New York City’s business, labour and Democratic Party establishments are teaming up to defeat Eliot Spitzer’s comeback bid for Comptroller of New York City.
The New York Times reports on who’s plotting to bring Spitzer down. After the excerpt (emphasis added) I’ll break down why they hate him, and why that means you should like him:
Strikingly, Democratic leaders drew parallels between Mr. Spitzer and Mr. Weiner, trying to lump them together as two wayward men obsessed with reclaiming power and unworthy of redemption, in a direct appeal to women voters who may decide the races.
“For me the question with both Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer is what have they been doing to earn this second chance?” asked Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker and a Democratic candidate for mayor. She said she had seen little that would “redeem themselves from their selfish behaviour.”
Business leaders leapt into the ruckus, finding common cause with organised labour as they described Mr. Spitzer as ill-suited to the job of managing the city’s multibillion-dollar pension system and policing city spending…
It appeared that the muscle for the anti-Spitzer operation might emerge from the city’s labour unions, which view Mr. Stringer as a reliable ally, and are wary of the less predictable Mr. Spitzer, who has not hesitated to confront them in the past.
Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, said all options — including tapping its own campaign funds for television ads — were under consideration. “We’re going to make sure that we do everything in our power to make sure Scott is the next comptroller,” he said.
Unions have gone to bat for Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Spitzer’s opponent in the Comptroller race, and he’ll owe them favours if he wins. Spitzer won’t owe them anything.
And though Spitzer is a liberal, that’s not the same as being captive to union interests. As Governor, he fought with the United Federation of Teachers over expanding charter schools and SEIU Local 1199 — the city’s largest health care workers’ union — over reforming Medicaid.
As Comptroller, Spitzer might advocate cost-saving reforms that cut benefits. For example, he might line up with Christine Quinn and Anthony Weiner — the two Democratic candidates for mayor who are getting no union love — and say city workers should start paying part of their health insurance premiums.
He might also start warning that the city’s pension systems are unsustainably expensive and in need of reform. Unions prefer a comptroller who will send a message about the pension funds along the lines of “everything will be OK if we invest wisely”—even when that’s not true.
Meanwhile, Christine Quinn and other Democratic Party establishment figures think Spitzer will be a huge pain in the arse if he wins. Let’s be honest: This year’s field of Democratic candidates for mayor sucks. Whoever wins is going to have no vision, no stature, no fiscal room to manoeuvre, and a long list of constituencies demanding payback.
The last thing any of these prospective mayors needs is a comptroller who’s as famous as the mayor (or more famous), is independent of unions and other interest groups, and plans to use his office as a sort of shadow administration — and who will almost surely mount a primary challenge in 2017.
Quinn and all her opponents want Spitzer defeated now so they don’t have to deal with him for the next four years. Stringer would be much quieter and would wait his turn to run for mayor—an ideal comptroller for an establishment that doesn’t want its cheese moved.
Wall Streeters and other businesspeople hate Spitzer for an entirely separate set of reasons: They remember his tenure as New York Attorney General. He made his fights with Wall Street figures personal and people on Wall Street still hate him personally. They fear he will use the comptroller’s office as a vehicle to engage in shareholder activism, pushing companies to pay executives less and suing ones that he sees as disserving shareholder interests.
I share business leaders’ lack of enthusiasm for this use of the comptroller’s office — at best, Spitzer will create public goods for investors nationally with no particular direct impact on New York City, and at worst, his moves will be counterproductive. But I also don’t think it’s as big a deal as they surely do, nor do I have a lingering personal distaste for Spitzer.
As for the Democrats and the unions, everything they fear from Spitzer is something that would be good for residents and taxpayers in New York City. Our city’s government is bloated and inefficient, and uncontrolled costs for employee benefits are crowding out the city’s ability to provide quality services and invest in infrastructure.
An aggressive comptroller with a high public profile will do a lot to expose those facts and promote positive reforms. That’s bad for unions and establishment politicians, but it’s good for everyone else.
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