2003-12-31 / Political Page

Ion politics

By John Toscano
Ion politics By John Toscano


Will New Year Bring Rollback Of Huge R.E. Tax? Hike?

Looking back at the year that ends tonight at midnight, the most significant event that occurred was the 18.5 percent increase in the property tax, which caused Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s popularity to plummet and sleepless nights for the many councilmembers who voted for it.

Looking ahead, the city’s improving economy could clear the way for the mayor to roll back some part of or all of that tax increase, helping Bloomberg to regain some popularity as he looks ahead to running for re-election in 2005. It would also erase a black mark from many councilmembers’ records.

The 2005 mayoral race, which was already beginning to percolate this past year will continue to develop intensity in 2004. Sure to keep the contest in peoples’ minds is the proposal to increase the 4 to 1 city matching campaign fund contribution level to 8 to 1 to try to give the Democratic candidate a fighting chance against the mayor’s billion-dollar bankroll.

However, the greater share of political headlines in the new year will emanate from the presidential campaign as it leads up to the election in November. Long before that, however, the Democrats will have to choose a candidate to face off against President George W. Bush as he seeks a second term.

We hope that somehow United States Senator Hillary Rodham–Clinton will become the candidate and make the race a truly exciting and historic one. This is not because we prefer Clinton, who has said she doesn’t intend to run, to any of the Democrats who are already seeking their party’s nomination.

We’d like to see her take on Bush because it would be a blockbuster of a campaign in which an ex-president’s wife would be seeking to become the first woman in that category to try to succeed the sitting president in the toughest, most wonderful job in the world. Clinton would also be the first woman presidential candidate who could be taken seriously and her campaign would surely be one of the most interesting and entertaining events in our nation’s history. It would change the whole dynamic of the contest, pitting one of the country’s most controversial women and surely one of the most capable against a president who is greatly admired by Republicans and hated by Democrats.

It would be the old Dodgers versus Giants rivalry of the ’50s revived or another Louis–Schmelling championship fight.

BACK TO THE CITY SCENE: Other than Bloomberg’s frequent comments over the past few months that he would like to roll back the huge tax increase, he has not given any indication that he will indeed do that. If he did, the City Council would have to approve the change, and we think that the body would readily agree.

At this point, the city’s economy has been improving, but there are still expectations of a budget deficit.

One of the council’s most influential members is Finance Committee Chairman David Weprin. Weprin stated in a Daily News story last week that he would favor a reduction in the real estate tax if it didn’t cause cutbacks in city services.

Weprin was quoted: "Tax collections have been ahead of schedule. All along, we’ve said we would consider a tax decrease if it looks like we’re ahead of the game. but we don’t want to see midyear cuts in services."

Weprin (D–Bayside) also said he thought the mayor would propose a tax cut in 2005 to give the move greater impact in his re-election campaign. But, Weprin said, the move could come in 2004 to pump up the mayor’s popularity a few notches before the re-election campaign begins in earnest.

The same story quoted Council Speaker Gifford Miller, who’s considered to have a good chance of being the mayor’s opponent, as taking a wait-and-see position regarding the mayor’s tax cut plans.

HELP FOR OGNIBENE: The topic of the 2005 mayoral election was also the topic of a report out of City Hall last week saying a plan was afoot by Democrats to help any Republican opponent in a primary against Bloomberg by making campaign contributions if the proposed higher city matching funds are approved.

One of the possible beneficiaries of this tactic could be former Middle Village Councilmember Tom Ognibene, who has announced his intentions to take on the mayor in a GOP primary. According to the report, bolstering the campaign treasury of a Bloomberg primary opponent, by about $2 million, would help soften up the mayor for his Democratic opponent in the general election.

There is no word from Ognibene on how he feels about a proposal that would deny the Republican mayor a second term at City Hall, but it could do him more harm than good.

BRIGHT LIGHTS: Veteran Forest Hills pol state Comptroller Alan Hevesi, United States Senator Charles Schumer and state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer came through with flying colors in 2003. They are also in the forefront of the Democratic Party’s hopes of putting a candidate in the governor’s office in 2007.

Hevesi, in his first year as the state’s top fiscal official, has used his audit powers to throw some light on the operations of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). Now the former city comptroller is going after authorities in general. On the Channel 4 News Forum on Sunday, Hevesi charged that the quasi-governmental agencies operate under the cover of arrogance and secrecy and often need to justify their activities only to their board members and not to government officials.

Outlining his criticism of the authorities, Hevesi said the first question is whether they should continue to exist or if their powers should be transferred to state agencies which operate in the same areas of government.

Short of doing away with authorities, Hevesi added, there should be more control exercised over them and they should be made more accountable. Among those in existence are the MTA, like others in the state, controlled by Governor George Pataki.

Spitzer won the plaudits of good government advocates with his crackdown on financial institutions, getting indictments and/or settlements against major companies’ executives and earning himself a national reputation as a fearless prosecutor.

Schumer scored a major victory against the Bush Administration by blocking many of the president’s court appointments, thus taking away in some part the president’s advantage in securing favorable judicial rulings. The lawmaker, as energetic and enthusiastic as ever after almost three decades in public service as an Assemblymember and U.S. Senator, has built an $18 million war chest for next year, though he still has no opposition on the horizon. If most of that cash can remain unspent, the Brooklyn lawmaker could have it ready for a shot at Pataki or any other opponent in three years.

Meanwhile, Spitzer is also building support for a gubernatorial run and Hevesi is slowly building himself into a credible candidate, should he decide to take the plunge.

ANOTHER WINNER: Also coming off a successful year was Assemblymember Michael Gianaris (D–Astoria) who continued to build on his record of progressive legislation involving the electric power industry and mandates to produce cleaner air. Gianaris, who’s up for re-election next year to a third term, has also positioned himself for a possible future run for state attorney general should Spitzer consider a run at another office.

Still other winners last year were the borough’s city council delegation whose re-election asserted again the strength of the county Democratic organization headed by Thomas Manton. The Democratic party was behind all incumbents except Councilmember Allan Jennings, and the lone Republican Councilmember Dennis Gallagher.

Jennings of Jamaica narrowly escaped being bumped off the ballot. Recently, however, it was reported that the controversial lawmaker is the subject of sexual harassment complaints at the city and federal level. The Council Committee on Ethics is looking into the charges, which could lead to Jenning’s being expelled from the council.

WILL GIOIA–CONLEY FEUD HEAT UP?: The members of Community Board 2, covering Woodside, Sunnyside and Long Island City, recently re-elected Joseph Conley to his former post as chairman. Conley, a local businessman, had to relinquish the post early in 2003 due to opposition from Councilmember Eric Gioia (D–Long Island City) dating back to a primary fight in 2001. Borough President Helen Marshall reappointed Conley to the board last April, but he was asked not to run for the board chairman’s post at that time.

Now that Conley’s back at the helm of Board 2, we wonder whether the old feud between the two antagonists will flare up again.

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