Thursday, November 20, 2008

Term Limits Article

We don't usually post media articles, but this one is rather fabulous.

Courtesy of the City Hall news:

Facing New Challenges, Allies Emerge from Term Limits Battle Emboldened
Natural partnership hits its stride during confrontation with mayor

November 13th, 2008
Sal Gentile

Council Members Bill de Blasio and Letitia James (D-Brooklyn, both) like to joke that they are politically married.

If so, James said, “He has to continue to court me and not take me for granted.”

As political husbands go, de Blasio is an especially skilled bread-winner. His political savvy and connections to labor lend credibility to their campaigns together—even the underdog fights they often gravitate toward.

She, meanwhile, infuses a sort of understated ferocity into their campaigns that manages to pull in valuable media attention, while avoiding the charges of radicalism that have dogged some of her colleagues.

“She’s eloquent, she’s a lawyer,” de Blasio said. “Tish is a pretty decisive person when she’s in battle.”

They have crafted an image as the “loyal opposition,” as de Blasio put it, forged for the most part in the fires of the term limits debate, during which they became the public faces of a consistently aggressive opposition.

The task now is to identify fresh political opportunities where that strategy will work.

As she sat in an airport waiting for a flight back to New York, for example, James was firing off emails to de Blasio about assembling a “coalition” to push back on the mayor’s proposed budget cuts, which they both see as the next battleground.

They have extracted a considerable reservoir of political capital from their very public face-off with a popular, even intimidating, administration. That battle—and the bitter back-room dealing that sometimes spilled out into public view—has burnished their image as scrappy, progressive underdogs.

But the image they sometimes present of themselves as the politically pure, disadvantaged crusaders, some of their opponents say, is only that: an image, and one that does not always reflect reality.

The idea that they were not pressuring or even threatening some of their colleagues during the term limits debate is “just horseshit,” according to Council Member Lew Fidler (D-Brooklyn), who works alongside them in the Council’s Brooklyn delegation.

Fidler and other members of the Council who fought rather publicly for Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s (Ind.) bid to extend term limits have accused de Blasio and James of the same bare-knuckled tactics used by Bloomberg and Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan), threatening to amass labor and grassroots organizations against members who voted for the bill.

Several members of the Council have indeed reported feeling threatened or intimidated by the sprawling political coalition—labor unions, the Working Families Party—hastily assembled by de Blasio and James. Some of those bruising tactics may impair their ability to bridge political divides in the future.
James and de Blasio dismiss those claims, but clearly what makes them formidable as a pair is that they have married their activist values with a hard-nosed ability to build coalitions, craft a convincing message and—if necessary—apply considerable political pressure behind the scenes.

The strategy has so far proved effective, at least in making them credible power brokers. The question now is how they apply that strategy—molded by the frenzied intensity and breakneck pace of the term limits debate—to other items on their agenda, such as the mayor’s proposed budget cuts.

“You take a budget battle as an example, some of the same speed dynamics exist toward the end of the budget process,” he said. “I think we will see a very intense final few weeks of the budget process.”

De Blasio and James both see the term limits battle as having strengthened their hand and proven to people that they are capable of at least challenging Bloomberg on some of his signature issues, such as mayoral control of schools and management of the financial crisis.

They are actively engaged in building a “progressive coalition,” as James calls it, pulling in likeminded Council members, labor organizations and the Working Families Party, and applying their own distinct political flourishes.

When asked who might belong to such a coalition, de Blasio rattles off a few likely names: Council Members Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Manhattan/Bronx), Rosie Mendez (D-Manhattan), Charles Barron (D-Brooklyn).

But successfully squaring off with the mayor and his allies will involve more than just identifying other progressives in the Council willing to vote against Bloomberg’s priorities.

The real task of the coalition will be to apply the model James and de Blasio forged during the term limits debate, fueled by the political capital they earned, to future confrontations with the administration—hopefully, of course, with more success. Even at the height of the term limits battle, the two held a joint town hall on education. They came close to doing an event criticizing the Board of Elections the weekend before Election Day, but pulled back from that after talking with staff there and being reassured that enough provisions were in place so that polling place hours would not need to be extended to give seniors more time to vote.

“The more we’ve held public forums and town halls and did a lot of grassroots organizing,” he said, “the stronger we became. And I think that’s going to be the model going forward.”

He added: “If the discussion occurs only at City Hall, it’s a losing equation.”

There will inevitably be setbacks, and perhaps even some breakthroughs. But de Blasio and James are unlikely to see themselves as anything but relentless, battered crusaders—now with some political muscle to flex.

“Whenever you do that which is right, there are no regrets, none whatsoever,” James said. “If people feel uncomfortable whenever they see us together, to me, it’s a compliment.”

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