By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
Gary Ackerman is no farmer.
The closest he comes to cows
is at Peter Luger.
The closest he comes to bull
is, well, Congress.
As regulars to this column
know, Gary and I have been friends for a long time ó a very long time.
Forty years ago when we met, I was just a young kid. He became my older
friend. And I have followed and participated in his career ever since. He,
likewise, has had quite an influence on mine.
Gary is a concerned, bright,
progressive (most of time) legislator. He has taken his seniority on the
House Foreign Relations Committee seriously and has become one of this
nationís leading experts on the Middle and Far East ó areas under the
purview of his subcommittee. He takes his job seriously but still
remembers how to smile. Voting for war just wasnít the easiest thing for
him. He was tortured.
In May of 2001, Gary Ackerman was
honored by Farm Sactuary, one of the nationís largest animal
protection and rescue organizations.
He grew up in public housing;
he was educated by free public education. He is an advocate for those in
the Cityís middle and under class. His love of people ó his compassion
ó is his most outstanding trait.
Now I didnít come here to
praise Gary. I came here because Iíve been scratching my head about city
boy Gary Ackerman and his prophetic legislation on downed animals.
As 2003 ended, Agriculture
Secretary Ann Veneman declared that the use of downed cattle would be
banned due to Mad Cow disease.
Gary was the sponsor of
legislation in Congress to ban downed animals, a measure which failed by
three votes last July. He has since been critical of the Agriculture
Department and the cattle industry, particularly during the recent Mad Cow
Gary reacted to Venemanís
"The department has seen
the light but thatís only because theyíve been struck by lightning.
This Mad Cow incident was a
hard and expensive lesson that the Agriculture department learned . . .
These animals should have never been let into the food supply to begin
with and they wouldnít have been had the cattle industry [not] opposed
our legislation in such a powerful manner. In the
interest of the public health and safety, we are pleased over this
belated, sad and costly victory in our decade long quest to prevent downed
animals from being used."
In fact, I discovered, Gary
had introduced legislation banning the use of downer cattle for 12
What made City boy Gary one of
our national spokespersons on a farming issue? His legislation, introduced
tenaciously 12 times, was indeed prophetic and could have saved the cattle
industry millions (if not more), and this nation great worry.
Now, I was in Florida when the
Secretary, Gary and everyone else were throwing the bull about downed
animals and Mad Cow. So I emailed Gary on his Blackberry: "How does a
city kid born in Brooklyn, raised in Queens become prophetic on an
In a discussion last week,
Gary told me the story.
It didnít start out for Gary
as a concern about the food stream. "It was simply the right thing to
do. The finances made it important for the industry to get the animals to
the slaughterhouse alive ó so they dragged them. It was inhumane."
Gary explained that such a
miniscule percent of the downers were tested and that they went into the
food stream before test results came back that the industry. He said the
Department of Agriculture, in claiming they must not be euthanized but
brought to the slaughterhouse for testing, were simply "full of
Once in the food stream as we
have just discovered, Ackerman explains, you have to play Humpty Dumpty
cow and try to piece it together again ó after the meat has been spread
to quite a number of states.
So, in 1993 Ackerman received
an award from PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) presented
by Kim Bassinger Ė a highlight of his career (at least for me) Ė and
was befriended by the animal rights groups.
With their help, Gary
developed an expertise and has since then been championing the cause of
humane treatment of downed animals. And like it turns out so often, doing
the ethical thing is also often the right thing for all affected.
"The [cattle] industry is
now a wreck," explains Gary. "Their greed in preventing my
legislation from passing has cost them thousands of times more. Japan,
which buys 180,000,000 head per year, has stopped importing US Cattle.
Imagine the financial implication," Gary added.
There was a lot more to our
discussion pointing out the horrendous health oversight by the Department
of Agriculture and the greed of an industry that is now in crises.
But in the interest of space
and time, I brought the discussion to a close and asked: "Gar, do you
still go to Lugerís?"
"Of course," he
responded, "I had a great two pound lobster there last week."
