By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
Three weeks ago, in an item titled
“Truth In Politics, Commuter Tax Repeal,” I was critical of one point
in Queens Borough President Helen Marshall’s Proposed Reallocation
Package to the Mayor’s Budget. The criticism of my friend Helen, a woman
I’ve known and admired for more than 40 years, was not in her desire to
have the State Legislature create new revenue streams for the City or to
reprioritize where funds are allotted. As a matter of fact, I agree with
much that Helen wanted — restorations of budget cuts to the Board of
Education and the Queens libraries.
However, as I pointed out in my column
on April 11, the largest portion of the increased revenue advocated by
Marshall, some $453 million, would come from the re-enactment of the NYC
commuter tax eliminated by the State Legislature in 1999.
Marshall’s document said: “The
Commuter Tax, a tax imposed on wages earned by New Yorkers who commute to
work into each of the five boroughs, was eliminated in May of 1999 by
Governor George E. Pataki.”
As one who yelled and screamed as the
tax was being repealed, I saw a different devil than the Governor. Sure
the Guv signed the bill that was passed by both houses of the State
However, one of those houses, for as
long as I can remember, has been the Democratically controlled protector
of downstate. Yes, for the entire modern political history of this State,
New York City’s interest was always handled by the Assembly with a clear
Our warped political redistricting
system allows these politicos, every ten years, to redraw the lines of
their houses so that the Assembly becomes more solidly Democratic and the
Senate remains clearly controlled by the Republicans. And thinking back
four decades — and probably more — it was a Dem Assembly and a
Republican Senate. And unless the court or a miracle intervenes, it shall
likely remain the same for the next decade.
Why? Because the system is terrible.
It allows self-serving politicians to
negotiate what is in their own interest and the interest of elected
officials while not considering the people of the State. And that is
exactly what is happening in this years’ redistricting . . . an obscene
political dance that occurs every ten years.
And the dancemeisters, Democratic
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver from Manhattan and Upstate Republican
Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno don’t really care about anything but
staying in power. Silver and his Dem crew allow the Republican Senate to
draw new lines just to protect the Republican members, a majority of the
Senate, even though there is clearly a majority of Democrats in the State.
In exchange, Silver has total say over his Assembly and protects his
members who in turn reelect him.
By way of explanation, the redistricting
requires both houses to agree on the new lines for each house. If Silver
said “no” to Bruno, (or visa versa) or the Governor vetoed the
politically vacuous deal, the whole thing could wind up with a
court-appointed master who might consider the people or something other
than the reelection of the present guys. Then again, he might not, but
I’d take the gamble.
Well, this whole rant was to explain:
Dems, Assembly, downstate; Republicans, Senate, upstate. That’s the way
it’s been. That apparently is the way it will be.
The Commuter Tax
During these economically difficult post
9-11 times, many from New York City have been, like Helen Marshall,
calling for the reinstatement of the “Commuter Tax.” A small tax
charged to non-City residents who work in the City. The rationale was
simple . . . these folks who used the infrastructure of the City to earn
their living, weren’t paying an income tax to maintain that
infrastructure, so in 1966 the legislature introduced the tax. It existed
from 1966 to 1999.
Marshall, in her April budget proposals
calling for the reinstatement of the commuter tax, clearly blamed the
Governor for the repeal of the tax.
I yelled boshwabble!!! Certainly the
Governor could have vetoed the legislation passed by both houses, but why?
The Democratically-controlled Assembly and their downstate New York City
Speaker supported it.
I yelled loudly in 1999 but Shelly
Silver was blindly leading his members to the edge of the cliff in some
absurd failed political deal. And as a result of Silver and those Dems who
voted with him, the City lost the Commuter Tax and somewhere between $400
and $500 million each and every year.
Now Helen and many others want it back.
It ain’t gonna happen . . . not this
year . . . not during an election. The Mayor knows it. The Governor has
said it. Joe Bruno is laughing.
And whose fault is it? Assembly Speaker
Sheldon Silver and those downstate members who gave away the candy stores.
Shame on them.
I remember in 1999 chatting with
then-Assembly newcomer Mike Cohen about the vote back then. Now, Mike is a
wonderful Assembly member. He cares, he’s honest, he’s hard working.
Mike Cohen is committed to doing the best he can for his Forest Hills
District. I believe that. But Mike, like many others, was afraid of the
retribution of Speaker Silver if – as an Assembly newcomer – he
didn’t follow him on the Commuter Tax vote.
I don’t believe there was a single NYC
Assembly member that believed the Commuter Tax repeal was in the best
interest of our City or State. However, Silver got an awful lot of them to
vote for it. Silver had to use threats, deals and promises to get some
honorable people like Mike Cohen to sell out this City. I told Mike back
then it would haunt him for a long, long time. Well Mike, my friend, the
City needs the bucks for the schools and we don’t have them. Thanx!
