Salary Follies

It was a bad week for Bill de Blasio and Melissa Mark-Viverito.  The mayor’s trip to Iowa appears to have been a depressing waste of time…the images of him and Chirlane walking down empty streets in their jeans while consulting voter lists could be a 21st century “American Gothic.”  The Iowans have just gone through months of exposure to all sorts of political celebrities, so what made de Blasio imagine that he was going to heat up the scene?  His supposedly brilliant handlers seem to have a tenuous grip on political realities and their boss's hinterland appeal.

Speaker Mark-Viverito is trying to cram the ridiculous horse carriage bill and salary increase into one hugger-mugger Friday session, the classic time to release bad news.  She is coming off as a complete tool of the mayor, and the rest of the council is being played as a bunch of pawns given a milksop to stifle their cries.

Regarding the pay increase: I’ve sat through hundreds of hours of Council hearings but nothing I’ve ever seen rivaled yesterday’s hearing for pure comedy.  The combination of self-pity, fulsome praise, and absurd justifications made for a true circus. 

I’m not going to rehearse all the politics and arguments behind the raise, because everyone knows them, and it is all but done.  Here is a link to an article I wrote for City Journal if you want to see my opinion.

I just want to relate some of the high points of the hearing…the choicest parts.  I wanted to include time-stamps so you could fast-forward to the most hilarious moments, but the Council hasn’t gotten the video up yet, so I am just going to cite from my notes.  The quotes aren’t verbatim, but they definitely express the gist.

--Ydanis Rodriguez, during the first round of questions, took up his entire allotment yelling at Fritz Schwartz, who headed the Pay Commission.  He explained that he loves his job, that he supports the 99%, but that he has to work so hard.  He works 60 hours a week!  He has to go to community meetings.  People talk to him in restaurants.  He believes that CMs deserve at least $175,000 per year.

Rodriguez kept coming back to the question of half-time versus full-time.  He demanded to know what constitutes full-time, because he puts in so many more hours than that.

It became sadly clear that Ydanis Rodriguez thinks that “full-time” means you work 40 hours and then you go home.  If you work more than that, then you deserve overtime.  Could it be that he doesn’t understand the difference between an hourly and a salaried employee?  Also, does he think that 60 hours a week is an unusual amount of work for a well-paid professional in New York?  I know plenty of people who put in those kinds of hours…including Council staffers who make like $30k.

As a former staffer for a council member and a longtime Watcher, I have a pretty good idea of what members do.  I am curious if Rodriguez counts the following activities when he adds up his hours: attending press conferences for civic groups, or to “save” El Diario; going to meetings of the Progressive Caucus; going to meetings of the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus; going to meetings of the Democratic Caucus; going to meetings of the Manhattan delegation; getting plaques from local organizations; going to ribbon-cutting ceremonies; talking to other electeds; running for Speaker; sending out weather bulletins or press releases condemning a vicious criminal, etc. etc.

Rodriguez also claimed that some CMs “have Ph.Ds.”  Is this true?  I’ve never heard that.  Unless he is thinking about Eva Moskowitz.

--Inez Dickens was mad that no one is taking into account all the groceries and funerals she pays for, for her needy constituents.  She said that unlike other elected officials, CMs “are on the streets!”  

--Ben Kallos also said that CMs never have time off.  “If it is Christmas Eve and you are locking up your district office, and a resident comes by because he is being evicted, well there is no Christmas Eve dinner for you.”  He contrasted this to citywide elected officials who supposedly don’t have to deal with constituents’ needs.  Somehow he insinuated that he works harder than Michael Bloomberg ever did, which seems like a weird thing to say given Bloomberg’s reputation for total workaholicism.  (Bloomberg once said, "I have nothing in common with people who stand on escalators.")  Fritz Schwartz said that, when he was Corporation Counsel, he saw Bloomberg work quite a bit.  Kallos sneered, “Um, I don’t weekend in Bermuda.”

--Jumaane Williams is insulted that lowly commissioners and deputy commissioners often make more than he does.  Why should a staffperson make more money than an exalted elected official?  It was pointed out that some deputy commissioners run billion dollar departments and have hundreds of people reporting to them; Williams was nonplussed at this, and seemed to want to say, “So do I!”  But of course, he doesn’t.  

--Brad Lander repeated his glib refrain that “It is easy to be cynical” about council members’ pay.  It is especially easy to be cynical about it when one is given so much material for cynicism.

Amazingly enough, Lander will not even be present on Friday to vote on the bill.  How come?  He is going on vacation that day.  Sure, just taking off a few days in February when he thought the hearing calendar was clear, two weeks before the whole Council goes on its unofficial mid-Winter break.  Doesn’t everybody do that?

What f---ing gall.

I really believe that what the Council needs to do instead of forbidding outside employment, is to require its members to get outside employment, even if it is just ten hours a week bagging groceries or babysitting someone else's child.  It would teach them the value of a dollar and instill a good work ethic.  I'm no hypocrite: I tell the same thing to my teenaged daughters. 

On the bright side, Inez Barron came off as genuinely concerned for the fact that council staffers never or rarely get raises.  She came back to this point several times, and did not say one thing about how backbreakingly hard her job is.