Thursday, October 30, 2008

Yassky: The lyin’ in winter

The Brooklyn Paper

A lot of people are angry about the City Council’s 29-22 vote to set aside term limits and allow Mayor Bloomberg to run for a third term.

And they’re all, it seems, angry at David Yassky.

The Brooklyn Heights councilman has become the main whipping boy for outrage about the Council’s Oct. 23 vote — and his tortured, painstaking, wonkish effort to explain his vote to rescind two public term-limit referendums hasn’t done him any favors.

Hours after the vote, Yassky made a long-schedule appearance before the Independent Neighborhood Democrats, a Carroll Gardens political club that fancies itself a reform-minded, “progressive” Democratic organization.

The Politicrasher hadn’t heard Yassky (who is white) heckled so much since he was visiting black churches during his failed attempt to win a black-majority congressional seat in 2006.

Club members berated Yassky for what they thought was a self-serving, cake-and-eat-it-too move: Yassky first put up an amendment to the term-limit bill that called instead for a public referendum on the 12-year cap — but then backed the original bill when his amendment was shot down.

“He was not sincere,” said Councilman Bill DeBlasio (D–Park Slope), who voted against the three-term-limit bill. Yassky “did not act with integrity,” DeBlasio added, because his amendment “was not offered in an honest spirit.”

“It was an artifice and a maneuver on his part to give him cover,” added DeBlasio, who said he will now run for Public Advocate even though he could run for his own seat again. “How could you call for a referendum and then vote for the mayor’s bill?”

Assemblywoman Joan Millman (D–Carroll Gardens) also attacked Yassky’s integrity.

“What he did was not the progressive thing,” said Millman. “It outraged people. And his explanation was convoluted and torturous. If you put forth an amendment, you need to gather support for it. And if it fails, you should vote against the bill. I certainly would have voted against changing term limits.”

(A cynic would point out that as a member of the Assembly, the only term limit that a Democrat like Millman faces is death, but why be cynical in a story about a topic so pure as David Yassky’s term-limit vote?)

The Politicrasher was one of thousands of New Yorkers who received Yassky’s “torturous” explanation via e-mail. In it, the councilman said he made “the right choice” after “a great deal of thought” about “the most difficult decision I have faced in the City Council — more than congestion pricing, the garbage plan, or the post-9-11 tax increase.”

“My initial reaction to the mayor’s proposal was outrage,” Yassky said. “While I have always held that the eight-year term limit was bad policy … the fairest way to change it was by a subsequent referendum.”

When the mayor “would not relent” and go the referendum route, Yassky said he did some fact-finding in his district and discovered that for every voter who wanted to keep term limits the way they were, another voter wanted to keep Mayor Bloomberg in office during these “challenging” times.

“I became convinced that the right choice was to [give] voters the option of choosing to continue the Bloomberg Administration,” he wrote. “Even so, I pressed the referendum argument to the very end.”

And then the end came, and he caved. But, of course, he offered what he’d like us to consider a logical explanation.

“As much as I was loath to override the expressed will of the voters, I was unwilling to leave in place a term limits policy which I believe is bad in general and especially at this time,” he wrote.

I hadn’t seen this much spinning since I saw The Four Tops in concert. Getting Yassky on the phone only continued the gyrations.

Now a week after his vote, Yassky still failed to see the weakness in his argument that he opposed overturning the public’s twice-stated will on term limits even though he voted to do just that.

To paraphrase the Swift-Boaters, David Yassky was for term limits before he was against them.

“I believe I still have the moral high ground because in the end, I voted for what is in the best interest of the city,” he said. “I did want to change term limits. I did not want to do it by overturning the will of the voters, but when that failed, I voted for 12 years instead of eight.”

Yassky claims that personal motivation had nothing to do with his vote; he is still running for City Comptroller, just as he was before he voted to allow himself to run again for his seat.

But everyone in political circles thinks that Comptroller Bill Thompson will eventually decide that a safe re-election is a better alternative to running against the billionaire mayor. And when that happens, Yassky will get to appear like a good Democrat by announcing that he won’t take on Thompson — and when THAT happens, the five people who were already running for Yassky’s seat (Ken Baer, Isaac Abraham, Ken Diamonstone, Jo Anne Simon, Evan Thies and Steve Levin) will suddenly melt away rather than face an incumbent with a comptroller-sized war chest.

So that leave Yassky with an easy shot at a third term on the Council.

So much for the “moral high ground.”

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