Politicians, Ugly Buildings, and Whores: Should Voters Accept Autocratic Leadership? What Price Democracy?

Politicians, ugly buildings and whores,
all get respect if they last long enough.
Clyde Haberman, quoting Noah Cross in Chinatown
 
Remember that school governance issue? It dominated the news: panels, workshops, ad hoc organizations, article after article, constant speculation and detailed reports … poof! wiped off the pages and blogs by the presidential election, a roller coaster stock market, predictions of the Great Depression or worse, and, oh yes, that term limits “thing.”
 
The Mayor averred that the coming fiscal debacle required his experience and skills, and, coincidentally, just before the City Council vote on term limits. Guess what? The NY Times reports that the City is not running a deficit, but is on target, so, why did the Mayor “predict” a fiscal abyss? Could it be politics?
 
Now that the Mayor is “on the road” to a third term he has laid out his plans for the economic revival of the city.
 
On the State level the fiscal crisis appears to be far more serious, maybe just leadership style on the part of Paterson and Bloomberg? The Governor predicts a staggering $47 billion deficit by 2011-2012 and, testifying before a Congressional committee, asked for substantial federal aid.
 
New York State government has a real live bi-cameral legislature. Laws require the approval of both houses, legislators from all over the fifty thousand square miles of New York State. That tired, old Madisonian tradition of  … Ambition must be made to counteract ambition.  From Niagara Falls to the Finger Lakes, from Montauk to the Adirondacks, from Buffalo to Brownsville, the competing interests of all New Yorkers must be addressed in the messy, and democratic creation of policies to address the state’s economic woes.
 
 On the city level Bloomberg disdains that “messy” give and take that we call democracy. The same is true for the education scene in New York City and Washington DC. The involvement of elected officials, (other than the Mayor) parents, communities, and, especially unions, are antithetical to running a school system.
 
The Atlantic Monthly cogently lays out the Rhee (and Bloomberg/Klein) views on education and school management.
 

To Rhee and her fellow reformers, schools can, by themselves, produce successful students. To her opponents (and they include liberals and conservatives), schools are not enough, however “successful” their students. They are an important, but hardly the only, means with which children are inculcated with the skills and mores of their community.

 It is to answer a basic question about the nature of urban governance, a question about two visions of big-city management. In one, city politics is a vibrant, messy, democratic exercise, in which both the process and the results have value. In the other, city politics is only a prelude, the way to install a technocratic elite that can carry out reforms in relative isolation from the give-and-take of city life. Rhee’s tenure will answer whether these two positions are mutually exclusive—and, if they are, whether public-school reform is even possible.

 

“Technocratic elitism” is both arrogant and dismissive of the electorate that government is supposed to serve. But, then again, what if it “works?” What if the Bloomberg regency does protect the City from the winds of depression and, in spite of their arrogance schools seem to get better? Is the “danger of autocracy” worse than the cure? Will the public, voters, express their wraith at the polls at their next opportunity?

 

Will the politicians aka whores of today gain respect tomorrow? 

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