A Conversation With An Old Friend
Speaker candidate Lew Fidler with long-time friend Trib Publisher Michael Schenkler.
By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
By way of disclaimer: Lew Fidler, the Councilman from Brooklyn who is one of seven candidates to be the next Speaker of the City Council, has been a personal friend as well as personal and business attorney for more than two decades. As publisher of the largest paper in Queens, I want the most influential positions for my borough. However, I’ve chosen many times to retain Lew as my attorney because of respect for his intelligence, and his ability to analyze a problem and work through difficult people situations.
Lew came to visit us at the Trib office last Friday and I share with you an edited version of our exchange on politics and his candidacy for Speaker of the Council.
MS: Term limits – the Council changing them is a most egregious step against the people who have voted to impose term limits -- the referendum said 2 terms.
LF: It did. [But] if you poll the death penalty, I’m told the polls will show 70 something percent – and if you add to the question “or life in prison without parole,” the number drops from 70 to 40. If the referendum had been term limits, 8 or 12 years, [then I’d agree].
MS: So shouldn’t you then go back to the people by referendum?
LF: I think that may be where it has to go. I may at some point advocate that. This is not as simple as some of my colleagues think it is. If it winds up in front of the voters [after we have acted], we will have already shot ourselves in both feet. If we take it to the voters it has to be on some sort of level playing field. I am troubled by the fact that the people have voted twice and disagreed with my opinion.
[But] for you it’s an issue of morality, for me strategy. As I sit and have this conversation now, I don’t see any way that this is not going to wind up as a referendum.
MS: Is this the biggest issue in the race for Speaker?
LF: I don’t think the biggest issue is a policy issue – I think it’s trust and then of course the question of who gets what and how.
MS: What is the motivation for support by the members?
LF: I think the quintessential issue in the race among Council members is can they trust the next guy to be fair to them and allow them access — allow them to move their ideas forward – not walk into a room and be told something and not have to doubt that the commitment will be kept.
MS: Will the County Leaders ultimately make the decision?
LF: A large number of people will impact on the process: labor leaders, trusted friends, lobbyists.
MS: Will the Mayor play a role?
LF: This Mayor plays less with the Council than his predecessor. The Mayor probably has 2 or 3 people that will be strongly advised by his decision. [He can influence] if he wanted to promise goodies for political return – but he has not done that.
MS: Is that wrong?
LF: Depends what the goodies are. If they are in the public interest, that is the reality of politics and that happens.
I have not promised anything to anybody.
MS: Won’t you have to?
LF: At a certain point in time it comes together and you say this is how I see the leadership, the committee chairs – from the top to the subcommittees. Of course it’s inherently political.
MS: How do you make your election as Speaker happen?
LF: Real credibility – understanding that its not all about me – its all about them – I am not running for Speaker to run for something else – my face doesn’t have to be the one behind the microphone at every press conference. I will be able to facilitate without a personal agenda the advancement of good proposals into reality. I don’t know that it’s true of any of the other six. I’m probably in a different place in life than some of these folks.
[The Mayor’s people] are going to want to know that when they come to a budget deal with the Council and they shake hands that there is a deal.
MS: Sounds an awful lot like the State’s “three men in a room.”
LF: Eventually [the budget deal] comes back to 2 men in a room in the city -- the person on [the Mayor’s] side has to satisfy just one. The Speaker has 50 other members.
MS: Does he handle them by might or consensus?
LF: Credibility! I don’t want the speaker of the Council to have to rule by might. The Speaker can come to a member and say I need you, if when that member has come [to him] they were treated more than fairly already. I’m not somebody who believes every vote of the Council needs to pass 51-0 or 48-3.
MS: Do you have an agenda [as Speaker]?
LF: Obviously there are issues that are more important to me as an individual than others. My intention is to call in every member of the Council on a regular basis and say to them, “what do you want?” – every member.
I’ll call in all 50 and say what are you working on – that sounds like a good idea – let me assign a member of central staff to move your matter forward to reality – because we are too driven by staff – we need to find a way to let those who are elected drive the agenda. There really is an opportunity for 50 people’s ideas to percolate to the top.
MS: Will they make the Speaker decision or the bosses?
LF: I do believe that Democratic and Republican party leaders have a right to express an opinion on this subject as they do about who is in what office in the country – ultimately the votes are going to be cast by the members.
There is a dynamic by which I believe the party leaders are talking about who they think is best – best and trust are synonymous – who can be trusted with their word – who can be trusted to stand up in front of the room and not be an embarrassment. My county leader wants to bring the Speaker home to Brooklyn and I have good relationship with Assemblyman Lopez.
MS: Is Avella going to be punished for breaking with the Council on term limits?
LF: I wouldn’t. I have a lot of respect for Tony Avella.
MS: Favorite thing about Queens?
LF: Mike Schenkler
MS (smiling): What else should my readers know about you?
LF: The one thing we didn’t discuss – you need to know something about where someone’s been in life to have confidence and trust. In some respects I’ve lived the quintessential life of a middle class New Yorker from the outer boroughs. I grew up here, attended NYC public schools, I’ve had every non–paying job that civic affairs permitted. My mom was PTA president of every school I went to. I worked for a living – I have the experiences that many New Yorkers have. I’ve had trials in my life that have shown me some of the harder times – given me perspective and empathy. Having grown up in a well integrated community has given me the opportunity to understand different groups of people that would be beneficial in bringing a diverse people together.
I know what it is to have to put a kid through college – deal with a parent’s health care in later years.
I didn’t get born into high places in government and I experienced so much of it that will help me be the kind of Speaker that would not only be good for members of my body but keep us in touch with a real world that we live in.
Killing The Term Limit Coup
The beginning of the end to the outrageous effort by the City Council to legislatively change their own term limits as passed by the people — twice –- may have thankfully been dealt a fatal blow.
The Mayor, the man with the power to put the issue before the people, in an interview on John Gambling’s WABC radio show said of the Council’s plans to undo the voter’s twice-passed term limits:
“This is an outrage.
“Whether you like term limits or not, whether you think they’re good or not... I happen to think that there’s no organization I know that would put somebody in charge for a long period of time. You always want turnover and change. Eight years is great. You learn for four years and do for four years.
“But to say that you have to stay beyond that...
“One of the arguments they make - I love this - is that you have to keep us because otherwise we have to go run for another office that we’re not qualified for. As my kids would say ... HUH?
“But the public’s voted twice, and the public would vote a third time.
“It is an outrage if they do this. It is an outrage to just say to the public we don’t care what you think.
“I hope that common sense comes to them, and that they don’t do this. It would be such an outrage.
“But if they do it, you can rest assured that there will be a ballot initiative. ...and how they can hold their heads up after that I don’t know.”
It is clear to this writer that the voters, if given the opportunity, would never stand for the Council’s self-serving outrage and the Mayor has pledged to give the voters the last word.
Certainly those self-serving members recognize the people would never tolerate their unilateral action. The Mayor’s statement may be enough for them to abandon their attempted power grab.
We call upon the seven Speaker candidates to publicly change their position and apologize to the people of this city.
We ask the Mayor to consider a proposal that would prevent this or any future Council from legislatively disregarding the voted will of the people.
Not4Publication.com by Dom Nunziato