A Times First?

There was some talk that the Times’s decision to endorse in the Speaker’s race (The paper went for Quinn in the City Section Sunday.) was some kind of first.

The paper didn’t endorse in 2001, true; but a reader points back to this January 4, 1986 editorial in favor of Peter Vallone, titled “Taste and Merit, on the City Council,” which seemed worth reprinting in full:

“All the candidates for New York’s City Council last fall pledged to make it a strong, constructive — and independent — body. Fat chance. Just look at the bargaining over who will be the Vice Chairman and majority leader, the most powerful job on the Council. Howard Golden and Herman Farrell, the Democratic county leaders of Brooklyn and Manhattan, have joined forces and expect to win the job for Councilman Samuel Horwitz of Brooklyn. The coin in this political transaction is the prospect of powerful committee chairmanships and other well-paid plums. If this distasteful bargaining succeeds at next Wednesday’s Council meeting, it would assail merit as well as taste.

“The most promising and plausible candidate is Peter Vallone of Queens, who in 12 years of Council service has demonstrated patience, good sense and the ability to accommodate opposing views – skills that are essential to balancing the disparate views of the boroughs with the needs of a central government of adequate strength. For the second most important Council post, chairman of the finance committee, the two Democratic leaders propose Herbert Berman, who is also from Brooklyn but whose qualifications are unquestioned.

“If it seems oddly unbalanced to propose two members from the same borough for the two top Council posts, that’s because it is: unbalanced and also unwise.Nonetheless, the leaders may have their way by offering Manhattan Council members more committee chairmanships than they held under the leadership of Thomas Cuite, now retired. One reason for the shortfall is resentment at Manhattan’s reputation for getting more than its share of everything. Another, surely, is the belief on the Council that some Manhattan representatives are slow to recognize that a legislative body requires practical give-and-take as well as unswerving personal consistency to abstract principles.

“Whoever finally wins the job of Vice Chairman and majority leader, Manhattan members are likely to get more committee chairmanships. But to link votes for the job with the promise of several important committee chairmanships takes a long step back from the hope and promise that the Council will become a more effective legislative body. Worse, it would deprive the city of the best-qualified candidate, Mr. Vallone.”