For all the millions of dollars that are going to be spent in the coming weeks and months on advertising, mailers and other assorted promotional material for Michael Bloomberg’s congestion-pricing plan, and for all of the allies in his grand, diverse coalition, it will all amount to nothing without the assent of one famously, excruciatingly inscrutable man: Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
The most recent evidence of Mr. Silver’s ability to topple the grand plans of others came in 2005, when the Assembly Speaker foiled the Mayor’s dream of an Olympic stadium on Manhattan’s West Side by asking questions, asking more questions, and generally dragging his feet long enough to kill the city’s Olympic bid.
So far, Mr. Silver has shown little enthusiasm for City Hall’s latest big offering, complaining that the plan might turn some neighborhoods outside of central Manhattan into “parking lots with people driving around the neighborhoods looking for parking spots in order to avoid congestion-pricing fees.”
So how do the supporters of the Mayor’s plan, a group which includes business, labor and environmental leaders, prevent a repeat of the stadium fiasco?
“So what the heck are we going to do about Shelly Silver, is that the question?” asked Gene Russianoff, the senior attorney with the Straphangers Campaign and supporter of congestion pricing.
Mr. Russianoff, whose group opposed the Olympic stadium, said advocates will simply rally and raise their voices to win the battle of public opinion. (A poll released on June 12 by a pro-congestion-pricing coalition showed a strong majority of city residents in favor “after learning of the myriad benefits of the Mayor’s plan.”)
“There’s a momentum, and that counts for something in politics,” he said.
The policy and advocacy director for the New York League of Conservation Voters, Alison Hirsh, thinks the answer lays in making the case directly to Mr. Silver’s members.
“We’re going to talk to all the Assembly members and focus on if we don’t pass it, we stand to lose $500 million in federal money, and hope that, you know, they do something about it this year,” she said.
Ms. Hirsh pointed out that the support of similar coalitions had in the past managed to push through initiatives opposed by Mr. Silver, like the fight for an education tax credit that occurred under former Governor George Pataki.
“Nobody thought it had any legs,” Ms. Hirsh said. “But because of the advocacy and the organizations involved, it made it into the budget. It passed. And again, Shelly was a roadblock.”
But so far, Mr. Silver and his members show no signs of yielding.
Assemblyman Richard Brodsky of Westchester, who has raised questions about the plan, said he couldn’t vote for it even if he wanted to.
“Give us a passable bill,” Mr. Brodsky said.
The bill submitted to lawmakers in Albany, Mr. Brodsky said, made no mention of the fact that the program is up for renewal in three years, has no safeguards to protect drivers’ civil liberties, and doesn’t offer a provision for residential parking.
Oh, and Mr. Brodsky doesn’t like the process, either.
“What happens the next time there is a coal plant suggested for the Upper East Side, and proponents say, ‘We’ll construct it, run it for three years and see what happens,’” he asked. “There has got to be some principle to this stuff.”
As for Mr. Silver, he appears to be tuning out the whole public debate completely. “I think the process we’re involved in doesn’t speak to what the ads are about,” said Charles Carrier, a spokesman for Mr. Silver.
He said that the Assembly will hold further hearings on the matter in hopes of coming to a consensus. But, he said, “A lot of questions continue to be raised about the program.”
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