Brodsky Killed Congestion Pricing But We Hurt His Feelings

brodsky.jpgState Assembly Member Richard Brodsky is displeased by the suggestion that his opposition to New York City’s congestion pricing plan had anything to do with the fact that he has accepted more money from parking industry interests than any other State Assembly Member and that his district houses the wealthiest Manhattan car commuters in New York State.

This entire line of discussion, Brodsky says in this letter to Tri-State Transportation Campaign executive director Kate Slevin, represents the deterioration of of public and political discourse and "the politics of personal destruction." Brodsky believes that despite their numerous, detailed studies over the last few years, congestion pricing advocates have failed to address the substance of his objections. It’s not exactly clear what Slevin wrote that so offended Brodsky. Tri-State addresses Assembly Members’ congestion pricing falsehoods in this article.

Here is his letter to Slevin:

July 13, 2007

Ms. Kate Slevin

350 W. 31st Street, Suite 802

New York, NY 10001

Dear Ms. Slevin:

I’ve read your Statement entitled Asemblymember Brodsky and Councilmember Weprin: Fighting for the People, or for Parkings Special Interests? and after much reflection, I’m writing to you about it.

The substance of my concerns about the Mayor’s various congestion pricing proposals are set forth in the Interim Report: An Inquiry into Congestion Pricing as Proposed in PlaNYC 2030 and S.6068. The Report was the result of six weeks of analysis and careful consideration. It sets forth my deeply held concerns about the use of pricing mechanisms to distribute public goods, invasion of privacy, regressiveness, and the elimination of SEQR and public health protections, practical concerns about air quality in neighborhoods surrounding the Zone, toll offsets, and exemptions for taxicabs, and pointed out that the legislation doesn’t require the revenues to be used for capital mass transit, does not put into place mass transit improvements prior to implementation, does not contain any privacy protections, and is not a pilot program. I trust you read the Interim Report before you issued your Statement. I assume that you will offer criticism of the substance of the Report at some point, and as always, I welcome any thoughtful critique of my work and views.

Along with many other thoughtful Americans, I have watched with dismay, distress, and ultimately disgust as public and political discourse has deteriorated. What Senator Clinton has rightly called the politics of personal destruction has become commonplace. Attack on motive and character are substituted for argument about ideas and values. It’s wrong, we should not participate in it, and when we see it we should call it by its name.

In your statement, referring to me, you say, "While these legislators paint themselves as populists representing middle and low-income New Yorkers, the money trail clearly leads back to the parking lobby."

You may actually believe that the Report and my concerns are motivated by my desire to please the parking lobby, that I’m Fighting… for Parking’s Special Interests and Pandering To The Priviliged, that its arguments are intended to satisfy campaign contributors, and that my stated concerns are hypocrisy or at least not genuinely reflective of my views. I almost would prefer that you did so believe. Whatever revulsion I feel about such false and malicious personal attacks, it would be truly intolerable if you didn’t believe it, and were saying so for some other reason.

I think it would be helpful to remind you that when I was leading the efforts to stop the Mayor’s proposal for the West Side Stadium, or when I authored and led the successful fight for the Transportation Bond Act, or when I authored the Clean Air Act, the Environmental Protection Fund, investigated wrongdoing at the MTA and the Hudson River Park Trust, protected private bus operations when the Mayor and the MTA were seeking to reduce them, led the successful fight for clean buses for the MTA… well, I could go on. When I was doing these things, when I introduced legislation against congestion pricing in 1995, there was a sense that I was committed to a vision of the public interest, and said what I believed to be in the public interest even when it was not popular or well received by the powerful and influential. I suppose it is possible that all of that has changed. But, although it is somewhat awkward and a bit self-serving, I can assure you that it hasn’t changed, that I remain consistent in my concerns and my willingness to serve the public interest as I understand it, that I believe the Report reaches intelligent and valuable conclusions, and that I haven’t yet heard otherwise from Transportation Alternatives.

