Lloyd's Op-Eds

Newsday - November 14

November 14, 2013

Tags: Newsday

New York City's next mayor, Bill de Blasio, and his wife, Chirlane McCray, deserve credit for candor. Just as when Bill Clinton told the nation in 1992 it would "get two for the price of one," de Blasio and McCray have openly declared their interchangeability.

In an interview in The New York Times, McCray revealed that she interviews all prospective high-level appointees and edits key speeches, and that policy meetings are planned around her schedule. Without apparent wink or giggle, McCray recounted that she threatened divorce if de Blasio voted to elect, as City Council speaker, a member she considered a "slime ball." De Blasio complied.

Asked whether she considered playing a less assertive role, McCray responded, "It's not who I am . . . who Bill and I have been as a couple. . . . We've always been partners." Clear and fair enough, but it raises two important questions. Are married government co-chief executives a good thing? And what about this particular twosome?

The Clintons' co-presidency, which McCray points to as exemplary, suggests the answer to the first is no. Hillary Clinton's unelected co-stewardship of the country went badly, both procedurally and substantively. Constant criticism and suspicion surrounded her de facto appointment of many top Clinton administration officials. Reverberations from her Arkansas law practice burdened the administration throughout. She badly fumbled the job formally entrusted to her in the first week of her husband's presidency: heading the Task Force on National Healthcare Reform. Then there were the distractions of "Travelgate" and "Whitewater."

McCray describes herself as a poet, not a politically connected lawyer. So she will arrive at Gracie Mansion with far less career baggage than Hillary Clinton brought to the White House. But the certainty of her centrality in a de Blasio administration makes her views very important. One view is that she doesn't much like the 12 Bloomberg years nor, apparently, Mayor Michael Bloomberg himself.

During Bloomberg's tenure, violent crime and especially murder rates steadily plummeted. New York City experienced a construction boom of unprecedented scope. Public schools and school choice improved. The long-neglected outer boroughs -- especially Brooklyn, where de Blasio and McCray raised their children, but even the Bronx -- experienced a renaissance. The whole city is safer, healthier and boasts an economy that weathered the deep recession far better than the state and nation.

Although many lifelong city residents see hope and progress in the resurrection of once drug-infested neighborhoods -- such as Manhattan's Alphabet City, and Greenpoint, Brooklyn -- McCray bemoans that "we are losing our communities." She points to "progressive capitals" such as Cleveland "doing exciting new things." According to McCray, Bloomberg bears much of the blame for the Big Apple falling behind such places: "Our leader was a billionaire, I think it contributed to it."

It is expected -- and not necessarily bad -- that spouses exert influence behind the scenes while publicly performing useful work. In recent years, the role of first spouse has expanded. One of the minor tragedies of the Eliot Spitzer gubernatorial fiasco, which I was part of as the governor's senior policy adviser, was that Silda Wall Spitzer didn't get to finish the great work she had skillfully begun on children's nutrition, health and education. But a distinction must be made between the elected official and the spouse. The Clinton legacy includes a cautionary tale demonstrating that governance, already difficult, can become much more so when that distinction is blurred or ignored.

I voted for Bill de Blasio -- and Bill de Blasio only. I didn't sign up for a duo. And I'm certainly not interested in an unelected co-mayor who comes in despairing over the amazing progress my city has made over the past dozen years.

Regular contributor to the Sunday "Perspectives" (Editorial) section of Hearst's Albany Times Union with op-eds on government, law and public policy. Read and comment at timesunion.com and on this website. "The Weekender" social commentary column appears on ccSCOOP.com, Columbia County's Home on the Web, and past columns are archived on this website under the Op-Ed button.
Nonfiction
A book about the ground-breaking case that shook the business and legal worlds to their very cores, New York-based law firm Constantine & Partners sought to end a devastating credit monopoly that personally touched millions of consumers. Its efforts culminated in the largest federal antitrust settlement in U.S. history.
Journal of the Plague Year
The March 10, 2008 disclosure that Governor Eliot Spitzer patronized prostitutes shocked admirers around the world who had celebrated him as the "Sheriff of Wall Street" and a likely future president.  Ironically, the author's disillusionment with Spitzer had begun to disappear 15 hours earlier, when Spitzer confessed to him what others would soon learn in a media storm of unprecedented intensity.  Journal of the Plague Year is Constantine's intimate account of the 17 calamitous months preceding the March 2008 revelation and the futile 61 hour battle waged by the author and the governor's wife to persuade Spitzer not to resign, but to instead fulfill promises made to the voters who had elected him in a record landslide.

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