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Congestion Pricing, Stalled

Michael Bloomberg’s all-but-declared presidential campaign suffered a serious setback on Monday, when the New York state legislature refused to sign on to plans to impose congestion pricing on New York City. The mayor’s plan would have charged people to drive into midtown Manhattan between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays. Congestion pricing is a good idea—in principle. There were, however, numerous substantive problems with Bloomberg’s plan, which would not have reduced traffic so much as redistributed it to less well-to-do areas bordering the mid-Manhattan congestion zone. But what may have been its real undoing was the mix of arrogance and managerial incompetence that the mayor brought with him to Albany.

Bloomberg’s proposal, from the start, struck skeptical legislators as a ploy designed to burnish the mayor’s green credentials for a run at the presidency. And the mayor (who spent the days before the decision not lobbying in Albany, but attending the Aspen Festival) never did the groundwork necessary to win approval in the State legislature. When concerns were raised that the subways were already heavily overcrowded and increasingly late—problems sure to be worsened by the plan—Bloomberg dismissed them out of hand. “He does not accept criticism and he views advice as criticism,” said one Senate Democrat. “He had no answers for complaints that weren’t flippant.” “If the mayor came in with one vote, he left with none,” said Senator Kevin S. Parker (D-Brooklyn). So angered were Albany Democrats that they voted as a bloc to defeat the measure.

Bloomberg cites his previous successes in working with the state legislature as part of his leadership portfolio. But in New York, collaboration like this is less impressive than it sounds: the New York City charter gives the mayor the upper hand in (almost) any conflict. This makes the congestion-pricing flop (as well as Bloomberg’s first-term failure to rally support for his plan to build a heavily-subsidized stadium on the west side of Manhattan) all the worse. Bloomberg, famously autocratic as a CEO, apparently suffers from the same problem in political life. His insistence that he’s above politics—a conceit cushioned by his ability to buy political support—hasn’t cut any ice in the cozy confines of Albany. One can only imagine how it would be received in Washington.



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