Several days ago, CityPragmatist observed that former Bloomberg charter revision commission chair Ester Fuchs seemed ideally positioned to play a role at this year’s charter revision commission. A day later, the Daily News floated the name of CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein as Bloomberg’s pick for 2010 chair. The next day, silive.com, the news blog of the Staten Island Advance, floated the name of Billionaire Ron Lauder as Bloomberg’s pick. Then, someone called to our attention yet another chair designation: Anthony Crowell, a Bloomberg senior counselor, reported by Edward-Isaac Dovere of City Hall News. What’s going on here?
Trial balloons do more than place names out there to elicit reactions. They keep the ship of state (in this case, the S.S. City Hall) afloat. In effect, these chair stories are the charter revision commission prequel: the narrative to distract press, public, and bloggers like us while the mayor and his staff work behind the scenes to put together the massive charter revision commission enterprise.
Ultimately, the prequel gets forgotten, but it builds drama and diverts attention from the real issues: that a charter commission’s direction is heavily determined by its staff, that this staff is headed by a mayoral appointee, that public hearings will be for show, and that the show will be about side issues. The biggest of these: term limits, which Bloomberg will agree to in order to get voters to approve the charter revision’s real agenda. This will be greater mayoral power and fewer obstacles to big business and development — pesky obstacles such as the public reviews included in today’s ULURP.