Larry is one of the smartest guys in Flatbush. So when he started defending Brooklyn’s lack of clout at City Hall, I did a double take.
“The Board of Estimate was a bad idea. Staten Island didn’t deserve to have the same power as Brooklyn.”
But isn’t it worse for Brooklyn to have no power, because the mayor — the creature of Manhattan media — controls everything?
Larry shrugged and turned back to the TV. It was easier for him to watch his beloved Jets self-destruct than to grapple with one of the thorniest issues facing New Yorkers in 2011: how to ensure that Mike Bloomberg’s successor — whoever he or she is — will balance the needs of the BBQSI boroughs against those of the Manhattan business community.
Whatever one thinks of Mike Bloomberg’s policies (John H. Richardson in Esquire quotes Bloomberg as having said “I’m not certain, I’m right,” there’s no guarantee that the next mayor won’t be just as imperious — and a lot less smart — than Bloomberg is.
If that happens, we’ll be stuck for at least four years. Since 1989, no municipal official — or combination of officials — has had the power to derail a mayor who’s determined to have his or her way.
Even if the state legislature were to discontinue mayoral control of the schools (which the 1989 charter didn’t address), the concentration of municipal power in the mayor’s office would force a reconstituted board of education to bow to the mayor’s will if it wants to get things done. The board’s historic sponsors, the borough presidents, have had no operating budget power — and little clout — since the charter changed. And the City Council, despite its theatrical public hearings, rarely risks opposing a mayor capable of punishing individual members at will.
So while Larry may be right about the unconstitutionality of the Board of Estimate, even the Super Bowl shouldn’t distract us from the urgency of our situation: Unless we’re very lucky, the next mayor of New York City could turn out to be a petty tyrant, an opinionated blowhard, or a maverick with a diffuse vision of the city’s future.
Or the next mayor could be another billionaire businessman, just as convinced as Mike Bloomberg is that his way is the only way, but without Bloomberg’s redeeming focus on public health.
Oddly enough, the only place we can seek a way out of this bind is through the state legislature. Unfortunately, that legislature doesn’t enjoy the public’s confidence right now and has a budget crisis to deal with.