Wednesday, November 23, 2005


Clash Of The Big-City Liberal Values

Why would a clearly-identified publication of the Left like the Village Voice basically castigate a local politician as being in the pocket of labor?

Isn't a powerful union movement exactly what the Left wants? Not, apparently, when it clashes with another cherished value of modern-day liberals: campaign-finance control (why call it "reform"?).

In the eyes of the VV's Wayne Barrett, New York City Councilman Bill de Blasio -- candidate for Council Speaker and Hillary 2000 campaign manager -- has committed the cardinal sin of pushing through a bill that gives unions greater power in making political donations. In so doing, it drives a huge hole through the regulatory structure that the city's Campaign Finance Board has created. That structure is the altar to which Barrett and the Voicers worship. Thus, de Blasio is the target of major venom.

De Blasio is a poster boy for conflict of interest on a bill that essentially exempts unions from the same affiliation standards that the Campaign Finance Board (CFB) has long applied to all institutional donors, including corporations and partnerships... the de Blasio legislation sets standards so low that a Times editorial branded them "meaningless," concluding that they would allow ostensibly affiliated unions to each donate the maximum permitted under city law to candidates. In the election cycle that starts now for 2009 contests from mayor to council, the de Blasio bill invites unions to dump maximum donations in favored laps again and again, restricted only by their ability to secure different checking accounts and signatories for every connected entity under one leader's sway.

The two unions whose past donations have resulted in virtually all of the affiliation fines or other proposed penalties so far generated by the CFB, which combined to prompt this bill, are the Service Employees International Union (especially SEIU's Local 1199) and HERE, the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union. De Blasio was on the SEIU payroll, as was his wife, when he ran for council in 2001. One of his top aides, Peter Colavito, has become the political director of another SEIU local involved in the affiliation controversy, 32BJ. De Blasio's cousin, John Wilhelm, was elected national HERE president in 1998 and is one of the most powerful labor leaders in the country. HERE has allowed de Blasio to use its New York office for a fundraiser, Wilhelm has co-hosted another fundraiser for de Blasio in Washington featuring Senato Clinton, and Wilhelm's son worked in de Blasio's first council campaign.
In full disclosure, the New York Post (where I work) also editorialized about this outrageous bill, but The Post, is working from the position that unions have too much power -- particularly in New York City. (The Post also is opposed to the confusing, open-to-corruption campaign finance system that governs city politics; less regulation on matters of speech and money would be better. However, giving unions a carve-out that corporations or other organizations don't get is outrageous.)

But the Village Voice hardly believes that labor's power needs restraints. So, it would seem, based on the Barrett article that when torn between allegiance to Labor and Campaign Finance Control, the Left sides with Control. (hat tip: Urban Elephants)

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