Monday, October 21, 2013

De Blasio v. Lhota - The Issues, 2 weeks before Election

At the Harvard Club of New York yesterday, two surrogates for the mayoral candidates battled it out. Both were Democrats, and both are crossovers from other candidates, selected by the two campaigns.

Senator Brad Hoylman
Senator Brad Hoylman. Speaking for Bill de Blasio was NY State Senator Brad M. Hoylman, a 1989 Rhodes Scholar from West Virginia who went on to Harvard Law School after receiving his M.Phil. from Oxford. Hoylman is a past President of Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats, picking up Sen. Tom Duane's seat when Duane resigned. Hoylman previously served as Executive Vice President and General Counsel of the New York City Partnership. Hoylman supported Christine Quinn in the Primary, and is supporting de Blasio as the choice of the Democratic Party in New York City.

Randy M. Mastro, Esq.
Mr. Randy Mastro. Mastro is 11 years senior to Hoylman based on college graduation and is a New York City native. Mastro supported both Thompson and Lhota in the two party primaries, although he identifies himself as a Democrat. He is co-chair of Gibson Dunn’s Litigation Practice Group, named “The Litigation Department of the Year” by the American Lawyer. Comments from peer reviews: Mastro “deserves an Academy Award” for “bringing a sense of drama and theater to his courtroom appearances.” “You REALLY don’t want to meet him in a lighted courtroom." In 1994-1998, Mr. Mastro served as Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s Chief of Staff and then Deputy Mayor for Operations. He oversaw all of the City’s operating agencies and budget, and served as the Mayor’s chief liaison with elected officials. Previously, in 1985-1989, Mr. Mastro served as Assistant U.S. Attorney and Deputy Chief of the Civil Division. He graduated cum laude from Yale College and the University of Pennsylvania Law School, where he was the school’s moot court champion. Mr. Mastro served as law clerk to Justice Alan B. Handler of the New Jersey Supreme Court. In 1982-1985, he was a litigation associate at Cravath, Swaine & Moore. He chaired two New York City Charter Revision Commissions.

The Issues

The following issues are in the order they were brought up at the Q&A session after the two surrogates for de Blasio and Lhota made introductory remarks.  Some of the arguments below showed more sophistication than the exchange in the NY Times at the end of August.

Charter Schools.  Hoylman - Mr. de Blasio is on record as wanting to charge the charter schools rent for use of the public schools. Charter schools disrupt the public schools they operate in sometimes, and some of them take bathrooms, for example, out of commission for the public school students. They take resources away from public schools. Mastro - Mr. Lhota wants to double the number of charter schools. Bill de Blasio shows lack of support for the charter schools experiment.

The Debt and the Budget.  Hoylman - Mayor de Blasio would meet the City's fiscal obligations; he has to balance the budget. Mastro - Would de Blasio be able to look the unions in the eye after they have worked to elect him? Lhota could be tougher because he owes the unions nothing. Bloomberg has just kicked the union issue down the road. Right now they have zero increases. When the percentages are written in, there will be a huge retroactive budget increase, which means less money for other services or higher taxes.

Climate Change (Hoylman Scores Big).  The environmental questions were about siting of a marine transfer station on the upper west side and the mayor's position on fracking.  Hoylman - It's time that Manhattan took on some of the burden of its own garbage - for too long garbage has been trucked to Staten Island and the other outer boroughs. On fracking, we need a study to investigate the safety of the process and in the meantime we need a moratorium. Mastro - There are limits to what a mayor can do for the environment. Bloomberg has certainly been in the vanguard, with new bike paths and parks and riverfront amenities. However, a marine transfer station next to Asphalt Green would affect the ability of poor kids to use the sports amenities in this area. On fracking, a "study" is a euphemism for doing nothing. Cuomo did the studies. Lhota won't feed voters with euphemisms. He is a straight talker. Besides, fracking is an upstate issue, isn't going to happen in NYC.  Hoylman - Upstate issue? Where, Mr. Mastro, do you think New York City's water comes from? We need a mayor who understands this, and respects upstate water if only because we drink it. We have enough natural gas to carry us through another look at what fracking is doing to our water table.

Sandinistas. Someone asked a leading question about de Blasio's support of the Sandinista rebels in Nicaragua many years ago. Hoylman - His visit to Nicaragua shows his concern with equality. He is still concerned with inequality in the United States and the fact that it is growing. It speaks to Bill de Blasio's character. Mastro - Yes, it speaks to de Blasio's character.

NYPD "Stop and Frisk" Policies (Mastro Scores).  Will your candidate abandon successful stop-and-frisk procedures because of the new court finding against it? Hoylman - a Federal judge says that the stop and frisk procedures need to be fixed. Mastro - Stop and frisk is perfectly constitutional.Giuliani's  NYPD did it. Now a federal judge wants to run the NYPD? Bill de Blasio says he won't appeal? It looks like we are going to go back to the days of consent decrees. But we are also going to have an independent inspector. And police officers are now subject to law suits if they make the wrong call on an arrest. Hoylman -  Mr. de Blasio supported the program that New York City was preparing to monitor the stop-and-frisk procedure. It might have obviated the need for the federal judge's decision. Mastro - Why is he saying he won't appeal the decision, when NYC has its own inspector? Why another? Why isn't he saying - This is my city and I don't need a judge trying to second-guess me and my police chief?  Hoylman - de Blasio would work with the judge. [Update: Mayor Bloomberg's appeal was heard and at he end of October the appellate court transferred the case to another judge, on the basis that the federal judge on the case had engaged in misconduct.]

Should We Worry That NYC Will Be Democrats All Round?  Hoylman - No. Equality of parties doesn't guarantee anything. The New York State Senate is balanced and the deadlock means nothing gets done. The last Democratic mayor was 20 years ago, before the Internet was invented. Mastro - We don't want deadlock but it is helpful to have tension. It generates debate. I am concerned that we have made so much progress since the 1990-1992 era that we forget what it was like when the Democrats had complete control.

Afterwards I joined a few people from the audience for dinner. I figured they were three-to-one Republicans. None of them appeared to be involved, or likely to be involved, in the election beyond voting. Two of them asked questions that were critical of de Blasio. I asked them why they weren't going to put their money or time behind Lhota.

"Too late. It's a done deal. What, a 50 percentage point lead, in the polls? We will have to live with Mayor de Blasio for four years." They drowned their sorrows, the Democrats celebrated, and the Harvard Club got some unexpected bar revenue on a Sunday evening...