Politics: Democracy’s Biggest Challenge
CHALLENGING THE SYSTEM: (Top, l-r) Attorney Evan Davis representing Republican Assemblyman Tom Kirwan and Democratic State Senator Liz Kruger is suing (Bottom, l-r) Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno and Governor George Pataki claiming that the distribution of staff and funds in Albany discriminates against members of the political minority.
By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
I am a frequent critic of government.
That is my job as a columnist.
I write to represent the people’s interest – the people of Queens. Often the universe is larger than my borough since the government about which I write governs areas larger than my borough.
I have in the past, am presently, and will in the future, pound the undemocratic efforts of the City Council to extend their own terms violating the will of the people who have twice by referendum passed term limits.
Likewise, I have pounded away at a pathetic State government – ruled by those three men in a room – and failing the people at every turn.
With less frequency — because it’s really not my beat — I have commented on our president, the war, and the sad state of affairs of our nation in the global community.
Yes, I am critical.
As a lifelong Democrat, I am critical of my party, or any party, that puts power or self interest above the people. It happens all too frequently at all levels of government.
And I must point it out and speak out against it. Whenever your elected official puts political party above government and the people, it’s time to change your elected official.
At any level of government, when special interest, self interest, money or power rule elected officials’ votes, it is time to make a change.
No, I am not a revolutionary.
Yes, I recognize that these failings are frequent and elected officials’ are fallible.
New York City lost a half-a-billion-dollar-a-year commuter tax because politics and political pressure from the Speaker got some of our Assembly members to vote against our best interest. Mike Bloomberg is beginning a valiant but unlikely-to-be-successful fight to restore the commuter tax. (As an aside, he should accept the old formula – it may have a slight prayer of success if the Dems take back the NYS Senate).
Recently the NY City Council overwhelmingly passed a bill allowing unions greater rights in making political contributions than any other groups – think business. It is the unions who feed the campaign coffers of the group that voted for the bill. Now,this longtime trade unionist must assert, it might be good for a special interest, but the Councilmembers who pushed and voted for the bill know it isn’t good government. They know it will benefit them, but not the process or public campaign finance. (That system, too, needs some fixing).
Congress is so filled with partisanship that issues and appointments are politicized to a point where the good of the people take a back seat to the game of power.
More locally, Manhattan State Senator Liz Kruger – a Democrat in a Republican Senate — and upstate Assemblyman Tom Kirwan – a Republican in a Democratic Assembly — brought suit in State Supreme Court against the leadership of State Government – the three men in a room (you should know them by now) – arguing their ability to represent their constituents has been unconstitutionally and unfairly limited by Shelly, Joe and George. (The three men: Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver, Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno and Governor George Pataki).
Basically the suit cites party affiliation (political belief and associations) as a reason for discrimination as leadership doles out staff budgets and member items.
Closed party caucuses depriving elected officials from participating in decision making added to the case before – get this – Judge Solomon.
(Come on this little aside with me and imagine if the partisan procedures that have haunted Albany for way too long may be successfully challenged and changed by a case to be (initially) decided by a judge named Solomon – in this case Jane Solomon. I love it.)
Evan Davis, the plaintiffs’ attorney in the case, is a longtime political and constitutional scholar and worth watching.
All of the above citations are by no means an indication that I am not a devotee of the system. We live in a country with the best governmental system on earth.
However, our system has been corrupted by greed, self interest, special interest, money and power.
All of them are natural and normal foibles of the human spirit. Aren’t we foolish to believe that our elected officials are made of better stuff than we are?
Therein is the rub. We vote for a representative and believe he or she will always perform on behalf of the people. The people’s will – the people who are the enabling factor of government – must remain the single source of power and guidance for government.
In Athens the people voted. The birth of representative government was a pure, noble and practical solution to a growing society. When representatives lose sight of their purpose and their mandate, the system has failed.
Today, it fails regularly.
Thus a whole industry of good government groups, columnists and third parties have been born to remind people and elected officials of the meaning of democracy. (Democracy, di-’mä-kr&-sE, noun: a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation).
Yes, our elected officials sometimes forget what it’s really all about.
Yes, it is my job to remind them.
It is your job too.
Whether it’s the budgetary process in Albany, the outrageous term limit override efforts in the Council, or perhaps as simple as an unresponsive civil servant, government is there to represent and serve the people. And when it doesn’t, we all must yell as loudly as we can.
(Remember Peter Finch in “Network”? “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”)
Our elected officials have chosen their role. They have opted to represent the people and be true to our democracy. With the continual distractions of money, power and pressures of politics and elections, it is not surprising that they are tempted to compromise their principles.
I do not know that I could be any truer to the principles of Democracy, in the face of such temptation, than they are. I understand the temptations; I understand the process; I know they are human. I also know that most entered government for the right reason.
I do know that those who have chosen public service must have a higher calling than most. And if they can’t stay true to the people, it is time for them to seek employment elsewhere.
And, my dear reader, it is time for you to tell them so.
WHEN DEMOCRACY IS CHALLENGED BY SELF INTEREST: The seven candidates for Council Speaker(l-r): Melinda Katz, Lew Fidler, Joel Rivera, Bill DiBlasio, David Weprin, Leroy Comrie, Christine Quinn face the task of vying for the second most powerful position in NYC while remaining true to the principles that brought them to public service. At a recent forum none of the above was prepared to recoginze that the term limit referendum passed twice by the people should only be changed by the people. The group has made it clear that they support the council overturning or extending term limits.