaigning during the race to take care of an ailing family member. Just a little over two months since taking office, Mayer’s district office in Yonkers is still spare, with only a smattering of framed photos, her law degree and a copy of her special-election certification posted on the walls. It’s a distinct change of scenery for Mayer, who until 2011 served in the highly influential role of senior counsel to the Senate Democrats. The post, which she held during the caucus’ brief and dysfunc-

tional rule in the Senate, was a challenging experience, one that might have left other staffers cynical or eager to cash in on their expertise. Yet the 59-year-old lawmaker, who still looks youthful with blond hair, blue eyes and a winning smile, is as upbeat and idealistic about serving her constituents as rookie Assembly members half her age. “Now I have the opportunity to really be there on behalf of Yonkers, which is something I feel passionately about,” said Mayer. “It needs a strong advocate in Albany. It’s the fourth-largest city in the state, and it’s frequently forgotten, frankly, or not given the due that it should.” Mayer’s dedication to public service—and her love for the city in which she grew up—is the reason her move to the bottom rung of the Assembly, where positions of power are awarded based on years of service, is no step backward. “I don’t think of it as ‘I went from powerful to unpowerful,’ so much as that I had a wonderful job and an opportunity,” Mayer said. “Now it’s an opportunity to do what I really want to do, which is to be a fighter and an advocate for the city.” Mayer’s enthusiasm for her Assembly seat stands out in a chamber that sometimes appears not to be the most appealing place to serve. Since 2011, several members like Sam Hoyt, Jonathan Bing and RoAnn Destito have decamped to the Cuomo administration. Mayer’s predecessor Michael Spano and new Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro have returned home from Albany after being elected to local offices. This trend could continue in 2013 as a host of members from New York mull runs for open seats in the City Council. But for Mayer, getting elected to the Assembly is the chance of a lifetime and a shot to improve Yonkers’ tarnished reputation after years of struggle and scandal. She sees her experience in the Capitol as a unique asset to secure more funding for education and other critical programs in her district. So far she has been proven right. In her first week in office Mayer got $750,000 added to the budget for sports in Yonkers public schools, despite the fact that the budget already had been negotiated. Later she won an additional $1 million for Yonkers schools. “The idea is, get it done, be pragmatic, be realistic and be principled,” she said. “If you do those things, you can get somewhere down the road.” Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, who has known Mayer for years, said it may take some time for her new

colleague to learn the Assembly’s quirks and idiosyncrasies and the ways it differs from the Senate, but her understanding of budgets and legislation and her connections with key lawmakers have positioned her as a valuable resource. “A lot of times we turn to Shelley and we ask her to explain something to us, since she has the experience that we didn’t have,” Paulin said. Mike Spano, now the mayor of Yonkers, said his successor had plenty of advantages despite her lack of seniority: the ear of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, the personality to win people over and a deep understanding of Albany politics. The only advice Spano gave her was to be more patient with the Assembly than with the Senate. “You’re not dealing with 30 Democrats; you’re dealing with 100-someodd Democrats,” Spano said. “And everyone is trying to do the same thing and deliver for their district.” Mayer realizes she’ll also need patience to turn things around in Yonkers, which has a history of racial tensions and government corruption, including a recent scandal that led to a local councilwoman and a former Yonkers Republican chairman being convicted of bribery and conspiracy charges. Mayer, who was born and raised in Yonkers, has seen it all. She and her husband, who have three adult children, live in the same house in which she grew up—the house in which she inherited her love of politics. It was around the dinner table that Mayer’s father would instruct her and her siblings to report on the latest news they had read in The New York Times. As a young girl Mayer campaigned with her father, who ran for office four times, never successfully. Though Mayer left New York to attend college at UCLA, she returned to attend law school at SUNY Buffalo, and later moved to Albany, where she worked on legislative issues for Attorney General Robert Abrams. Later she lobbied for hospitals and other nonprofits, and in 2006 she made a bid for the Assembly, losing to Spano. Soon after, she joined Sen. Malcolm Smith’s office as counsel, before becoming senior counsel to the Senate Democrats. Now that Mayer has a new seat at the table in Albany, she has no plans to give it up any time soon. “I’m going to fight hard to be reelected,” she said. “I’ve got a long-range plan, which is to make [Yonkers] higher on everybody’s list. It’s going to take a while.” jlentz@cityandstateny.com

