Political Hay

A Contract With New York

New York's hapless Republicans could learn a thing or two from the Gingrich era.

By 10.21.03

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"As Republican members of the House of Representatives and as citizens seeking to join that body we propose not just to change its policies, but even more important, to restore the bonds of trust between the people and their elected representatives.

"That is why, in this era of official evasion and posturing, we offer instead a detailed agenda for national renewal, a written commitment with no fine print."
-- The Contract With America

With these words and 10 programmatic promises -- including votes on welfare reform, deficit reduction, and term limits -- the Republican Party took control of the House of Representatives in 1994, overturning 40 years of Democratic rule. Republicans in New York City hoping to gain a toehold in the Democrat-dominated City Council this November face an uphill battle even grimmer than that faced by their forbears. That's because they have one additional disadvantage: a lack of strategy.

To be fair, there is a group of candidates, including the high-profile challenger to Speaker Gifford Miller, Jennifer Arangio, running on something called the "Urban Republican Platform." But a New York Sun editorial board meeting last week with Ms. Arangio and her campaign manager, the creator of the Urban Republican Platform, Robert Hornak, made it clear that the group has managed to be simultaneously too unrealistic and too pragmatic.

On the unrealistic side, they are promoting a budget with $3.7 billion worth of cuts. After these fictional cuts are made, they say, the city will be able to give taxpayers a paltry 2% break on the 18.5% property-tax hike perpetrated by Mayor Bloomberg and Mr. Miller. With even the Democrats on the City Council talking about a 1% rollback of the property tax, an additional 1% cut is hardly the stuff of which revolutions are made. And a revolution is what will be necessary to turn a Republican minority that couldn't even get together a game of bridge -- it has but three members -- into a nine- or 10-vote bloc capable of stymieing council overrides of Republican mayors and bringing legislation to the floor.

So, in the spirit of the Contract With America, here are 10 populist proposals that Republican City Council candidates could sign onto:

1. Cut taxes: New York City is the highest-taxed city in America. As a first step toward lightening this burden, we will vote to repeal the 18.5% property tax increase approved by Mayor Bloomberg and Speaker Miller.

2. Reduce the size of the city's government: New York City employs about 300,000 workers, or roughly one-seventh the number employed by the federal government. We will vote to reduce this bloat through attrition, privatization, and streamlining of city agencies.

3. Maintain the quality of life: Panhandling and graffiti are back. As Mayor Giuliani made clear in the 1990s, it is these sorts of annoyances that lead to more serious crimes and a general sense of urban decay. We will vote to give the NYPD more resources to fight these scourges.

4. Repeal the smoking ban: Banning all smoking in bars and restaurants has hurt small businesses. We will vote to repeal the smoking ban.

5. Constitute a more serious City Council: Legislating the third-largest budget in the nation, after California and the State of New York, the City Council has no time for frivolities such as resolutions concerning America's foreign policy. We will vote against bringing any such measures to the floor.

6. Eliminate pay perks for City Council members: Members of the City Council currently receive stipends, or "lulus," when they are assigned committee chairmanships. These are typically in amounts between $10,000 and $20,000. We will accept no such perks at the taxpayers' expense, and we will vote to eliminate them.

7. Eliminate campaigning on the taxpayers' dime: Currently, candidates for City Council can accept tax dollars to finance their campaigns. We will not make the taxpayers pay for our runs for office, and we will vote to eliminate the public campaign funding system.

8. Increase school choice: Lack of choice is what allows New York City's public school system to stagnate. We will vote to give parents more options as to where to send their children to school.

9. Remove barriers to housing: Restrictive zoning regulations and building codes, as well as rent regulations that discourage development, are the primary impediment to affordable housing. We will vote to repeal these regulations.

10. Leave abortion alone: We will propose no legislation on this topic.

The late speaker of the House of Representatives, Tip O'Neill, said that "All politics is local." But the Republicans won the House by nationalizing local congressional elections. If New York City's Republicans want a City Council delegation that would need at least a minivan to carpool, they'd better take a look in their rearview mirror.

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About the Author

Ryan H. Sager is editorial features editor of the New York Sun, where his column appears Mondays. Email: rhsager@nysun.com