Getting the Incest Out

A Bloomberg proposal that could transform city campaign finance

The council is going through the motions this week of holding hearings on a mayor's bill that could only get one council sponsor. Miller told the Voice he'd look at a "responsible" alternative to the mayor's proposition, which is so garbled it actually restricts homeowners who get a variance from the city. But councilmembers, over Miller's self-described objections, stripped from a reform bill passed in October any attempt to restrain their own greedy grabs for maximum CFB matching funds even when they have the most nominal opposition. The only way to get rid of the incest in campaign finance is to get out of the bed where it happens—in this case, the council. The mayor and CFB are, for just this moment, potential joint agents of change, uncontaminated by the corrosive power of pay-to-play politics.

The problem is they don't trust each other. Bloomberg's assault months ago on Schwarz as some remote half-cousin of Miller's was disgusting; the mayor appointed Schwarz chair because he is a city saint. Likewise, the CFB's sabotage of the mayor's referendum on nonpartisan elections in 2003 was troubling. Bloomberg's recent attacks on the CFB's puny attempt to increase the bonus in public funds for candidates like Miller who face the all-time sugar daddy of city campaign largesse are hypocritical. The CFB's disdain for a "good-government mayor" not bound by good-government rules of campaign finance is understandable, but it also undercuts the ability to achieve a reform Schwarz has cherished since he was corporation counsel in the mid '80s, engulfed by the city's worst modern scandals.

Since the creation of the CFB in 1988, spurred by that scandal, there has not been a greater opportunity for grand reform. Schwarz's boss, Ed Koch, and Miller's predecessor, Peter Vallone, created the CFB to distract from—and transcend—their own sordid circumstances (both were unveiled as handmaidens of corrupt Democratic Party leaders). Now it is among their greatest public legacies. With help again from Schwarz and Gordon, this could be one of Bloomberg's.


Research assistance: Eric Cantor, Deborah S. Esquenazi, Emily Keller, Eric Magnuson, and Daniel Ten Kate

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