I remember when my friend Audrey Pheffer
declared for Queens Borough President.
“No way,” I said. She voted to
repeal the Commuter Tax. I’ve known Audrey forever. I have a great deal
of affection for her. However she, like many others, sold out our City
because the Speaker told her to.
I think highly of Cathy Nolan and have
come to admire Bill Scarborough in recent years. However, I find it hard
to dismiss their repeal votes.
Marge Markey and Vivian Cook will be
reelected (that’s the system) but still have a lot of work to prove to
this writer that they can act independently in the best interest of the
On the other hand, my friends Brian
McLaughlin, Nettie Mayersahn, Mark Weprin and Ivan Lafayette stood up to
the Speaker and voted no repeal. Ann Carrozza and Jeff Aubry reinforced my
belief that the people came first to them. I’ve never met Barbara Clark,
but I thank her for her courageous, principled stance. And although I
often don’t agree with Tony Seminerio, he stood up and was counted on
this important issue.
The people of this borough should
remember and thank them.
This was, in this writer’s opinion,
the single vote most indicative of an Assembly member’s ability to stand
with the people and not politics.
Our borough sadly did not show well back
three years ago. With 16 Assembly members, seven voted “yes” to repeal
the Commuter Tax and nine had the courage to stand up to the Speaker and
vote “no.” They cared about our City and not political deals.
We are not recommending one-issue
We are not advocating the defeat of
those Assembly members who voted to repeal the Commuter Tax.
It wouldn’t happen anyway.
However, we do believe they are
responsible for their vote and the people should know. When you encounter
a member of the Assembly, ask them how they voted. If they are one of the
seven who stood with the devil, tell them what you think. If they voted
the right way, remember to thank them.
The vote in 1999 of Queens Members:
23 Audrey Pheffer
24 Mark Weprin
25 Brian McLaughlin
26 Ann Carrozza
27 Nettie Mayersonn
28 Michael Cohen
29 William Scarborough
30 Marge Markey
32 Vivian Cook
33 Barbara Clark
34 Ivan Lafayette
35 Jeffrion Aubry
36 Denis Butler
37 Cathy Nolan
38 Anthony Seminerio
(Yes = to
repeal the Commuter Tax)
And to my friend the Borough President
of Queens, if we don’t get the money to build our schools or keep our
libraries open, remember that your party, and your Speaker, and our
friends, sold our City down the river three years ago. And because of
them, we’ll be paddling upstream for some time to come.
v. Harrison Round II:
15 Years Later
It’s going to be a long hot summer.
Even though this writer has trouble believing it, former Assemblywoman,
recently term-limited Councilwoman, Democratic District Leader and
controversial octogenarian Julia Harrison has announced she’s running
for the State Senate against incumbent State Senator and District Leader
Harrison told the Trib Monday
that she’s teaming with frequent candidate Ethel Chen who is running for
the newly-created 22nd Assembly District in Flushing and they will field
candidates for District Leader in each of the four new Democratic slots as
well as State Committee.
Last week Harrison was up to her usual
outspoken antics when a reporter called her to
find out if she really planned to make
the run against Stavisky in the September
She has told the Tribune in the
past that, “As long as my mind still works, I’ll keep that door open
to me,” and possibly run for another office. Who better for her to run
against than Stavisky, for whom she clearly has no love? Harrison has
criticized Stavisky in the media constantly, saying she only won her seat
because her husband Leonard Stavisky died while in office.
The two had squared off previously in
a bitter 1986 election when Harrison beat Stavisky for the Council.
This time, Stavisky will have the advantage of incumbency coupled with the
potent political operation of the Parkside Consulting Group owned in part
by her Democratic
co-leader and son Evan.
The 16th District that the two will run
in reflects the creative map work of the Republican Senate redistricters.
The gerrymandered Flushing-centered crab-like district which has tentacles
stretching from Forest Hills to Bay Terrace and from LaGuardia Airport to
Hollis Hills is only partially similar to the areas represented previously
by the two women.
The thought of another knock-down,
drag-out, all-or-nothing Harrison-Stavisky battle was mouth-watering to
our political junkie reporter who called Harrison last week to say that
she had “heard a rumor” and wondered if it was true.
Before the reporter could elaborate,
Harrison quickly said, “Look, all I can say, honey, is that my club is
going to have a meeting Saturday, and then I can tell you anything you
want.” When it became clear that Harrison would not offer any more
information, the reporter asked jokingly, “So, I guess you know what the
Harrison, the ever-eloquent and
outspoken senior citizen politician, laughed, and said, “Oh, shit,
Monday, Harrison confirmed that she’s
running against Stavisky. The race is on and it’s going to be a hot one
Column contributor: Angela Montefinise
Michael Schenkler can be reached at:
by Dom Nunziato