The First Lady of New York City: An Interview with Diana Taylor

Everyone has a theory about why things are bad when they are–and as a corollary, how they got that way.

(Nikola Tamindzic)

Everyone has a theory about why things are bad when they are–and as a corollary, how they got that way. Ms. Taylor thinks the system itself can’t work in its current incarnation. And not just some piece of the system; the entirety of democracy.

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“I put this in the context of [the notion that] democracy is the worst system except for all the others. I don’t know what you replace it with and how you fix this. But it does sort of go to the lowest common denominator.”

And the primary system is one of the culprits, according to Ms. Taylor. Take the districts in the House of Representatives, for example.  “Most of them are completely gerrymandered to be safe districts for whatever party’s in control. And when you have something like that with the primary system, you have people [winning] the primary in the majority party of that district.”

“There are not very many people who go out and vote in primaries,” she added. “So to get elected in a particular district, you have to appeal to the five people who vote in the primary. So you get elected, and you get into office and you have zero incentive to do anything that does not fit with [the agenda of] those five people who elected you, who are the wacko right-wing or the wacko-left wing depending on what kind of district you’re coming from—so you have no ability really to go to the center because you will not get re-elected if you go the center.”

Re-election incentives have always been a big part of New York City political discourse. Especially with regard Ms. Taylor’s boyfriend, whose three-term mayorship has been the source of much controversy over the years.

But she’s changed her mind on that one.  “I used to be completely for term limits,” she said. “I thought it was a great thing. But basically what happens with term limits is that the staff takes on huge power because they’re the ones who have the institutional power. I’m not sure that term limits is a particularly good thing.”

The key, she said, was changing how districting worked. “I think that non-partisan primaries would be great. I think that would make a lot more sense. Because then you have the whole slate and you don’t have people who’ve run on the total right and total left having to have one set of ideas during the primary and then move to the center for the re-election.”

Along those lines, the current field of Republican presidential candidates didn’t seem too promising. A ripple of irritation passed her expression. “I don’t really like any of them very much. A lot of them scare me… a lot.”

“I’ve never met [Michele Bachmann]. I have read a lot about her and I’m not particularly impressed by what I’ve read.”

(Nikola Tamindzic)

As for the other Republican beauty queen-cum-politico: “I have met [Sarah Palin] once, just very briefly. If I were her, the best thing she could do is keep the buzz going and then not run. And she’s doing just fine doing that.”

She was even less sanguine about Obama. “I think that he’s a very intelligent man,” she said carefully. “And he has a lot to learn.”

Her voice took on a sharper edge. “For somebody’s who’s going to come in and be the great unifier—you know, that hopey-changey stuff—it hasn’t worked very well. The country is more divided now than it’s ever been. And he doesn’t appreciate other people and what they do. “

Having given this some thought, she had a three-pronged list of his biggest mistakes. “There are probably more,” she said, but here were three.  He wasn’t supporting business, Ms. Taylor said. “He should be a champion for this country and he’s not. Because that’s where the jobs are going to come from. They’re not going to come from government; they’re going to come from the private sector.” The second: Obamacare. He basically told Congress, ‘you know what? I want a health care bill, do something.”

“The last time I checked, the president was supposed to sit down and figure out what he wanted and then get Congress to go along with it. And we got a mess. And exactly the same thing with financial regulation and regulatory reform.” This was number three. “And we have a mess.”

And Ms. Taylor would know a bit about the banks, having worked in both the public and private arenas of banking for decades. Economic uncertainty was making it difficult to get anything done, she maintained. “I mean, Dodd Frank has like 400 things that need to be done—you know, changes, and the regulators have to go and promulgate rules and regulations around those things—and they can’t do it. There’s so much uncertainty. And whoever has created a situation now where they’re basically saying to the banks, well, we want you to lend money, but you can’t lend money to anybody who actually needs it!”

Here she became more animated. This was far more interesting to her than Ralph Lauren dresses. “And this whole business of the FHFA suing all the banks around Fannie and Freddie; it’s crazy!” Inasmuch as Mr. Taylor would ever be inclined to pound her fist on a table to make a point, she seemed on the verge of it. “I’ve never—I mean, it just makes no sense at all to me!”

The First Lady of New York City: An Interview with Diana Taylor