If we are to consider sources of financial support as relevant to why we take the positions we take, perhaps all of us would benefit from a review of our funding sources. I raised over $2 million during recent years, largely from progressive sources, but including friends who had a variety of business interests. During the same time, the Mayor, to his enormous credit, has given huge sums of money to organizations, some of which support his congestion pricing plan. Although I am not familiar with how Transportation Alternatives funds its activities on behalf of legislation it is supporting, I would be surprised if you were not supported by folks who have business interests in the City, or with respect to the use of bicycles, or other kinds of alternative transportation. And I believe that the Mayor, and your supporters are sincere and honest in their advocacy, business activities, and support, and should continue that support. Unlike Transportation Alternatives, I would not dream of suggesting that the Mayor, you or they were anything but sincere in the positions you take.

I have written to you partially to correct the public record about your attack on me. But I mourn for a climate of public discourse which fosters attack on motives, and trashes opponents no matter what their record or the seriousness of their policy concerns. And I truly feel it will be helpful if such attacks are challenged not just because they are inaccurate, but because they disserve all of us who participate in public life. Perhaps your statement illuminates more about Transportation Alternatives than it does about me.

At any rate, I will persist in my concerns that we reject pricing mechanisms for the purpose of social control, that we do not put loopholes in SEQR, that we protect air quality and public health, that we fund mass transit capital projects, that we deal with congestion effectively, and that we be able to take public positions without vilification.

Best Wishes,

Richard Brodsky

  • “Attack on motive and character are substituted for argument about ideas and values.”

    This is completely untrue. There has been plenty of discussion of ideas and values. The discussion of Brodsky’s motives are in addition to the discussion of ideas, not a substitute for it.

    Of course, it is legitimate to point out that a politician has a conflict of interest. In fact, it is necessary to prevent corruption.

    Legislators with a conflict of interest should recuse themselves from discussion of an issue.

  • Brodsky professes to seek respectful, substantive dialogue. Yet he never replied to this respectful, dialogue-seeking letter I wrote in April, three days after the Mayor rolled out his congestion pricing plan. — CK

    April 25, 2007

    Hon. Richard Brodsky
    New York State Assembly
    Legislative Office Building 422
    Albany, NY 12248

    Dear Assembly Member Brodsky —

    I’m writing to urge you to reconsider your initial position on Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed congestion fee for vehicle trips into the Manhattan Central Business District.

    Based on quotes in the papers, you could be skating on thin ice from a factual standpoint, not to mention positioning yourself in a way that’s at odds with your career of environmental statesmanship.

    New York 1 quotes you saying, “It’s the gentrification of the streets in ways that are based on an ability to pay.” But surely you know that those who car-commute into the CBD tend to be significantly wealthier than those who take transit; and that the vast majority of non-affluent New Yorkers who work in the CBD arrive by trains and buses (the latter of which are expensively delayed by the private motorists).

    According to The Times, you regard the congestion fee as regressive. That might be, if the revenues were squandered on big-business tax breaks. But the mayor’s plan will be spectacularly progressive if the revenues are dedicated to improving and expanding transit service. That’s a linchpin of the mayor’s plan, and you are well-situated to uphold it as Chair of the Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions.

    And, may I ask, do you have an alternative for solving New York City’s (and the region’s) economy-draining, spirit-destroying and often life-taking traffic congestion? Anyone of your intelligence and vision surely grasps that demand for road space will always exceed supply — particularly in Manhattan — unless and until use of that space is charged a reasonable price.

    Assembly Member Brodsky, I’ve long admired your leadership — on environment, nuclear power, utility reform, civil rights, public ethics, and the capacity of government to pro-actively solve problems and avert crises. We need your leadership now to find ways to live within our limits. Pricing scarce resources is central to dealing with climate change as well as traffic congestion. I implore you to re-think your position.

    Sincerely,

    Charles Komanoff

    PS — Could I come by on one of my weekend bicycle rides to chat with you about this?

  • Nino

    I find it hard to believe that the Assembly’s motivation for opposing congestion pricing stems mostly from a few medium sized campaign contributions….

    What does everyone think the real reason is? Not enough control over the funds it’ll generate? Afraid of the political repercussions in their home districts?

