WNYC's Bob Hennelly is an award-winning investigative journalist. While at WNYC he has reported on a wide gamut of major public policy questions ranging from immigration and homeland security to power outages and utility mergers.
A Bad Week for Bloomberg
Friday, April 11, 2008
New York, NY —This past week Mayor Michael Bloomberg was dealt a major setback when his ambitious congestion pricing plan failed to garner even enough support from Albany lawmakers to get posted for a vote. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. SILVER: Many of them don't believe in the concept. Many of them think this bill is flawed so there is an overwhelming majority of the conference opposes congestion pricing." REPORTER: For months the Mayor had enlisted a broad coalition of business, labor and environmental groups and even worked with City Council Speaker Quinn to win a bruising vote in the City Council. But as WNYC’s Bob Hennelly reports the one group he failed to inspire may have been voters. REPORTER: Up on 239th Street in the Bronx at the Riverdale Diner the headline of the free weekly the Riverdale Review trumpets the demise of the “congestion tax” and celebrates both local Assemblyman for their role in “killing the Mayor’s congestion scheme.” As diner regular Marty Dick sees it the local paper has it right. DICK: I think it is too much for people that live on a special income if you have a handicapped person and you got to go to a doctor. REPORTER: While the final congestion pricing plan did exempt motorists with a handicapped license plate the 71 year-old Dick worried had it become law it would have made life harder for him and his disabled wife Gail who needs to go to the doctor in Manhattan. DICK: It’s ridiculous…if they had lowered it maybe it would have passed. But like now, forget about it. REPORTER: Douglas Muzzio, a Professor of Public Affairs at Baruch College, says a combination of the Mayor’s flirtation with the Presidency and the implosion of Governor Spitzer all were distractions that set the stage for the plan’s collapse in Albany. But he also sees basic political miscalculations by the plans backers. MUZZIO: I think there was definitely a class dimension to this conflict that the mayor and his supporters were seen to be elitists and upper class and not in tune to the needs and fears of the working class. REPORTER: For former Park Commissioner and long time municipal observer Henry Stern the Mayor’s congestion pricing sales pitch was fine. It was the product itself that was flawed. Stern said it relied on the public having faith the MTA would keep promises on improving mass transit with the Congestion windfall. STERN: But those promises have been broken so often by the MTA that no one believes them. In 1951 there was a bond issue of 500 million the people voted for because they were told it would build a Second Avenue subway. Well here it is 57 years later and there is no subway. REPORTER: In this latest rebuff from Albany there were parallels to his inability to get Assembly Speaker Sheldon on board for a Westside Stadium. Here’s an unusually passionate mayor pushing for the stadium that was not to be---trying to use a deadline as leverage. BLOOMBERG: I don’t know how to look some in the eye who is trying to get a job to feed their family and say well what the time frame is. The time frame is now we’ve got to get this going. REPORTER: In Washington, the day after the plan’s defeat Mayor Bloomberg did everything he could to move on to focus on his dozens of other initiatives designed to make the City greener. BLOOMBERG: We may have been stymied or even stopped on congestion pricing but there was nothing that happened yesterday that had any detrimental impact on the 126 other things we have to work on.” REPORTER: So for now the status quo has won a round. Logjam—traffic jam. On the top level of the GW bridge diesel trucks and busses belch fumes to idle at a standstill. On this spring day a morning fog on the Hudson keeps the exhaust close to the ground where it drifts gradually to the Bronx to be inhaled by the kids at recess.