Sunday, November 06, 2005

Going to the candidates' debate

This year's election that will have the most immediate impact on my life has already passed. The UFT membership has voted to ratify the new teachers' contract, with 63% voting in favor. So we'll be getting a big retroactive check soon, and we'll also be working an extra 10 minutes every day. But that's just fine; I would just waste those 10 minutes surfing the web anyway. I'd much rather have thousands of dollars a year. And the students are getting paid more too.... more EDUCATION. The actual effect of the new schedule on my life and the students' lives is unknown until my principal decides how to distribute the time throughout the week.

Meanwhile, 37% of the union apparently believes that 10 minutes of their time is worth much more, so they have voted against the contract. Anecdotal evidence about the identities of the 37% seems to go along strict What's the Matter with Kansas? lines, where the backlash mentality overpowers rationality. The bitter teachers who have been in the system the longest (and are thus getting paid the most) are voting against the contract and vowing to fight it, whereas those of us who are newer (and paid less) see our non-teacher friends who are unemployed, or starving students and non-profit employees, and/or without health insurance, and we realize how good we have it.

Also, I recently spoke to a new teacher at another school who said that s/he wasn't so informed about the contract, but voted yes because everyone at his/her school was saying vote yes. Everyone at my school (outside the sanctuary of my office) was saying vote no, but I voted yes anyway. I teach at a desirable school, one that everyone wants to transfer into and few people want to transfer out of (unless they're leaving the system). Yet teachers at my school still opposed the provisions in the new contract that eliminate seniority transfers, even though it has no effect on the more senior teachers (unless they want to transfer, and why would they?) and protects the jobs of the newer teachers (who presumably want to stay). Meanwhile, teachers at this other school, who are presumably more likely to transfer, voted for the contract.

But that's not what I came to tell you about tonight.

Came to talk about this week's NYC election.

Last Tuesday's mayoral debate was much better than what the presidential debates have become. Regardless of what they were saying, Ferrer and Bloomberg were actually engaging each other in a conversation, rather than rattling off stump speeches and sound bites for the cameras. Presumably their handlers didn't sign a 32-page agreement beforehand. The mayoral debate was also much more entertaining. While one of the presidential debates, with questions from the artificial live audience, resembled a daytime talk show, the mayoral debate was more like a Video Daily Double from Jeopardy!. The moderators showed clips of TV attack ads and asked the candidates "Your opponent ran this ad against you. How would you respond?". They also had person-on-the-street bits, with (e.g.) a single mother saying "This city is becoming unaffordable for working-class people" and the moderator saying "What would you tell her?". (The response to that question defied traditional party divisions, with Ferrer proposing tax cuts and Bloomberg proposing minimum-wage increases.)

The mayoral election may seem irrelevant at this point, since Bloomberg appears to have it sewn up, but I'm still voting for Freddy, in no small part as a belated fuck-you to Bloomberg for the Republican National Convention and the events surrounding it.

Bloomberg doesn't want to be seen as a national Republican. And I concede that there's a world of difference; I'd vote for him over Bush, Cheney, or any congressional Republican any day. At times during the debate I felt sorry for him (cut with a dose of schadenfreude): when the subject of the national Republican party came up, he was backed into a corner, because he couldn't oppose the Republican position (and alienate the base) or support it (and alienate the overwhelming majority of NYC). But this sympathy didn't last long. If he really meant it when he said that he didn't identify entirely with either party and was only supporting the Republicans because they had given him the opportunity to run and the Democrats hadn't (since presumably he could never have financed an independent campaign), then he would have done a much better job of equivocating. One of the first questions in the debate was whether the next mayor of NYC should use his position as a bully pulpit to call for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. Ferrer said yes, of course, the war was a mistake, let's get out of that mess. Bloomberg (who, as a successful businessman, should understand the sunk cost fallacy) said ok, maybe we shouldn't have gone to Iraq, but now that we're there, we should support our troops (yes, he actually used the phrase "support our troops" to argue for why we should let more of them die) and make sure that the 2000 dead soldiers have not died in vain. Ugh. Yes, unlike the Republicans in Washington, he acknowledged the existence of the 2000 dead soldiers. But if he really wanted to avoid opposing the war or supporting the war, he could have said "I don't think it's the job of the mayor of New York to set US foreign policy; I want to improve the schools and fix potholes and blah blah." So I don't believe him when he distances himself from the Republican party.

Bloomberg does still have plenty of liberal supporters who can't stomach voting for a Republican (New York County went 83% for Kerry), so he's going to benefit greatly from his endorsement by the Liberal Party and the ignorance of those who don't know that it's neither liberal nor a party (all their candidates listed in my neighborhood's edition of this year's voter guide are also Republican candidates). Likewise, the Independence Party is neither independent nor a party. But these ballot options will provide an option for voters who want to vote for Bloomberg without pulling the Republican lever.

Meanwhile, don't forget the Rent Is Too Damn High Party.

So I'll be voting straight-party Democratic. Does this mean that I don't assess the merits of the candidates? Sure I do, that's what primaries are for. And the Democratic primaries have already essentially determined the winner of the non-mayoral elections.

Then there are the propositions. This is my current thinking on them, but I'm open to being swayed.

State question 1: Constitutional amendment saying that if the budget isn't passed in time (i.e. always) then instead of passing emergency spending bills (which must be signed by the governor), a contingency budget (last year's budget) automatically takes effect, and can be amended by the legislature without the governor's approval.

I'm leaning towards NO - we're about to get a Democratic governor, and I'd rather not shift power from him to the Republican senate president (or, for that matter, to the Democratic assembly speaker). And this proposal doesn't solve the problems that make New York's state legislature the most dysfunctional in the country.

State question 2: $2.9 billion in transportation bonds, split between NYSDOT and MTA (with $100 million earmarked for a Rail Link to JFK, and $450 million for the Second Avenue Subway).

YES - this seems like a no-brainer. Transportation is good.

City question 3: City charter revision requiring an ethics code for Administrative Law Judges and Hearing Officers.

YES - why not?

City question 4: City charter revision codifying parts of the 1975 Financial Emergency Act (set to expire), including requiring a balanced budget and a 4-year financial plan for the city.

YES - it seems harmless enough, but I could be convinced otherwise.

Everyone go cast a vote on Tuesday. All the cool kids are doing it.


  1. In the debate, was Ferrer asked directly about the "gay porn" ad?

  2. No, Bloomberg was, and his response was that he hadn't seen it before.

  3. We should stay in Iraq to give the Iraqis a chance to get their house in order so they can run their own country, free of one of the most oppressive mass murderers of the past 50 years. They are making amazing progress considering it's only been 2 years, but they are not quite there yet.

    I thought freeing people from oppression was a liberal position, but these days the "liberals" are isolationist reactionaries and the neocons are the liberals.

    liberal John Kerry = hundreds of thousands of boat people fleeing Vietnam and even more put in reeducation camps.
    neocon George Bush = over a million Afghanis RETURNED to their country, and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis returned to theirs, in the past 2 years. Building, creating, doing business, running for office, defending their country.

    People vote with their feet. And in both these nations, millions of people braved death to also vote with ballots.

    Well, I'm the same liberal I've always been, and I don't betray my ethics just to demonize a particular politician, so I think it would be churlish to refuse to be at least as optimistic about Iraq's future as they are. Unless of course, the Iraqis are merely instruments of one's personal agenda against George Bush.