CITY&STATE


POLITICS

So Much Money, So LittLe tiMe The clock runs down in Albany on campaign finance reform By Morgan PehMe This was supposed to be the year that statewide campaign finance reform finally got passed. After decades of frustration and false stops, goodgovernment groups and other proponents of reform found the ally they had been waiting for in the form of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the state’s powerful and effective chief executive. In his State of the State Address in January, Cuomo delighted longtime advocates for reform by not just publicly embracing a sweeping overhaul of the state’s electoral system and calling for a public financing model based on New York City’s but also by setting an ambitious time frame for getting it done. “Let’s pass campaign finance reform and let’s do it this year,” announced Cuomo back then, to largely enthusiastic applause. However, as the legislative calendar winds to a close on June 21, it appears increasingly unlikely that any such reforms will pass this session. Indeed, even Cuomo seems to have written off the possibility of any major developments, predicting that the remainder of the session will be “relatively quiet.” Chief among the obstacles to the passage of campaignfinance-reform legislation appears to be the Senate Republicans. While Majority Leader Dean Skelos has said he is open to the possibility of lowering contribution limits and closing loopholes, he has dismissed the central tenet of the reform effort—the public financing of elections—as a “nonstarter,” arguing that tax dollars would be better spent on education. Despite Skelos’ vocal opposition, good-government groups remain hopeful that campaign finance reform will not only be passed but will come to fruition in the not-too-distant future,

CITY&STATE

perhaps even this session or in a special session later on this year. “It is the time [of the legislative year] in which reform measures have traditionally come to the floor, so we’re definitely not prepared to say that it couldn’t happen between now and the end of June,” said Susan Lerner, the executive director of Common Cause New York. “The question about campaign finance reform and public funding of elections is whether it will be adopted soon or sooner. I fully expect that in the next year we will see major changes in this state.” Though serious roadblocks persist in the Senate, goodgovernment advocates cite progress in both houses of the Legislature this session. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a longtime champion of campaign finance reform, has introduced a bill that would enact a public financing system, which has moved through the relevant committees and is ready for a vote. In the Senate, Minority Leader John Sampson has introduced an identical bill to Silver’s, which is cosponsored by a majority of the Democratic conference. Sen. Eric Adams of Brooklyn has proposed separate public financing legislation, which is largely the same as the Silver-Sampson bill but is generally preferred by goodgovernment groups because it includes additional provisions like closing loopholes that enable so-called “housekeeping committees” to raise and spend unlimited amounts of cash on state races. To move these bills forward, a coalition called Fair Elections for New York recently held petitioning drives in the districts of eight state senators targeted as obstacles to reform. While six of the senators—Mark Grisanti, Kemp Hannon, Martin Golden, Tom Libous, Roy McDonald and Steve Saland—are Republicans,

red Light, green Light? Will campaign finance reform get the go-ahead this session? As goodgovernment groups try to break the legislative traffic jam in the Senate, see where key senators like Majority Leader Dean Skelos, Minority Leader John Sampson, Martin Malavé Dilan, Liz Krueger and David Valesky currently stand on the issue.

DILan

two are Democrats: Martin Dilan and David Valesky. Of the eight, only Valesky is not currently facing a primary or general-election opponent this cycle. Though Sens. Dilan and Valesky are among the lawmakers at whom the Fair Elections coalition has taken aim, Sen. Liz Krueger of Manhattan is confident that her fellow Democrats will get on board if a bill comes to the floor for a vote. Krueger also believes that Republican opposition is not insurmountable. “Things get done all the time in the Senate even when people say they aren’t interested,” Krueger said. “It’s a function of leadership,” she added. “We have a very strong, very opinionated governor, and the record shows that when he puts his mind and his leadership to something, it gets done.” Good-government advocates point to a broadening of their

