Fading Lifeblood Of An Ugly System
Last Thursday evening, I had
fun. I was the guest speaker at the John F. Kennedy Regular Democratic
Club. The topic: Politics.
Jeff Gottlieb, the club’s
omnipresent political operative, had invited me to be the evening’s
speaker and although I don’t often do such gigs, the club’s longtime
leader – Morty Povman – has been a friend for years. So, what the
I knew the club long before
Morty came to power. After a bit of research, I confirmed that somewhere
around the very late fifties and early sixties, the State Committeeman
from the JFK Club (before it was called the JFK Club) was Max Schenkler
– my father. My uncle, Murray Bergtraum, was the campaign manager of
the then-club-leader Assemblyman Moe Weinstein. My roots in Queens
politics are deep.
Mike Schenkler at the
JFK Democratic Club.
My ties to the club went
deeper. Way back when I managed neophyte Gary Ackerman’s political
campaigns and Nettie Mayerson’s first (and successful) insurgent run
against the candidate of her co-leader Donald Manes, JFK club co-leader
Charlotte Scheman and club president Herb Ryan as well as several others
in the audience including old friend Marsha Livson were in the mix.
I came to the meeting
without script. With the help of a politically savvy staff, I had
clipped or downloaded articles or items from the previous week’s news
My agenda was to share an
item, comment briefly and take questions or comments. It was cool. The
audience was involved, provocative and fun. The follow-up calls and
emails accused me of the same.
So I share with you some of
the items and comments from the JFK Dem club meeting. View the rants as
my lighthearted attempt to get politically involved people to think and
react about government today.
Politics: I like the game, but it’s not pretty. The system,
although full of flaws — many of which I hoped to point out — is
still better than any other I know. The rest below, without quotes, is
my free-flow editing of the evening’s material. I hope the questions
leave you thinking.
International Politics: Rest easy. You’ll be glad to know that the President
cannot yet send troops to Iraq. Last Tuesday, the New York City Council
failed to report out of Committee and vote on, the two bills approving
and the other opposing the war in Iraq.
We (the City) have billions
in deficits, school kids that can’t read and our august Council
debates the war in Iraq. These guys and gals — our fine (and I mean
that) Council – offer positions on lots of stuff they can’t impact.
Should the Council take
positions on whatever, until they can assure us the streets are safe,
the garbage is picked up, the budget is balanced, the snow is removed
and little Johnny can read on level?
Inside info: Queens kid, NY1 anchorman Gary Anthony Ramsay was
scheduled to be shipping out around March 3 for Kuwait. The trip, part
of AOL/Time Warner/CNN news operation, on which Ramsay will report on
the local angle for the company’s eight or so local news outlets —
NY1 being the largest. This media giant is not sending our PRESS
of Southeast Queens columnist Ramsay, a producer, a
photographer, plus perhaps a hundred or more CNN network news crew
members based on a guess. The well-connected media mammoth knows when
there is a new moon, has as direct a line to the Pentagon as any we
know, and wants its people in place when the bombs start falling. They
also don’t waste money.
If Ramsay and company ship
out this week, we should look to the skies over Baghdad.
Anonymity and politics: I received an anonymous flyer signed “Committee To Keep
Jewish Legislative Districts Intact” stating, “Councilman Jim
Gennaro sells-out Jewish community in order to hang on to his Council
Seat. . .”
Gennaro, a non-Jew, faces a
likely challenge from two Jews – one from the JFK club – in
September’s primary election. The flyer was ugly, divisive and
inaccurate. As the recipient of occasional anonymous hate mail of my
own, I reacted with anger. People have a right to speak their minds, but
should have the courage to sign their name. The flyer calls upon the
worst in people. As a Jew, I find it offensive. As a student of
politics, I find it offensive.
How should we react to these
vile ugly anonymous acts of hate?
Ethnic voting: Queens, the most ethnically diverse place on earth, has a
changing population. The future majorities were yesterday’s
minorities. Are they adequately represented? Does the system encourage
Former Bronx Dem leader
Roberto Ramirez is preparing to launch a Spanish-language political talk
show. Could Ramirez’s new
gig be part of a Democratic plan to hold onto Latino voters?
Should voters vote ethnicity
and religion? Should we promote one who is good for the community? Would
Jim Gennaro have a serious primary if he were Jewish?
Would John Liu (Queens’
first Asian elected official) be a Councilman if he were black?
Will Al Sharpton’s vote be
colorblind? Is it good? Healthy?
Role models are good; ethnic
pride, especially for children, is a positive. Ignoring competence
however, is terrible.
How heavily should we weigh
skin color, religion, ethnicity when we vote?
