Politics Behind the Money

Chief Leader - December 08, 2009


Mayor Bloomberg campaigned for re-election using a commercial that began, "He's not a politician." Yes, but he plays one pretty well when it comes to dealing with those who anger him.

That became especially obvious last week in his battle with Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau over bank accounts that the DA maintains to hold monies his office has received from settlements of potential prosecutions.

The Bloomberg administration accused him of concealing the accounts, and the Mayor and his Press Secretary both used the phrase "two sets of books" to describe the operation. Mr. Morgenthau responded that those charges were chicken bits, more or less, saying the city was well aware of the accounts in part because it received a generous chunk of that money, as does the state.

Mr. Bloomberg is apparently upset that the state gets a piece of the action for crimes that occurred within his home borough; Mr. Morgenthau pointed out that the DA's Office is under the jurisdiction of the state, not the city. Another DA, speaking anonymously, told one of the dailies that Mr. Bloomberg liked to believe that he was boss of everyone in government within the five boroughs, and did not take kindly to Mr. Morgenthau disagreeing.

The Mayor also harbors a grudge, reportedly, over the DA's decision two years ago to consider bringing a criminal complaint against the city for its failures leading up to the Deutsche Bank Building blaze that killed two Firefighters. It would have been unusual had Mr. Morgenthau done so, but the negligence when it came to lack of inspections by two city agencies made such charges plausible.

There was also at least the possibility of political considerations playing a factor in the decision last week by the Fire Department to reduce by one firefighter the staffing on 49 engine companies because sick leave had exceeded a stipulated percentage. That reduction is expected to save it as much as $20 million a year.

The trigger number is when the absence rate goes above 7.5 percent. It is not automatic: sick leave has to go above 7.6 percent to make the cut in staffing mandatory. In this case, the figure was 7.53 percent, 3/100ths of a percent over the line.

Uniformed Firefighters Association President Steve Cassidy accused the FDNY of failing to consider how much of the rise is the result of extended absences by Firefighters suffering the long-term effects of exposure at the World Trade Center site in the months after 9/11. Such consideration would seem reasonable when the department has discretion about invoking a rule that was set in 1996.

There may, however, be other mitigating circumstances, such as Mr. Cassidy's support of Bill Thompson in the mayoral election, and his harsh criticism of Fire Commissioner Nick Scoppetta.

City officials in both disputes have contended that budgetary concerns, rather than politics, was the key factor. But to twist an old cliché, sometimes when they say it's got everything to do with money, it really doesn't.