SKeLOS

SamPSOn

Krueger

VaLeSKy

“Things get done all the time in the Senate even when people say they aren’t interested,” Krueger said. traditional coalition as an indicator that there is significant momentum for change. In addition to the usual partners—unions like CWA and UAW, the Working Families Party, and neighborhood advocacy groups like Community Voices Heard—environmental groups, faith-based organizations and even business leaders have joined in the fight. NY Leadership for Accountable Government (NY Lead)—an alliance of highprofile New Yorkers like philanthropist David Rockefeller, Face-

book cofounder Chris Hughes, media moguls Barry Diller and Edgar Bronfman Sr., restaurateur Danny Meyer and former New York City Mayor Ed Koch— has added deep pockets and an element of star power to the effort. But ultimately Susan Lerner predicts that the public’s growing outrage at the influence of money on elections—a Reuters poll in May found that 75 percent of Americans feel there is too much money in politics—will compel lawmakers in Albany to enact landmark legislation. “There is significant momentum for campaign finance reform and the public finance of elections that is building, and I believe will continue to build, through the coming election cycle,” Lerner said. “I don’t think that the public is going to appreciate the amount of money that will be spent, particularly by noncandidate spenders.”

www.cityandstateny.com | June 4, 2012

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PERSPECTIVES

TO RAISE OR NOT TO RAISE Few issues are considered as big a “third rail” in state politics as pay increases for members of the Legislature. The public is resoundingly against the idea, as indicated by a February 2012 Siena poll in which 67 percent of respondents said they opposed a raise. As for the lawmakers, though it is certainly not an insignificant concern, it’s not a subject they like to discuss publicly lest an opponent make it a campaign issue. That’s why it was so heartening to many legislators when Speaker Sheldon Silver had the courage to broach the subject earlier this year. And pulses certainly quickened when, soon after, Gov. Andrew Cuomo—while not addressing legislative raises directly—lamented that his agency commissioners earned less than their top deputies. Recently, when I made a guest appearance on the Capitol Pressroom, the show’s host Susan Arbetter asked me, “Have legislators earned a pay raise?” The implication of the question was clear. During my four terms in the Assembly, the Legislature was constantly criticized for being dysfunctional, corrupt, out of touch, not delivering on-time state budgets and taxing and spending too much. While perhaps those criticisms might have been valid in the past, times have changed in Albany, and the Legislature

20 JUNE 4, 2012 | www.cityandstateny.com

has done much to earn back the public’s trust. The Legislature has cooperated with Cuomo to pass major legislation (including ethics reform), lower taxes, reduce spending and deliver two consecutive on-time budgets—and, to be fair, three out of the four budgets prior to the Cuomo administration were also on time. Moreover, legislators shown to be thieves, boodlers and scam artists have been defeated at the polls or have resigned in disgrace, stood trial and, in several Michael instances, been Benjamin convicted before the bar of justice. The ranks of the corrupt are thinner. Of course, the Legislature must still do more to combat nepotism, sexual harassment, the padding of travel and per diem reimbursements and the steering of state funds to groups that in turn benefit a legislator. New Yorkers should not be satisfied until the Legislature enacts a “theft of honest services” felony statute requiring lawmakers convicted of bribery and official malfeasance to forfeit their pensions. That being said, I believe that the

question of legislative pay raises is not so much about earning or deserving; it’s really a matter of fairness. Legislative salaries, which are $79,500 per year, have not been raised since 1999. Stagnant wages undermine all workers. In addition, given the depth of legislators’ experience and the long hours they put in both at home and in Albany, it is fair to say that they are underpaid. Discounting the lawyers, small-business owners and other professionals in both chambers, most legislators devote themselves full-time to their duties. Younger married members with children have it the hardest. They are away from home several days a week and miss some critical times in the lives of their families. Not surprisingly, it is these members who have been the loudest voices in the majority and minority conferences clamoring for a raise. At one point in 2009, when many New York City Assembly members seriously considered running for City Council (where the base salary is $112,500), then Assemblyman Rubén Díaz Jr. joked that an Assembly bloc could elect fellow Assemblyman Mark Weprin as council speaker. But the laughter ended when Mayor Bloomberg and the City Council voted to extend term limits.

