The office of borough president hasn’t had much juice since the U.S. Supreme Court declared the old Board of Estimate to be a violation of the one-person, one-vote principle more than 20 years ago. In the years since, the borough presidency has devolved into a mostly ceremonial role, a far cry from the days when the presidents voted on budgets and used their votes to champion pet projects.
But every now and again, a borough president has to make a critical decision. For Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, that moment arrived the other day when he announced that he would support Mayor Bloomberg’s ambitious plan to rezone Midtown East so that it can be not a museum to 20th-century architecture but a vibrant part of the city’s future.
Mr. Stringer’s support for the plan is nonbinding, but his opinion is important as the plan moves forward and eventually comes before the City Council for a vote.
Mr. Stringer is engaged in a suddenly difficult campaign for the Democratic nomination for city comptroller—his opponent is Eliot Spitzer, a name you may recognize. With that in mind, he might have capitulated to the rezoning plan’s very vocal critics in the media and on local community planning boards. The critics have controlled debate over the proposal, warning, as they so often do, that any change will lead to congestion, inconvenience, disruption and the occasional plague of locusts.
Fortunately, Mr. Stringer chose to stand with progress and vision rather than submitting to fearmongering. His support, however, was not unconditional. Mr. Stringer delayed his decision until after Mr. Bloomberg pledged to improve transit infrastructure on the East Side. That’s important, because new towers are expected to bring in thousands of new workers to the neighborhood around Grand Central Terminal.
But the borough president had other conditions as well—16 of them, as The Observer’s Stephen Jacob Smith noted on Aug. 1. One of those conditions was designed to make sure that any new hotels in the area are unionized, an obvious political giveback, but hardly a deal-breaker.
Mr. Stringer chose not to pander to the forces of the status quo, even though it’s possible he’ll lose votes in Manhattan as a result of this decision. As the city prepares for a dramatic transition in its civic leadership, Mr. Stringer has shown that he has what it takes to make tough decisions.