Theme of NYC mayoral debates: Life's not fair
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Life may be unfair, but at least that gives New York City's mayoral candidates plenty to discuss.
Questions of equity -- and of who enjoys undue privilege -- form a rough theme in debates so far, with candidates suggesting issue by issue what a fairer shake for residents may entail.
For one, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn has declared it only fair that a waste transfer station go on the Upper East Side -- reflecting complaints that municipal garbage facilities have blighted poor minority communities disproportionately. But Democratic rival Bill Thompson opposes that project as unfair to the Manhattan neighborhood's residents.
Democratic Public Advocate Bill de Blasio seeks traction by citing his findings that the administration harasses small businesses outside Manhattan with an undue share of various inspectors' fines. Republican candidate and supermarket chain owner John Catsimatidis talks of his trucks being unable to park around the city.
With city taxpayers under sharp fiscal pressure, GOP candidate Joseph Lhota recently was quoted calling it a "huge problem" that city employees "when they retire get free health care for the rest of their life" -- a deal few private-sector workers enjoy, as critics have pointed out.
From one stop to the next, Democrat Sal Albanese makes political fairness a mission. "We have politicians who spend more time at cocktail parties than listening to their citizens," he said at one forum. "Our political system is flooded with big money. I'm committed to putting the people in charge of City Hall."
The degree to which a government can, will or should correct economic polarization always spurs debate. Candidates have jockeyed to put themselves on the side of building more affordable, versus luxury, housing.
Even the management of parks raises considerations of who wins or loses. In his current role as city comptroller, Democratic candidate John Liu last month rejected terms of a $90-million contract between the city and the well-heeled Central Park Conservancy, declaring: "The city should do more to ensure that parks across the five boroughs are being funded adequately and equitably."
Then there are the schools. When the United Federation of Teachers endorsed Thompson for mayor, they called him "a man of integrity and fairness." The union, in contrast, calls Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his Department of Education unduly and unfairly focused on blaming teachers for problems.
Meanwhile, in televised ads, a group calling itself the Parents' Transparency Project portrays teachers accused of sexual abuse as enjoying an undue privilege of protection through the UFT -- and challenges the mayoral candidates to change it.
The fairness of renewing the "commuter tax" on suburban residents who work in the city has long been argued -- mainly between those who'd benefit and those who'd pay it. Running inside the five boroughs, Democratic ex-Rep. Anthony Weiner says that as mayor he'd fight to restore it -- a position Bloomberg couldn't sell to the State Legislature.
In municipal politics, fairness is forever in the eye of the stakeholder.