Weprin and Díaz did end up getting pay raises by being elected to other offices. Now they’re home every night with their wives and children—and the Legislature is a weaker institution for their absence. Just as corruption stains honest, hardworking legislators, low pay discourages similarly honest and capable New Yorkers from wanting to become state legislators. And that, perversely, opens the door to grifters and hustlers looking for a steady paycheck, a modicum of respectability and an angle to steal. This year, legislators should pull the trigger on pay raises and hand the matter over to a state commission. The last time legislators got a raise it was tied to the charter-school-authorization bill. There should be no such quid pro quo this time, because it only affirms the prevailing cynicism about government. Our state and its people deserve to be represented by the most capable, honest and hardworking individuals stepping forward to serve their communities. Incoming members of the Senate and Assembly deserve the esteem, benefit and incentive of a higher legislative salary. Retired Assemblyman Michael Benjamin represented the Bronx for eight years.

CITY&STATE


PERSPECTIVES

IS THE LOVE OF LABOR LOST? Leaving the recent wake for Ed Malloy, a revered leader of the building-trades unions, I wondered if it were the end of an era. From George Meany, David Dubinsky and Alex Rose, through Victor Gotbaum, to Dennis Rivera, New York’s labor leaders have been political powerhouses. Yet while the influence of organized labor in New York State continues to be taken for granted, the reality of its place in the political power structure has never been more uncertain. America’s manufacturers are no longer the driving force in the world economy. For decades, cost competition put unionized manufacturing plants at a disadvantage against foreign competition. The results were twofold. First, union membership declined from 35 percent of the workforce in the 1950s to 11.8 percent in 2011. In terms of absolute numbers there were 20 million union workers in 1979 compared with just under 14.76 million today. As for New York, currently 24.1 percent of the state’s workforce is unionized—the highest membership rate in the country and more than double the national average. Second, this decline led nationally to public-sector employees becoming the

majority of unionized workers—7.56 million versus 7.2 million in the private sector. In addition, the Great Recession has led many people to conclude that state and local budgets are weighed down by unsustainable costs, putting pressure on public-sector unions to make concessions in contract negotiations. These changes have taken a toll. A Gallup survey last August showed public approval of labor unions had dropped to 52 percent, from 75 percent in Bruce Gyory the 1950s. It also revealed a sharp partisan gap in labor’s support: 78 percent among Democrats, 52 percent among Independents, and only 26 percent of Republicans. Still, the reports of labor’s political demise are premature. When Midwestern Republican governors led an assault on collective-bargaining rights, it led to successful recalls of Republican state senators in Wisconsin and a landslide repeal, via referendum, of Gov. John Kasich’s labor legislation in Ohio.

Labor’s political zenith came about when it was introducing new voters en masse into the electorate. In the New Deal era, unions became the facilitating mechanism for turning out not just their members to the polls but the larger white Catholic and Jewish communities. That lesson is valuable today, given labor’s eroding membership. In New York, where minority voters cast just shy of 30 percent of the state’s vote in 2010 and have been a clear plurality of New York City’s vote, a window is open. If labor today emulates the accomplishments of the Meany and Dubinsky era, using its organizational clout to meld the quarter of the workforce that comes from union members with the surging minority vote, the perceptions of its political decline would quickly vanish. Complicating that opportunity are several obstacles. In Ohio last November labor won in a landslide the referendum repealing Kasich’s law by building a larger coalition uniting labor’s interests with middle-class concerns about economic fairness. If Wisconsin’s Gov. Scott Walker survives the recall on June 5, the reason may lie in the perception that the referendum reverted into a disgruntled public-sector-unions-versus-the-

government fight. For labor the enduring lesson should be that knitting larger coalitions provides a protective cloak. But there is another challenge, too. Tom Friedman was correct in observing recently in The New York Times that for 50 years governors and mayors were able to give benefits and programs to people, but we are on the cusp of a new era where now things must be taken away or scaled back. There is a model for effective labor leadership even in these hard times. Victor Gotbaum forged an alliance with Governor Carey’s chief advisor Felix Rohatyn to insure that the remedies to end the fiscal crisis were fair to the New York City public employees he represented. Because of Gotbaum’s leadership, labor’s voice was respected, and balanced solutions emerged. Thus the salient questions become: Will today’s labor leaders stand tall? And will public officials listen if they do? The pull and tug of events over the next decade will provide labor with both ample opportunities and challenges for measuring their political influence. Bruce N. Gyory is a political consultant at Corning Place Communications in Albany and an adjunct professor of political science at SUNY Albany.