Four Benjamins Offered To Private Homeowners
By HENRY STERN
The State of the City address,
delivered Friday in the cavernous Silvercup Studio in Long Island City,
may have signaled the opening of Mayor Bloombergís campaign for
The backdrop resembled a Karl
Rove production: super-sized flags of the US and NYC, and enormous
photographs of Manhattan skyscrapers. Stage right displayed a huge
photograph of the Unisphere. At center stage, we saw an enlarged photo of
a modest private house, whose owner the Mayor would like to benefit with
$400 in tax relief. On the great Silvercup stage, the usual
elected officials and their appointees were gone. Dozens of military
reservists, some recently returned from Iraq, and selected Queens
schoolchildren, in three rows of bleachers, shared the stage.
The Mayor spoke vigorously and
firmly, in a baritone voice. It was not his normal speaking voice,
but he has learned that you cannot address an audience of 700 people and
hundreds of thousands on television, in conversational tones.
When you speak before a crowd,
you try to capture their mood, to reach out to them to sense how they
feel, and to modify your delivery when needed to strengthen rapport with
your audience. The Mayor did it right yesterday, and whether his new
style is intuitive or learned, it made a more satisfying impression on all
those in the room. It also makes for better television, which, of
course, is the far larger audience. If people feel that you
are absorbing their mood and reacting to it, it makes them more ready to
listen to you and to think favorably of what you are saying.
Does the perception of
involvement make a difference? Sure it does. But
"show me the money."
The substance of his remarks:
the $400 tax rebate for homeowners, and condo and co-op dwellers is the
important message being delivered. But even there, it is not only the
money, it is the awareness that the Mayor knows that this group feels that
it has been injured, and is trying to make it up to them.
Should the tax relief, if
justified, be handled in this way? Tax policy is always a
matter of rough justice, or injustice. No one can judge
precisely the most equitable way of distributing largesse, or relieving
the public of exactions. But when the Mayor acts on the
principle of "I feel your pain", people are more likely to be
favorably disposed to him. It is also evident that owners of private homes
are a core constituency for the Mayor, since he is unlikely to score
heavily in public housing.
The usual "fiscal
experts", consulted by the Times, were skeptical of the
proposed tax cut. Some objected because the cut favored homeowners,
and not large landlords. Others wondered whether it was fiscally
responsible to cut taxes at all, even though the cityís surplus this
year will approach a half billion. The once-mighty Democratic
Party is now in its eleventh year of exclusion from the mayoralty of a
heavily Democratic city. It is in its tenth year of powerlessness in
a state where it has a substantial majority in voter registration. They
will do their best to muddy the waters, to switch the targeted real estate
tax relief to other areas, in order to assure that whatever is enacted
bears as little resemblance as possible to the Bloomberg proposal. Then
they will claim credit themselves for lowering taxes. Thatís how itís
Meanwhile, back at the City
Council, Speaker Gifford Miller, having successfully passed legislation
extending his term in office despite referenda in 1993 and 1996
establishing term limits, and successfully defending his
term-extension in the Court of Appeals, was unanimously re-elected,
although he will be a lame duck unless his term can be further
extended. In the Speakerís defense, it must be said that the
lawsuit that the Council exceeded its powers in modifying the referenda
was contaminated by a Brooklyn judge who overruled his law assistant, and
then had the assistantís work destroyed. This made it appear that
the case was a scheme by the Brooklyn organization to wrest the
Speakership from Manhattan, a view which could contain a kernel of truth.
Various Councilmembers from
Brooklyn and Queens will try to succeed Miller in January 2006, but
the decision on the Council leadership has historically been made by the
Democratic county leaders, just as Mr. Miller was chosen in 2002
by an alliance of Tom Manton, the Queens leader, and the Bronx team
of Roberto Ramirez and Jose Rivera. At that time, Mr. Riveraís
23-year-old son, Joel, was elected the Councilís majority leader, the
No. 2 leadership position. The previous speaker, Peter Vallone, was
selected by their predecessors, Stanley Friedman of the Bronx and Donald
Manes of Queens. That deal was consummated just two days before Mr.
Manesí first, unsuccessful suicide attempt on Jan. 10, 1986.
In politics, timing is
Henry Stern was NYC Parks
Commissioner for 15 years and a Councilmember for nine. He can be reached
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