Money and politic: An AP story reported, “State lawmakers, back from
vacation, shake the money tree.” Upon returning to Albany from a
10-day vacation, there were nine campaign fundraisers last Monday.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon
Silver had a $1,000-per-person event Monday evening at the Crowne Plaza
Hotel in downtown Albany. In the same hotel — convenient for lobbyists
who wanted to contribute to all nine — his Republican counterpart,
Assembly Minority Leader Charles Nesbitt, was holding a $500-per-person
reception. There were seven others nearby, ranging from $250 to $400.
There’s no budget movement
in Albany — it’s been late for 18 years. George Pataki has it at an
$11 billion shortfall. There’s been no meaningful legislative program
this year. Only three guys matter in Albany. They go on vacation and
return to do nothing but host nine funders in one night.
We can be proud to watch the
50th best legislature in the nation.
(I must add here — because
I had to add last Thursday night — that there can be and are, good
elected officials who are victims of the pathetic system. Indeed, it was
pointed out that Nettie Mayerson and others participated in the failed
Assembly coup to unseat Sheldon Silver in order to open up the process.)
The legislature fails and we
keep sending the incumbents back. The playing field isn’t level.
Incumbency offers mail, money, staff and name recognition yielding
What can be done to fix the
worst legislature in the country?
Term Limits: A decision is expected soon in the lawsuit challenging the
City Council’s amendment (tweak) of the term-limits law last year.
Seven council veterans — including Speaker Gifford Miller — won’t
be able to run again if the suit succeeds. In an intriguing footnote,
Ravi Batra, co-counsel to plaintiff’s lawyer (former Giuliani First
Deputy Mayor Randy Mastro) is law partner to Brooklyn Democratic Leader
Clarence Norman. Hmmm!
In spite of my reputation as
one of the City’s leading advocates of term limits, I have never
supported them (at least, perhaps not until now). I have opposed and
still oppose any legislative body changing the rules by which they can
run for office. The people had spoken by referendum and the Council had
no (moral) right to make any changes.
Giff Miller, the bright
young Council Speaker was masterful in navigating the tweak (as he
called it) through the Council and City without anyone but me shouting.
He (or his masterful election law attorney Eric Lane) even snuck in a
hidden provision that prevented previous Council members from
challenging present members in this year’s election. We even saw
Southeast Queens Councilman Allan Jennings go on NY1 one day challenging
Miller’s tweak, and then doing a 180-degree about face the next day
and adding his name as a co-sponsor after he was told it would prevent
his predecessor, former Councilman Tom White, from challenging him.
Term limits seem to be the
only method by which new talent can make a difference in government.
Should term limits be
considered for our State legislature? Could it really be any worse?
Democrat For Mayor: The evening drew to a close before I could cover all my
topics, as this column is running out of space before I could report
much of the dynamics of the evening. But apparently my response to one
question of the audience caused considerable surprise.
I was asked, cognizant of
the very low and falling poll ratings of Mayor Mike Bloomberg, which
Democrat would be the likely challenger in 2005.
Bloomberg’s poor polling
numbers, I explained, are a result of the property tax increase and the
ominous budget deficit. The financial situation that this City and Mike
Bloomberg are in are not the Mayor’s fault. Rudy Giuliani had eight
years of prosperity but circumstances – 9-11 and a national economic
slowdown – left the City in its worst economic condition in decades. A
woefully inept Albany budget process, has placed the State in an even
worse position — there will be little money help there. The Mayor and
the Council must pay the bills and it is the Mayor’s leadership which
will steer us through these troubled waters. He is the least political
of any Mayor in my lifetime and makes decisions as a bright, prudent
businessman. In the end, regardless of party, he will be recognized for
his skillful leadership.
He has demonstrated, by
gaining control of the education system, that he has the foresight as
well as the skills to handle the governmental morass and tackle the
biggest problems and prevail. Although, only time will be the judge of
his effectiveness in education, his ability is apparent.
I would expect that by the
time the election rolls around, he will have made a positive impact on
the City’s economy.
So, hopefully, we won’t
hear Mark Green is running. Manhattan Beep C. Virginia Fields will be;
Giff Miller (unless he tries to “tweak” term limits again) will be a
candidate for Mayor or Manhattan Beep; Freddy Ferrer is a possibility.
But smart guys like Bill Thompson will sit and wait for Mike Bloomberg
to serve another term and then be term limited.
In the end, expect the Dems
to recognize that multi-million dollar Bloomberg will have done a good
job, can’t be beaten, and look for a sacrificial lamb. Will that be
Fields? Or bring back Ruth Messenger?
Will Mike Bloomberg prevail?
Trib editor, Tamara Hartman and I left the room filled with
excitement to the warmth and warm wishes of dozens. The excitement was
apparently so intense that after we left, a boxing match broke out.
No kidding, Herb Ryan, club
president, called to thank me for the fun and enlightening time and
informed me that he and Jeff Gottlieb began to square off over who said
what to whom about David Reich’s faltering campaign against Jim
It really is not important,
but just another example that Queens Democrats still eat their young.
by Dom Nunziato
Michael Schenkler can be reached at: MSchenkler@queenspress.com