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www.cityandstateny.com | JUNE 4, 2012

21


# W I N N E R SA N D LO S E R S

winners & Losers WEEk OF mAy 18, 2012

Get your comment in the paper. tweet us @cityandstateny

A new poll shows Gov. Andrew Cuomo as the biggest winner lately, with a whopping 71 percent approval rating. But lest you forget about the other politicos who have scored major victories or gone down in flames, here’s a recap of who’s been up and down lately—and who our readers voted as the biggest winners and losers. Go to Cityandstateny.com each week to vote.

WEEk OF mAy 25, 2012

“RuNNER” up

WINNERS

WINNERS mINER 39%

BARRON 14% ScHNEIDERmAN 15% SkELOS 27% QuINN 34% LIpSky 6% charles Barron: snagged the dc 37 endorsement Dean Skelos: Got his district lines, for real Richard Lipsky: willets point is back to square one

yOuR cHOIcE christine Quinn: congrats to council speaker christine Quinn, who got married and fulfilled her goal of having her father walk her down the aisle. that’s real life, which political people sometimes seem to forget about. add to that mayor Bloomberg’s nonendorsement endorsement for her mayoral run and Gov. cuomo’s decision to end the city’s food-stamp fingerprinting process, both of which made for pretty good wedding presents.

LOSERS ESpADA 50% HyNES 16%

LIBOuS 9% THOmpSON 8%

Eric Schneiderman: was it a pander to the posterior-pondering members of his base or just annoyance at false advertising that led the aG to lay the $45 million smackdown on skechers for their bogus butt-toning sneakers, which apparently did no butt toning whatsoever? his lawsuit made the point that you can’t just claim magical properties for shoes—or anything else, for that matter—without evidence to back it up. cellulite cream, wrinkle removers and diet cookies, consider yourselves on notice.

yOu SAID “Why isn’t Mark Grisanti on the LOSER list again this week? Spending money on T.V. ads and mailers in May = LOSER” —BILLYBUFFALO may 21, 2012 at 7:40 am

yOuR cHOIcE pedro Espada Jr.: the former senator’s rosary beads did not appear to have their intended effect. the trial of the former state senate majority leader ended with convictions on four counts, including embezzlement at his nonprofit healthcare clinic, and a retrial likely to come for four more counts— all the result of court proceedings espada said were influenced by “evil spiritual powers.” mr. espada, we hope you enjoyed those Broadway tickets, madonna concerts and petting zoos, bought with your constituents’ medicaid dollars, because even the nicest penitentiaries don’t have those amenities. 22 june 4, 2012 | www.cityandstateny.com

GIANARIS 26%

yOuR cHOIcE WALLENDA 6% kALISH 4% mike Gianaris: a hit at this year’s Lca show charlie Rangel: endorsed by oodles of pols and the uFt Solomon kalish: spared two years in jail for being fat

THE RISky pIck Nik Wallenda: the death-defying niagara Falls tightrope walk that funambulist nik wallenda planned became slightly less death-defying this week, after officials insisted he wear a harness to prevent him from falling in the event of a misstep. this renders the feat less impressive, we suppose, but we like to think he’s a winner because, hey, at least it’s less likely that he will plummet to his death.

LOSERS SAmpSON 40% SOARES 15% BLOOmBERG 29% HANNA 8% SILvER 5%

FIDLER/STOROBIN 15% charles Hynes: Brooklyn da goes easy on ultraorthodox Jews Tom Libous: Facing Jcope probe on nepotism Bill Thompson: potential conflicts of interest at Battery park city authority

RANGEL 23%

TIE FOR THIRD Lew Fidler/David Storobin: how can both people in a senate race lose? answer: the wacky Brooklyn special election between david storobin and Lew Fidler. the recount between the two once looked like neither would assume office this session, and even after storobin won, neither is being encouraged to run in the new “super Jewish” district this fall.

