The Council Votes for Chaos

Shown the Door, Term-Limited Pols Slap City in the Face

When Leffler adopted a bill giving the police commissioner a wider range of powers to discipline bad cops—a reform championed by both the Dinkins and Giuliani administrations—Vallone and the rest of the council collapsed under pressure from the police unions and killed it. Leffler scheduled the bill for a vote in his committee, and, says Leffler, Vallone swooped in to remove it from the calendar.

Even Stan Michels—a progressive paragon within the council who chairs the Environmental Protection Committee—has rolled over on the administration's abominable solid-waste disposal plan. Michels had the courage to personally confront the combustible mayor on recycling, and he has squeezed concessions out of the administration that have led to annual increases in the amount of recyclables collected. But the council did nothing when Giuliani and George Pataki decided to close the city's only landfill even though no real alternative was in place, and the costly maneuver was a transparent political boondoggle for the city's only Republican county.

The Independent Budget Office estimates that the closing is occurring at least 20 years early, five years before a rail-barge network can be put in place to get the garbage out of the city, and at an annual cost of hundreds of millions. Not only will a daily caravan of garbage-laden and budget-busting trucks be Giuliani's legacy, it will be Michels's and Vallone's. The next mayor and council may have to lay off teachers to pay for it. In exchange, the council got an agreement to do a study of commercial waste standard operating procedure for a legislature that has rarely said "no" to a major Giuliani initiative.

Stan Michels leads fellow councilmembers in last-stand fight against voters.
photo: Jennifer S. Altman
Stan Michels leads fellow councilmembers in last-stand fight against voters.

Virtually the entire council leadership was there before 1990, when it assumed much of the powers of the abolished Board of Estimate. Their sense of what the body could and should do was framed by the limitations of the old charter, and try as they might, they have never psychologically transcended it. A new council will insist that future mayors implement the welfare and police misconduct laws it passes; it will make sure councilmembers decide when the city's only landfill will close.

Through the darkest days of the Giuliani era—when the city's minorities were literally under siege—this council shuddered and schmoozed, afraid to become the counterpoint to Rudy that the charter required them to be. Now, faced with a new day, its only champion is itself.

Research: Robbie Chaplick, Jesse Goldstein, Laurence Pantin, Gregg Robertson, and Theodore Ross

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