Gearing up its coverage of the mayoral race, yesterday the New York Times in its New York section (page A21 in the print edition) ran a long article by Michael Barbaro on the campaign of Bill de Blasio. de Blasio is currently Public Advocate, a city-wide elective office of no identifiable duties or purpose, serving only to give its occupant a platform to keep his name before the public and thereby try to make himself a candidate for mayor when the opportunity arises.
The Times article, like nearly everything that issues from that source, serves mostly to illustrate the New York conventional ignorance and what is wrong with it. First, a short review of my own views of what is important in this race for mayor. New York City government is ridiculously expensive, for reasons that have nothing to do with delivering a superior level of service to the people, and everything to do with paying back the employee unions for their support. In a post late last year entitled Why New York City Is A High Tax Jurisdiction, I laid out the three main areas where we vastly overpay to get nothing of value: public employee pensions (currently running a stunning $8 billion per year, 12% of the budget, and likely to double over the next ten years based on formulas already agreed to and desperately in need of reform); public schools (we spend about $20,000 per year per student, which is almost double the national average, the differential representing over $8 billion, which is 12% of the budget - and our student performance is worse than the national average); and Medicaid (we spend close to triple per beneficiary what is spent in California and Texas, for no better health results, although we are partially saved by the Feds and State picking up most of the tab; still, it is about a $2.5 billion issue in the City budget). These three items together represent more than $15 billion in overspending for no value, about 22% of the budget down the rat hole, before getting to other large items. This overspending is basically giveaways to favored constituencies, mainly the public employee unions, who contribute lavishly to their chosen mayoral candidates and are expert at bringing their voters out to the polls. Every candidate for mayor needs to address this overspending issue as priority number 1.
With that in mind, let us look at the Times coverage of de Blasio's candidacy. First of all, in an article spread over most of two full pages, there is not one word about the level of City spending, whether we are getting value for our taxes, or anything specific about worker pensions, school spending, or Medicaid spending. Indeed, the article is almost completely devoid of substance on matters of policy. So how can they even fill what amounts to a full page of text in the print edition without getting to any such subject? Easy. Here's how it starts:
Bill de Blasio drives a gas-sipping Ford hybrid and cultivates tomatoes and peppers from his backyard in brownstone Brooklyn. He works out at the socially responsible Y.M.C.A. and opted for the all-hands-on-deck rigors of the Park Slope Childcare Collective. His wedding was a multicultural billboard for the borough: under a pin oak tree in Prospect Park, he married an African-American writer who previously identified as a lesbian. In the race for New York mayor, this is the new face of borough agitation.
From that inauspicious beginning, the article goes on point out that de Blasio is proudly the candidate from Brooklyn, and to spin the main issue in the race as being the guy from long down-and-out but now up-and-coming Brooklyn against all the other guys from Manhattan. Quinn is from Chelsea, Thompson from Harlem, and Weiner now lives on Park Avenue. But de Blasio hails proudly from progressive, multicultural Park Slope! Well, so what? What does he have to say about any issue of substance?
In an article of several thousand words, the entire portion on the substantive issues of the race appears in two paragraphs near the end: (apparently omitted from the on-line version, so I'm typing them out):
Mr. de Blasio . . . has amassed a running tally of the indignities and inequities in four boroughs: a yawning income gap, a surge in fines for small businesses, slighted schools and inadequate early childhood education. He envisions an activist city government that addresses those disparities head on. Alone among the Democratic field, he calls for a tax increase on the rich, to bankroll universal prekindergarten.
Typical of the New York Times, the reporter can conduct a lengthy interview with an apparently serious candidate for mayor, hear the candidate claim that the schools are "slighted," and not be able to ask the simplest question as to how the schools could possibly be "slighted" when we are already spending close to double the national average per student. Even worse is de Blasio's call for "universal prekindergarten." This proposal is of course the darling of the teachers' union, which sees in it a 10-15% increase in dues paying membership. Meanwhile, expensive pre-K programs have never demonstrated any lasting educational benefit for the children. For a mayoral candidate to sign on to this proposal is roughly the equivalent in competence for the job of mayor as for the CEO of Apple to agree to repatriate the $100 billion of overseas cash and gratuitously pay $35 billion in Federal taxes. Indeed, at current wildly overgenerous pension formulas, the cost to New York City taxpayers of future pensions for the teachers in the universal pre-K program will be far more than $35 billion. Frankly, I don't think either de Blasio or the New York Times reporter is remotely capable of doing this math. But don't worry, he's going to pay for it with "a tax increase on the rich"! Again, I don't think that de Blasio even knows that the entire City income tax only raises about $8 billion per year, so even a huge rate increase limited to "the rich" will only bring in maybe $1 billion, which will be extremely destructive to the economy and not remotely pay the cost of that universal pre-K program.
This is what we are dealing with here.
Go to de Blasio's campaign web site to find out what his campaign is really about. It's one union endorsement after another, the biggest being 1199SEIU -- those are the hospital workers on the receiving end of the Medicaid spending. The Times is just totally oblivious to this.
UPDATE: In the online version of this article today, the Times ran a correction, noting that de Blasio is not the only candidate for mayor who has called for tax increases on "the rich," since Comptroller John Liu has also done so.