David Soares: censured by the state appeals court Sheldon Silver: Gov. shoots down minimum-wage hike Richard Hanna: tea party fave #1 franker among ny reps.

yOuR cHOIcE John Sampson: what could be worse for John sampson than the Daily News reporting that, regardless of whether the dems win or lose in december, he’s out as minority leader? the follow-up article from Ken Lovett revealing that when sampson brought up the piece in a closed-door meeting with his conference later in the day, not a single member stood up to defend him. in fact, according to Lovett, the criticisms of sampson only grew more severe. with friends like that… eh, John?

Stephanie miner: Before being named co-chair of the nys democratic party, had you ever even heard of stephanie miner? though miner has long been acclaimed as a rising star in central new york, where she’s been mayor of syracuse since 2010, she was largely unknown across the rest of the state until Governor cuomo plucked her from obscurity with the appointment.

“BLADE” RuNNER-up: michael Bloomberg: it was already too late for hizzoner to shake his reputation as an out-oftouch billionaire, but when it came out that the mayor regularly flouted the 34th street heliport’s weekend curfew, the perception that Bloomberg is self-important was propelled to new heights. shirking the rules once or twice— that’s understandable. But eight times in a single weekend? even the mayor’s press team couldn’t explain that. Kudos to the citizens who exposed the chief exec’s excesses— we hope now you can finally get some peace and quiet.

CITY&STATE


B AC K & F O R T H

peeling the onion

A

CS: The Onion hasn’t really run a satiric article on Andrew Cuomo since his days as HUD Secretary. Is there just nothing funny about Cuomo to write about? JR: I don’t think there is. He’s boring, right? That’s his whole thing?

fter four years as editor in chief of The Onion, comedian Joe Randazzo is leaving the paper, and America’s self-proclaimed “finest news source” is relocating its offices to Chicago. City & State Editor Morgan Pehme talks with Randazzo about his tenure at the helm of the popular satiric publication and asks him if there’s anything funny about Andrew Cuomo.

City & State: What’s so funny about politics? Joe Randazzo: You have a high concentration of egotistical people who oftentimes put their worst qualities forward to get noticed and to be recognized, and this lack of compassion, humanism and altruism often leads to success in politics…. That inherently is a tragically hilarious juxtaposition. CS: How seriously does The Onion take itself? JR: I think it’s understood that there’s this bedrock responsibility to speak truth to power, to call out bulls--t when The Onion sees it, and to always try to fall on the right side of issues, to never be against the victim—and not to try to maintain objectivity but to keep any target open… But on a daily basis Onion writers aren’t thinking about their responsibility.... It just needs to be funny jokes. CS: Earlier this year Rep. John Fleming of Louisiana mistakenly thought your story about a planned “AbortionPlex” was genuine. The New York Times and Fox News have reported on your articles as fact. How blurry is the line between real news and fake news in our current environment? JR: The whole point of [the AbortionPlex story] was to try to give as much credence to what we imagined every right-wing nut job’s worst nightmare of Planned Parenthood could be and to give it the Onion treatment, which is to present it in a very dry, authoritative way. That’s our formula; that’s the lens through which we observe the world—that’s where 90% of our comedy comes from—so when we do it really well, sometimes people who aren’t familiar with us take it seriously. It does to a degree speak to—especially during the Bush Administration and the rise of FOX News, not that Rupert Murdoch is an evil person, per se— this sort of reinventing news as entertainment that that has really taken hold in American culture. I think in [Rep. Fleming’s] case, he’s a pandering guy who’s not that intelligent, who thought that something obscenely ridiculous like the AbortionPlex could ever possibly be real. Actually, one of the things that lent it some credence was that somebody went and created an actual Yelp site for the AbortionPlex—and hundreds of people… started writing reviews like “It was great! My husband and I are going to go there every year for our anniversary,” which sort of gave texture to this world we created….

