Punditry, Invisible Count & Tunnel Vision
Cross Harbor Tunnel advocate Congressman Jerry Nadler and Trib Publisher Mike Schenkler
By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
Last week’s column was fun – you comment on five topics rather than one, and you get five times the number of people agreeing with you, five times the number disagreeing and five times the number of people angry with you.
The phone calls were greater in number and largely in reaction to my quickie analysis of the Mayoral and Speaker races. Several of the City’s and State’s political poobahs called to weigh-in – anonymously, as usual.
The Price of going negative
One longtime friend whose connections run very deep in Democratic circles called to react to my analysis that abysmal fate that awaited Mark Green in the last Mayoral election would await any other Dem candidate who beat Freddy Ferrer in the primary.
We explained Freddy was so far in front that in order for another Dem to overtake him, they’d have to go negative. We wrote: “Four years ago Mark Green went negative on Freddy Ferrer in that run-off and won the primary but alienated the Latino, normally strong Democratic base loyal to Ferrer. Results: the Latinos stayed home, normal Democratic voters abandoned Green.”
Our poobah pal pointed out that Freddy himself and more so, his political guru Roberto Ramirez, contributed to the effort that turned Dems, specifically Latinos, against Mark Green, ultimately leading to his downfall and the election of Mike Bloomberg.
Perhaps, our caller said, that this being Freddy’s final shot, should he lose, he won’t be vindictive and would help the Dem victor rather than hurt him. Ramirez continues to build an impressive power network and perhaps he too would be supportive of any Dem against Bloomberg.
An interesting spin but we’re not sure that Mark Green didn’t bring much of the Democratic animus on all by himself. Freddy may not have been super-supportive and Roberto unsupportive, but we knew Dems that were looking for a reason to go with Mike . . . and they did.
We’d be surprised at any scenario where a four-way Democratic Primary resulted with three losers honestly working to elect the winner – those things just don’t happen often in politics or life.
And the Democratic Party in the City and State just doesn’t have the leader to effectively bring opponents to the same table.
Anyone who goes negative on Freddy will lose Freddy’s base. And Freddy’s base is needed to beat Mike.
By the way, we’d love to see the voters punish all candidates who resort to vile negative campaign tactics.
Democrats Republican Plot?
Another political insider, from the other side of the aisle, called with a different spin on the present Mayoral race. I asked the Republican insider how come the Bloomberg folks couldn’t cut a deal with Tom Ognibene to keep Mike from having a primary.
By way of explanation to the apolitical, former Queens Councilman Tom Ognibene has stated his intention to challenge Bloomberg in the GOP Primary and to seek the Conservative line for the November election. The Queens Repub organization – with splits in their ranks – is backing Ognibene. Although Mike will easily dispose of Ognibene in the primary, a candidate on the Conservative line always takes votes from the Republican.
Not good news for Mike.
Well, spinner two had a theory. Bloomberg folks couldn’t cut a deal with Ognibene, because he already cut one with the Dems. Perhaps, he spun, Ognibene has been offered something by (at least) one of the Dems should he win where Mike was not being super generous in throwing job offers around to Ognibene.
Furthermore, number two explained, Queens’ lone Republican Councilmember Dennis Gallagher is very much a part of the Ognibene support in Queens, and Staten Island Republican Councilmember Jim Oddo was in Ognibene country looking friendly to the Bloomberg foe.
Our Republican suggested that the two Councilmen, as well as Ognibene, are very close with Dem Council Speaker Giff Miller – one of Bloomberg’s opponents. But our Repub friend didn’t rule out the Ferrer camp and the clever Roberto Ramirez – remember that name.
Real or not – and we have no reason to believe that it is – the concept of Dems manufacturing a GOP Primary and a Conservative line opponent to an incumbent Republican Mayor is the basis for a marvelous book or movie plot.
Ignoring how these shenanigans impact the election outcome, they make wonderful fodder for those of us who have given up chess to play political punditry.
Counting The Invisible
“Do you want an estimate or exact figure?” Azi asked me the morning after the Queenswide count of street homeless.