  • JF

    Well, I’m offended that Brodsky claimed to speak for the middle class, while ignoring the vast numbers who don’t drive to Manhattan on weekdays. He may actually believe this, but it would be truly intolerable if he didn’t, and were saying so for some other reason.

    We’ve offered many non ad-hominem critiques of Brodsky’s ideas about congestion pricing, but he has chosen to focus on the personal criticism. It’s hard for me to believe that he’s sincere if he hasn’t addressed any of the substantive criticism.

  • Red

    Nino, I think it’s a misguided fear of political repercussions. The fact that commenters on City Room and people-on-the-street sources in newspaper articles continue to bring up misconceptions like the parking “edge effect” shows it’s going to take some segments of the public a LONG time to understand pricing’s benefits. I do think that with sustained pressure and education, the Assembly will come around. That $500 million is long gone, though.

  • James

    BRODSKY HAS BLOOD ON HIS HANDS!

    CAN YOU IMAGINE HOW CLEANER THE AIR WOULD HAVE BEEN! THEREFORE HOW MANY LIVES WOULD HAVE BEEN SAVED????

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    These are complex issues and the connect between cost and benefit is nebulous in the eye of the voters.

    And, I think the “blood on his hands” hyperbole works against a resolution with powerful people almost giving them an excuse to deny your appeal. The complexity of the issue makes the denial all the more acceptable in the face of resort to that sort of rhetoric.

    Shelly and his conference really challenged the Mayor to go ahead and hang the $500 Million around their necks. We’ll see how much that albatross really weighs. The Mayor is a media genius and one of maybe the three most politically powerful media tycoons in the world (the others being Berlusconi and Murdock). Now he is in a position of claiming that $500 million had to be received from the Feds for 2nd Avenue and East Side Access to go forward. He has to make that claim while sitting on a $5 Billion surplus.

    Conversely, Albany is in the position of having to come up with the State portions for those same projects. Brodsky has already said he supports full funding from other sources. It gets to be an interesting game of chess, though I am unsure of whose move is next, the Mayor handing out the blame for blowing the Federal money, or the Legislature finally identifying the state portion of the MTA Capital plan? All of the parties have already taken credit for 2nd Ave and LIRR-ESA. They took credit when they passed the Transportation Bond Act and they all cut the ribbons in front of the cameras. Who is going to run out there now and tie the ribbons back up?

    But “blood on his hands” won’t get us where we want to be. It will only continue to piss these powerful people off.

  • Yabba

    To the extent there is a real political fear dimension to some of the behavior discussed here, it may have to do with the fact that these state politicians get elected by small groups of citizens and thus do not want to anger several thousand people in their districts whoever they may be.

    Though it also seems from a lot of the complaints about “process” and “timing” that a leader proposing anything bold within what seems like a reasonable time frame to an ordinary person cuts against every fiber of these politicians’ beings.

  • rex

    Brodsky has power because we grant him power. How progressives like Brodsky can snivel and fuss about CP being a regressive tax is beyond me. If roads are a public resource that he is reluctant to charge for, then what about other public resources we charge for like the subway and the bus. Wake up! Poor people don’t drive into Manhattan to go to work. If it really bugs you, refund the money to low income drivers.

  • Brian

    Its sad that congestion pricing will not be implemented sooner rather than later. As a student and now an employed planner in urban and transportation planning, I’ve come to know it is only a matter of time before congestion pricing hits New York. The money brought in by this grant and future congestion pricing would allow for subway and bus expansion, perhaps future light rail projects, LIRR East Side Access/Metro North Penn Station Access, and other transit and road infrastructure improvements. It would have helped stave off a major fare increase by MTA. Its probably time to adopt a model like Tokyo, Washington, or the San Francisco Bay Area and charge a fare based on zones. Although a fare structure for a subway is a topic for another day.

  • t

    Didn’t people say that the smoking ban would be terrible for businesses, that bars would shut down, that people would stay home and smoke? It turned out to be completely untrue. I think the same holds true for congestion pricing, yet we wound up giving too much sway to people who did not have the facts on their side.