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I mean, it’s a $7 billion AbortionPlex, where they’re killing, like,1,500 babies a minute. There’s waterslides, and you can have a martini while you wait. There’s no way that would ever be real, even from Planned Parenthood. CS: Does constantly mocking hypocrisy and ineptitude in government make you hopelessly cynical about the state of our country? JR: Comedians tend to be fairly sensitive people who have to kind of harden their souls to the fact that they’re going to get hurt… and that people are imperfect and that ultimately we’re all going to die. I think that’s actually the background of every comedian’s mind. I think there’s a side to that sensitivity that hopes for good…that wants to be idealistic, but that’s a vulnerable place to be, and rather than going out and trying to collect names for Children’s International, comedians write nasty jokes about Rush Limbaugh….. Our country, if we continue on this path which is consumed with the endless obsession with consumption—that’s physically unsustainable, spiritually unsustainable and culturally unsustainable…. We’ll probably have to wipe out, like, three quarters of the population before anything good can happen—and that’s okay…. I’m just enjoying my life while I can before the big purge comes.

CS: In 2009 The Onion was awarded a Peabody, and last year you actively campaigned for a Pulitzer. Does The Onion really deserve journalism’s highest award or was that just a shameless publicity stunt? JR: I think we would all actually really like to win a Pulitzer—and now that I’m leaving I think I can say that The Onion absolutely does deserve a Pulitzer. In terms of commentary I don’t think there’s anyone who has consistently done a better job with more integrity that The Onion has. The Onion also does lots of stupid, horrible jokes that have no business being published, but I think there isn’t any other organization that has for 20 years observed the American condition as consistently…. We thought it would be funny, instead of pretending we don’t care about prizes like many news outlets do, just shamelessly going for one and saying we will actually just buy one from you, if you allow us to do it.

photo by andrew schwartz

To read the full text of this interview, including Randazzo’s thoughts about Eliot Spitzer and Anthony Weiner, and enjoy some of The Onion’s best articles about New York politics, check out www.cityandstateny.com.

CS: A few months before New York State legalized marriage equality, your paper had an article: “Future U.S. History Students: ‘It’s Pretty Embarrassing How Long You Guys Took to Legalize Gay Marriage’.” Has The Onion helped shape policy in the real world? JR: One of the most interesting things we’ve been able to do is boil down an issue into simple terms from a perspective that people might not have thought of. Chuck Schumer used one of our stories during Congressional testimony a few years ago. The story was “Nation Demands New Bubble to Invest In” and it was all about “We need to get rich quick on something unsustainable! Give us a bubble! We don’t care what it is! We want to invest in it!” And he used that in Congressional testimony…. Of course, our article was outlandish, but that’s what good satire does: exaggerate reality to point at something very fundamental about reality. CS: In your four years helming The Onion, what is your proudest accomplishment? JR: We just completed a book that’s going to be out in October called The Onion Book of Known Knowledge…. It’s got a really perverse worldview but with a real heart…. That and the China issue…when we said The Onion was taken over by a Chinese conglomerate. CS: Now that you’re leaving the paper, what’s next for you? JR: I’ll be getting into politics.

www.cityandstateny.com | June 4, 2012

23


“My daddy’s working up there.” Construction workers—and their families—are counting on our state leaders to help them stay safe on the job by protecting New York’s Scaffold Law. According to the most recent federal data available, onthe-job accidents took the lives of 37 New York State construction workers. Compounding the tragedy: devastating accidents like this can be prevented, but too often prevention takes a back seat to corporate profits. When irresponsible contractors cut corners on safety because they know they can get away with it, it’s not just their employees who pay the price. We need to work to make sure New Yorkers are kept safer from construction accidents.

New York State’s Scaffold Law was designed to protect construction workers—and their families—and to keep the public safe. It holds contractors and owners accountable for enforcing work site safety rules and regulations. Unfortunately, some builders, contractors, insurers and other special interests are trying to dodge their responsibilities by pressuring the State Legislature to erode the Scaffold Law. For all of our sakes, state leaders must continue to protect workers and all New Yorkers by keeping the Scaffold Law strong.

Protect worker safety Support the Scaffold Law

New York State trial l awYerS aSSociatioN Protecting New Yorkers Since 1953

City and State - June 4, 2012  

The June 4, 2012 issue of City and State . Targeting the politicians, lobbyists, unions, staffers and issues which shape New York City and...

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