Mayor on World Stage; Congestion Pricing Tricky
The worldwide conference of 46 mayors on climate change, hosted by Mayor Bloomberg, is a splendid example of how someone who is smart, rich and famous, holding an important elected office, can influence public policy beyond his job description and pay grade (in his case, $1 per year).
The mayor’s wealth and importance, combined with the geographical, financial and cultural status of New York City, gives him the ability to have a far greater effect on world or national affairs than a less accomplished person coming from a less distinguished neighborhood.
The national issue on which our mayor has focused is gun control. Guns kill about 30,000 Americans each year, primarily in the cities.
The global issue is climate change. Both issues are not the conventional disputes between right and left wingers, nor are they redistributionist schemes to improve the lot of the poor at the expense of the rich or the middle class The agenda involves protecting human life, both individually and en masse, as does the mayor’s unusual intervention into the eating habits of New Yorkers (banning the sale of trans fats and cutting down on the fat in milk served in public schools) and his leadership in the anti-tobacco movement, starting with prohibiting smoking in bars and restaurants.
Some people like to look into the future, and wonder whether the mayor’s leadership can be enlisted to serve a wider constituency. It is too early to make a judgment as to whether this will be attempted, much less whether it will happen.
Our judgment is that it is extremely premature to predict in June 2007 what the mayor will do in 2008. On the other hand, it is not too early at all to make plans for the eventuality of a presidential candidacy. This work must be carried out in relative secrecy, and vigorously denied, so as not to lose the freshness and innocence that should accompany an effort by a citizen outsider (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington) to seize the brass ring.
One advantage of the mayor’s situation is that his friends and allies will not be hit up for fund raisers, which is a requirement for those candidates who in their earlier years, were less prescient, industrious and fortunate than he was.
It is unfortunate that fully operational presidential campaigns now take place in year three of the predecessor’s term rather than year four. We recall that Senator John Kennedy announced his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination on Jan. 2, 1960. Forty-eight years later, the nomination may well have been decided by the point in time corresponding to the Kennedy announcement (Jan. 2, 2008).
As New Yorkers, we can take pride in Mayor Bloomberg’s efforts and the recognition they have received. The mayor has tried hard to link the global conference to his congestion pricing initiative, about which we reserve judgment. Congestion pricing is different from other ideas, though, in that most environmental protection measures come at the expense of the rich, manufacturers and processors of goods, river polluters, gas guzzlers, etc. This proposal would, among other possibly unanticipated consequences, make it more costly for poor people to travel to rich neighborhoods.
We can see future expansion of restricted traffic areas to create more restricted areas, which may or may not be in the public interest. Tolling ordinary streets is an intrusion into freedom of movement which may or may not be justified by claimed reductions in pollution and travel time. It could be an ingenious method of imposing social control under the noble guise of environmental protection. It is also a harbinger for other anti-car proposals, which might make more sense than this one.
For example, what about a higher auto use tax in urban areas?
We believe, to some degree intuitively, that Americans will fight for their cars with the same ferocity they use to defend their guns. There are even more car owners than gun owners. The right to drive where you wish is an important part of freedom of movement. There will be reluctance to limit that right, especially when a financial burden is imposed which necessarily has a greater impact on the poor.
The dysfunctional State Legislature, which has the last word on this issue, is not regarded as a force to make things better, since they are bound at the hip to the companies and unions that keep them in the green. It will be interesting to learn how they deal with proposals that may, or may not, be helpful.
There is no end to the new burdens and restrictions that can be imposed in the name of fighting “global warming,” or as it is now more euphemistically referred to, “climate change.” If an asteroid were predicted to collide with Earth on a day certain, we would hopefully generate a better formulated and more effective response than we have had so far in dealing with climate change.