We try not to miss Queens Crap, which continues to be entertaining, timely, and informative, even though it lacks some of the anti-Bloomberg focus it had before its favored candidate for mayor, Tony Avella, lost his bid last fall.
But even this popular and populist website, which describes itself as “focused on the overdevelopment and ‘tweeding’ of the borough of Queens in the City of New York,” occasionally fails to read between the lines. We were surprised when those lines had appeared in the pro-Bloomberg NY Post.
When a Post editorial tried to link instances of corruption by individual legislators with City Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s use of “pork” to keep members in line, Queens Crap asked about Quinn, “Will she really reform the council?” The Crapper seemed to forget who would benefit most if the Post got its wish and the Council suddenly went Kosher.
Eliminate “pork” and “lulus,” the extra compensation that the Speaker hands out to loyal Council members for chairing committees, and you’ll end up with a Speaker who is less able to unite her members when it comes time for the Council to say “no” to something the mayor wants to do. What would happen to overdevelopment and “tweeding” then?
Elizabeth Benjamin, who writes The Daily Politics, a must-read political blog, cites Frank Lombardi’s Daily News report that several members of the City Council are foregoing the extra stipends—anywhere from $4,000 to $10,000 in so-called “lulus”—they could get for chairing a Council committee or subcommittee. Three of the members, Ydanis Rodriguez, Matthieu Eugene, and newcomer Jumaane Williams, are generously calling for their lulus to go to relief efforts in Haiti.
Benjamin reports that the good-government group “Citizens Union wants to get rid of the stipend system, arguing it is little more than a tool with which the speaker exerts control over rank-and-file members – bestowing favors on those who are loyal, and, as with [Councilman Charles] Barron, punishing those to step out of line.”
What Benjamin does not say is that the main beneficiary of ending the lulu system would be the mayor, who, without a powerful Speaker, would find it easier to reward or punish individual Council members to achieve mayoral goals. The Council as a body would find it harder to unify around an issue.
Due to a legal principle called the “doctrine of curtailment,” a change such as eliminating lulus might have to be made through a public referendum. A charter revision commission could call for such a referendum on November’s ballot. This is yet another reason for voters to be alert to how the charter revision game is played.