    This is a sad day for common sense.

  • Jmc

    Zone fares end up being regressive, while a flat fare ends up being progressive. Wealthier people generally take the subway shorter distances and more often while poorer people take the subway longer distances and less often, so I think a non-zoned fare option is better.

  • Niccolo’s point above is spot on. Bloomberg has tried to demagogue (sp?) the issue of the $500MM, and has been fairly successful spinning that to the media.

    But anyone who follows the budget (including, surprise surprise, the legislature) knows it’s BS.

    I hold no brief for Brodsky, and I hold him accountable for taking the wrong position on this. But Bloomberg bears as much credit for the failure as he gets for raising the issue to prominence.

  • Emily Litella

    One look at this guy (Brodsky) tells you who he is. Dinosaur is the nicest word that comes to mind.

    Anecdote: I was leaving an evening NY Philharmonic concert at Cunnigham Park with the crowd streaming out onto the residential streets with folding chairs and blankets. Cars occupied by other concertgoers could mingle with crowd but just slowly for a block or three. Sure enough a 20 something in a new SUV yells in frustration to no one in particular, “Get on the sidewalk!” All the parking restrictions and congestion charging and luxury express buses on 5 minute headways won’t tame these ignorant brats, these voters, these… but how different are all of us from him. He’s as frustrated as we are, a victim of the same money based ‘way of life’. He’s a bit less aware of environmental and transportation issues and we know that by his station and misdirected anger. He identifies himself to me as a jerk by bellowing out of car window, but we both vote with our dollars for globalized clothing and food. Oil exports (to us) are about to fall off a cliff. That will soon result in massive and permanent economic and social disruption. As I see it, we are all up the same creek – together. Someday that SUV driver will be competing with me for something a lot more dear than 3 sq ft of space in Bayside. And he won’t be safely contained in his car.

    PS: Bloomberg is no dummy. At least he will be able to claim he tried to get folks to change. More than the Honorable Dinosaur.

  • lower Manhattan

    “Wealthier people generally take the subway shorter distances and more often while poorer people take the subway longer distances and less often, so I think a non-zoned fare option is better.”

    Not so. We wealthy people are quick to hop a cab for short distances — yet we’ll take the subway if it’s convenient and practically free (as in monthly pass). Price elasticity doesn’t apply..

  • Chris O

    Actually, to be reductionist, you could say politics boils down to who pays the money to the government and who gets the money from the government. For Brodsky to be so offended by the suggestion that financial contributions could affect his vote is a little too much faux indignation for me. Like that old movie character, he is shocked, shocked to find gambling going on in Casablanca.

    Please don’t call this a personal attack! I don’t even think Cheney said anything like this about all the Halliburton allegations (although I guess he fees no need to communicate with the public anyway).

  • jay

    ha ha. you lost.

  • MIDTOWN RESIDENT

    What a load of BS from Brodsky. The politics of personal destruction is impeaching a President for lying about a blow job. Reviewing the public record and pointing out he receives a lot of money from parking interests is completely legit.

    Bloomberg made some political mistakes on Congestiopn Pricing but my big problem with the whole thing is that people like Brodsky have been blocking the city’s ability to control its own destiny. He has been a major opponent of both a commuter tax and more educating funding as mandated by the CFE suit.

    NYC needs real home rule so the City Council can make decisions on taxes and fees and get out from under the thumb of Albany.

  • Mister Bad Example

    I suspect/hope that Bloomberg had alternate plans up his sleeve–things that NYC could implement absent state sign-on to Congestion Pricing. None of them are pretty and most of them are probably going to really piss off Brodsky’s constituency.

  • jmc

    Is Brodsky the same guy who’s always killing red light cameras?

  • Spud Spudly

    BRODSKY killed congestion pricing????

    Puh-leeeeze.

    You give the man way too much credit.

  • MIDTOWN RESIDENT

    jmc – Yes, he is one of the people blocking traffic enforcement cameras. He is apparently concerned about political opponents knowing his whereabouts or so he said on NY 1. Is it any wonder the guy lost two winnable races for Westchester County Exec?

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