“Here’s both.” Azi punctuated his punch line, “Zero! That’s how many people my team found.”
Trib reporter Azi Paybarah was one of the very large group of volunteers participating in the borough’s first-ever homeless head count, conducted by the Department of Homeless Services.
As a member of Team H, based out of York College, he was dispatched with other volunteers to an area of Floral Park where as one volunteer explained, “You could find your dream house.” “The Team joked,” he said, “that they’d find more homeless people on the drive from York College than at their assigned location.”
In fact, that’s exactly what happened. As the tired, somewhat disenchanted team drove back from 260th Street and Hillside Avenue, they passed a small crowd on Jamaica Avenue. A girl – from another team - holding a clipboard in the crook of her arm, was speaking with a man, dressed in dark clothes, indistinguishable from the litter around him. A photographer sticking his lens right between them was there, too.
Team H later walked into Room D201 of York, where only an hour and a half earlier they were given instructions about how to confront those who live their lives on sidewalks, in doorways and on trains. The tables were littered with volunteer instructions, empty coffee cups and half-empty bottles of water. The DHS volunteer coordinator at York thanked the team after hearing their disappointment.
Team H didn’t even find one of the 150 college kids posing as homeless people, decoys to test the methodology of the survey.
Afterwards, Azi left his Team H and drove to the Iron Triangle behind Shea Stadium, not far from where five homeless men beat one man, then dragged his girlfriend to a shack and repeatedly raped her until a police K-9 unit found them. That was more than two years ago. This night, the drive over the cratered earth was slow, with plenty of crumpled cars on flat tires and cinder blocks. At the end of the day, the men and women who shepherd new customers to various chop shops crawl into those cars, and call it a night. None were visible during the slow drive; only two stray dogs could be seen scampering about.
Azi scored no better as his night ended still looking for his award-winning interview with the homeless.
Cross Harbor Tunnel Vision
The subject has been around for some time. Plans over the next two decades to build a rail freight tunnel from Jersey City to New York City have been the subject of a gazillion dollar study funded by the Federal Government with Congressman Jerry Nadler as the transportation guru leading the way. He is trying to attack the problem of truck traffic, the movement of goods into the NY Metro region, the environmental impact and the regional economic growth anticipated in the future.
The project, if it gets off the ground or under the Hudson, will be federally funded and accrues to the benefit of those of us who live in New York. But like all major projects, some people and some neighborhoods will be impacted – perhaps negatively.
And although the plans on the drawing board after the first phase of research have the tunnel beginning in New Jersey, coming above ground in Brooklyn and then continuing to Maspeth before much of the freight is stored or unloaded, there are endless details which are flexible, uncertain and still yet to be studied, much less finalized.
While we’re not well informed enough yet to attempt to take positions or even explain most of it to you, we were interested enough to sit down with Congressman Nadler and spend three hours Friday afternoon trying to understand the project, the variables and why some vocal Maspeth civics are trying to demonize a well-meaning public servant.
You’ll read in this paper in weeks, months, and years to come much more about this project which is far from engraved in even clay – it is at this point, merely a paper to study variables and Nadler is a missionary, not to punish a Queens community but to make something work for everyone in the region.
From what we’ve seen, after a couple of days of research and three hours of Nadler and staff, there are variables that can be chosen that are indeed a win-win for the metro region, for the people of Queens, and even for Maspeth.
Decisions have not been made. This is a time for dialogue not “tunnel vision.”
We encourage elected officials in Queens – specifically in the Maspeth area – and Maspeth civic leaders to stop posturing, and start listening and participating in smart planning which can bring some wonderful benefits to our city and borough.
Rest assured this paper will not sit quietly by to see the Federal Government spend as much as $8 billion and have our borough or any of its neighborhoods shortchanged or hurt.
After our session with Nadler, we believe if the project takes off, it can improve our traffic, cost of goods, air quality, and roads in Queens – and Maspeth, too.
There are no devils in this one, start the dialogue and breathe easy.
Azi Paybarah contributed to this column