The only thing that has gotten City Council members more angry than when they found out Christine Quinn’s staff hid millions of dollars in the city budget by assigning it to phony organizations are the reforms she proposed last week to prevent the same thing from happening again.
Quinn proposed Friday to give the executive branch power over $20 million in the speaker’s discretionary fund, which many Council members think gives up some of the relatively little power they have.
Today, Quinn faced an unhappy crowd of City Council members who “universally panned,” her plan, according to Peter Vallone, Jr., who spoke to reporters after leaving the nearly hour-long, closed-door meeting. “If we move forward on this, which probably is a good idea, I think we can improve things, we won’t be giving up power to the executive branch,” he said.
“Did anything that the speaker said change my mind? No,” said City Councilman Jimmy Vacca of the Bronx, who issued a critical statement as the meeting began. “I think that is a very significant consensus,” he told reporters.
Members have criticized Quinn’s handling of this scandal, specifically that she did not communicate with them when she first discovered budget problem months ago, nor did she consult with them before she announced the reforms. Many Council members are also riled up because she did not disclose, after three hours of press conferences, that she had hired two sets of lawyers to protect her from what she has said is an unrelated probe into the Council. (It is that investigation that led her to discovering the fake organizations, she said.)
This crisis comes at a delicate time for Quinn’s leadership. She and the mayor lobbied hard for a controversial vote on congestion pricing, which legislators in Albany never voted on. She also incurred some resentment from the 16-member delegation from Brooklyn, the largest in the Council, when she helped steer a plum patronage job to a Hector Diaz of the Bronx.
She is also gearing up for a 2009 mayoral race, although she has not officially announced.
“I think that it is inevitable that when you run for mayor, and you’re still leading the [legislative] branch, that there is going to be some conflicts,” said John Liu.
When I asked Liu if this could lead to a challenge of Quinn’s leadership, he said there were still lots of questions to be answered: “I think there are more questions after we had this meeting than before.”
He went on, “There is widespread dissatisfaction with how she has handled this item, on top of, ten days earlier, the congestion pricing vote, which in my opinion, was handled unnecessarily on top of three or four other major issues held over the last 18 months which she, again, apologized after the fact for not consulting with members, for members to be reading about it in the papers. This is not a matter of egos and members not being consulted, it’s a matter of a policy decision that affects the ability of the Council.”