Happy Bedfellows Spend Big for Mayor’s Plan

Blue-chip companies, public-interest groups and private foundations have spent more than $2 million since late April to support Mayor Bloomberg’s environmental sustainability plan, including its congestion-pricing push, according to participants, outspending opponents by more than 10 to 1.  

The money, while far from guaranteeing the votes needed to get the plan passed in the State Legislature by its June 21 recess, has enabled proponents to overwhelm the paid-media market with cable-television commercials, well-connected lobbyists and a top-shelf public-relations company.

Last month, for example, the Partnership for New York City, an organization of business executives, and Environmental Defense spent $550,000 to repeatedly run a 30-second television advertisement on cable stations in New York and Albany, according to Kathryn Wylde, the president of the partnership. The Real Estate Board of New York, the industry lobbying group, raised an amount somewhere in the six figures from its members to put on an ad of its own last week and this week, according to spokesman Frank Marino. A broad coalition of supporters will start airing a third ad on Wednesday and announced they will send out 380,000 mailers touting the benefits of the plan.

Ms. Wylde said that the partnership had spent “over $1 million” in support of PlaNYC, which is the Mayor’s program to help cope with the expected one million new residents the city will see by 2030, and estimated that all groups favoring congestion pricing had contributed between $2 million and $3 million.

For example, the Campaign for New York’s Future, the coalition that was set up by supporters right after the Mayor unveiled his plan on April 23, has hired Rubenstein Communications, a company founded by public-relations czar Howard Rubenstein—who represents, among others, the Mayor’s media company (and The Observer, no less).

Opponents have hired Richard Lipsky, a tireless street fighter who has taken on many quixotic causes over the years, representing the bodegas, nightclubs, grocery stores and haulers. For this issue, he has been holding press conferences on street corners and in front of supermarkets.

While the pro side sports a new, custom-made Web site, with links to the television commercials and a sign-up form, opponents have Mr. Lipsky’s blog for a related organization called the Neighborhood Retail Alliance, which is hosted by Blogspot.com.

Whether that financial and institutional support for the proposed $8 fee for driving into Manhattan south of 86th Street is enough to get the proposal passed in Albany is another matter. The speaker of the State Assembly, Sheldon Silver, the Democrat from lower Manhattan who blocked the Mayor’s last big public campaign—the West Side stadium—said on June 11 and 12 that he did not expect the congestion-pricing bill would come up before the end of the normal session but allowed that he would call a special session over the summer if necessary.

“The one thing that folks have to recognize in this town is that it is not about editorials, it is not about the number of blue-chip organizations behind you, it is not the money, although they are helpful,” said Walter McCaffrey, the political consultant working for an opposition group called Keep N.Y.C. Congestion-Tax Free, affiliated with the Queens Chamber of Commerce. “You have to have a message that resonates with the public, and their message is not resonating.”

Opponents have raised “about $150,000” over the past year, according to Mr. McCaffrey. He said that the funders include owners of parking garages in Manhattan as well as two real-estate developers, at least one of whom has property both in and outside the congestion zone.

He points, in particular, to a Quinnipiac University poll taken in the days after Mayor Bloomberg proposed congestion pricing that showed that the public opposed the idea by 56 to 37 percent. Supporters of congestion pricing counter that surveyors neglected to mention that the revenue from the fees—an estimated $380 million annually to start and growing after that—would go toward improving subway and bus service.

Happy Bedfellows Spend Big for Mayor’s Plan