Monday, July 5, 2010

The Republican strategy

Back in March, Streetsblog reported that of the $143 million that the State Legislature cut from the MTA budget last year, $118 million was actually from taxes that are "dedicated" to the MTA. The legislature engaged in some "creative accounting" and managed to un-dedicate them. You would think that this would be gravy for anyone who wanted to challenge an incumbent this fall, but many of the challengers are staying away from it. In large part this is because Democrats running in primary elections are often seeking endorsements from other incumbent state legislators who voted for this deal.

Republicans are under no such constraints, and one of them has finally taken advantage of this. Staten Island express bus rider Nicole Malliotakis is challenging incumbent Janele Hyer-Spencer to represent the 60th Assembly district (PDF) that covers a chunk of Bay Ridge and the South Shore of Staten Island. Staten Island is in an interesting position with respect to congestion pricing: they already pay a bridge toll, so the 5.9% of District 60 residents who drive to Manhattan on weekdays would not have had to pay any more under Bloomberg's plan. Despite that, as Ben Kabak writes, she campaigned against congestion pricing, the Ravitch plan and bus lane enforcement cameras, and still had the gall to organize a "rally" against the MTA.

A month ago, while announcing her candidacy at a B37 bus stop, Malliotakis and Senator Marty Golden slammed Hyer-Spencer for her actions. Two weeks ago, Malliotakis reiterated the argument in an interview with the Staten Island Advance.

Malliotakis got Hyer-Spencer to embarrass herself with the absurd claim that "You have to be able to understand the technical nuances of these agencies," which the Advance mocked in an editorial the following day. She followed this up with a letter to the editor that appeared on Saturday. Yesterday the Advance's Tom Wrobleski pointed out the central failing of democracy in the Albany system: nobody knew what they were voting for; they just trusted Shelly Silver that it would work out for them.

In the Advance article, Hyer-Spencer pointed out a flaw in Malliotakis's logic: her mentor, Marty Golden, voted for the same budget. I'll go Hyer-Spencer one further and observe that during the negotiations on the Ravitch plan, Golden could have worked with progressive Democrats to establish a grand coalition in favor of rational pricing to balance out the massive driving subsidies that put bus riders at a disadvantage. That would have neutralized the power held by the Fare Hike Four as the most conservative and power-hungry members of the Democrats' slim majority. Instead, Golden decided to sit on his hands and let the Senate defund the MTA, betting that the Democrats' foolishness would bring his party back to power next year.

We can go even further than that. Malliotakis's big qualification is that she worked as the constituent liaison to the area for Governor Pataki, but of course Pataki was responsible for some of the worst cuts to the MTA budget - with the help of the Assembly Democrats and Senate Republicans, of course. It's kind of hard to portray yourself as a Pataki protege and a transit supporter at the same time.

Of course, that's the problem with big-party politics in New York State: it really helps to have endorsements, but some of the most powerful politicians on both sides are so anti-transit that it's hard not to kiss up to at least one troglodyte. If Malliotakis had decided to run as a Democrat and challenge Hyer-Spencer in the primary, who could she have gone to for an endorsement? Vincent Gentile? Lew Fidler? Carl Kruger?

So Malliotakis takes who's available and goes with it. She didn't have to choose this issue to attack Hyer-Spencer on, but she did. Hyer-Spencer voted for same-sex marriage and GENDA, and replacing her with a typical Republican would be a setback for those issues, but Malliotakis probably wouldn't be a typical Republican in the Assembly. In 2002 she interviewed Chazz Bono, the child of Sonny and Cher, who was then out as a lesbian and has since transitioned to life as a man, and was very sympathetic about Bono's relationships with women. She seems like much more of a libertarian. I wouldn't be surprised if her outrage about the Assembly's thievery is genuine.

For the Republicans, though, it looks like their strategy of letting the Democrats embarrass themselves and then moving in to take over is backfiring. The Capitol is reporting that their campaigns are having a much worse time than expected.

I am not a Republican, but let me suggest an alternative strategy for Golden and other Republicans who want to regain power in the state. How about actually leading? How about thinking of the interests of the entire state, not just your own party and its members?

If Marty Golden, or Brian Kolb, want to help New Yorkers get to work, they can reach across the aisle to Tom Duane and Dick Gottfried and find a way to toll the bridges. They could even appease their Republican base by bringing in some private companies to run transit, as long as they do it right. People remember that Pedro Espada came up with a crappy plan that fell apart a few months later. If Golden came up with a good plan that stuck, I think people would remember that too.

Maybe Golden will pass up the chance to be a grownup on this issue, preferring to play power politics. Maybe Malliotakis will wind up being the adult.


EngineerScotty said...

Your advice also applies to the national GOP, of course...

Cap'n Transit said...

Yes, but the national GOP doesn't have 30% of its constituent households car-free.

Alon Levy said...

The problem here is that the conservative thinktanks have given up on good government. Ask them and they'll tell you that if government spending becomes more efficient then people will demand more of it, so that net government spending will increase. Greg Mankiw believes this, the Manhattan Institute believes this, and AEI believes this. The only time organized American conservatism tries to make good-government attacks is when they relate to their betes noires: the Manhattan Institute attacks the MTA over unions, Heritage and Cato attack all mass transit and helpfully propose roads, etc.

Dave 'Paco' Abraham said...

Both Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis and State Sen. Marty Golden held a roundtable discussion on future MTA issues this afternoon. I'm curious if you or anyone else went. My gut says the same arguments you made here 2 years ago still apply.