Monday, March 14, 2011

I'm Looking To Bump Up The Font Size

Seriously, if I can figure out how to make things a bit more readable, life would be awesome. Or something...

New York Marriage Equality: Where Are They Now?

I promised several posts ago to get further into what the situation currently is in New York for the hopes of marriage equality. New York state politics is bizarre in a highly dysfunctional way, so it's not always easy to keep track of what's going on. Luckily, we can skip right past the Governor, a staunch supporter of marriage rights for same-sex couples, and the Assembly, which has passed similar legislation in the past with large majorities and would do so again. One “feature” of the New York legislature seems to be that as unpopular as it is, incumbents overwhelmingly get reelected.

The Senate is where the difficulty is. While the Assembly has historically been Democrat-dominated, the Senate was in Republican control from 1965–2008. In 2008, the Democrats took control with 32 out of 62 members. Now, the way the New York legislature works is that the leaders of each chamber pretty much control everything. And, in June 2009, a couple of the Democrats, Pedro Espada and Hiram Monserrate, backed the election of a Republican to the presidency of the Senate. After a month or so of weirdness, the original Senate President, Malcolm Smith, was back in the job.

All this was going on at the same time as the debate over a marriage equality bill, which ended up getting pushed back to December. For whatever reason, this bill was something that got a vote that went like the way normal legislatures work, rather than the Senate President just getting his way, in the New York style. Although it seemed unlikely to pass, advocates including then-Governor David Paterson pushed to get a vote on the record. The result was 24 Senators in favor of marriage equality and 38 opposed. Which was a bit worse than expected, but at least we knew where everyone stood.

Looking at that result, all 30 Republicans opposed the bill. Not really any surprises there, although supposedly there were a few who would have signed on had the vote been close. Whoever they are, they're still keeping quiet about it, at least publicly. There were eight Democrats that also voted against the bill. These are the ones I'd like to focus on here. Let's take a look:
  1. Joe Addabo of the 15th District in Queens is still in office. There are reports, or at least hints, that he may currently be undecided on the issue, so if you're a constituent, contact him here and let him know what you think.
  2. Darrel Aubertine of the 48th District including Oswego and Watertown was defeated by Republican Patty Ritchie in November, 2010. She doesn't seem to be a supporter of marriage equality, but the Tea Party types seem to think she's too moderate, so maybe there's hope. She can be reached here.
  3. Ruben Diaz, Sr. of the 32nd District in the Bronx is probably the fiercest opponent of marriage equality in the Senate. A Pentecostal minister, whose son is currently the Bronx Borough President, I'm figuring we can write off any chance of him changing his mind or being voted out.
  4. Shirley Huntley of the 10th District in Queens easily won her primary against pro-equality challenger Lynn Nunes. Not too much to hope for here, although her opposition seems to have mellowed. If you're a constituent, get in touch with her here.
  5. Carl Kruger of the 27th District in Brooklyn is the one inspiring me to write this all. He's still in office, but just the other day turned himself in to federal authorities over charges that he's accepted over $1 million in bribes. Money that was apparently then laundered by Kruger's boyfriend, who's family he lived with in a mansion (which looks exactly like something a Mafia boss would own, because that's what it was originally) outside his district. So, his seat's probably up for grabs pretty soon, as all his colleagues are shocked, shocked at corruption in the New York Legislature.
  6. Hiram Monserrate of the 13th District in Queens managed to get himself kicked out of the Senate a while ago. Perhaps the Democrats were just looking for an excuse after the leadership struggle I talked about above, but his conviction on misdemeanor assault charges for an incident where he slashed his girlfriend's face and dragged her through a building lobby (complete with video) pretty much sealed his fate. His seat was won by marriage equality supporter José Peralta.
  7. George Onorato of the 12th District in Queens retired, and his seat was won by marriage equality supporter Michael Gianaris.
  8. Bill Stachowski of the 58th District in Buffalo and to the south was defeated in the primary by marriage equality supporter Timothy Kennedy.
So, that puts the eight equality opponents in the Democratic party at one expulsion, one primary loss, one retirement, one general election loss, and one facing federal charges, with three remaining.

Of the 24 Democrats that supported marriage equality, five are no longer around. Two of those resulted in no change: Pedro Espada, who was primaried out by the Democratic establishment and replaced with equality supporter Gustavo Rivera, and Eric Schneiderman, who's now the Attorney General, and was replaced by Adriano Espaillat. Then there are the three who lost to Republicans (2010 was a good year for Republicans): a couple Long Islanders, Brian Foley and Craig Johnson lost to Lee Zeldin and Jack Martins, respectively, while in Buffalo Antoine Thompson managed to be too much of a corrupt hack even for the New York Senate and was replaced by Mark Grisanti. Of the three newcomers, Zeldin is definitely opposed to marriage equality, Martins probably is, but I can't find anything on the record to say so (maybe a constituent could contact him and ask), and Mark Grisanti has met with LGBT activists since Lady Gaga called him out, but seems to be unwilling to go farther than civil unions (or maybe he needs more convincing).

Lastly, there are the Republicans who lost. I'm just going to not concern myself with the three that were replaced with other Republicans aside from noting that I can't find any statement from Buffalo-area newcomer Pat Gallivan on the record. He can be contacted here. On the plus side, Tom Morahan of the 38th District in Rockland and Orange Counties was replaced by equality supporter David Carlucci, and Frank Padavan of the 11th District in Queens was replaced by equality supporter Tony Avella.

This is getting pretty long, so I'll try to sum it all up quickly. To pass the Senate, we need 32 votes. Of the 24 votes we got last time, all Democrats, 21 are still there or have been replaced with supporters (there are four Democrats who have split off as Independents recently, but that shouldn't affect anything here). Of the eight Democrats who voted against us last time, three have been replaced with supporters, and one is facing federal charges that could see him replaced before his term is up (not to mention that we all know he's gay now, so supporting anti-gay causes isn't going to help him hide that any longer). And of the 30 Republicans that voted against us, two have been replaced with supporters. That still leaves us at 26–36, meaning we've got to get six opponents to flip.

This is a tough task, but not impossible. Republican Jim Alesi, of the 55th District in Rochester, is now saying that he was “backed into a corner” the last time (I suppose he'd have voted yes if nobody ever called for a vote) and that “you never know where you can find votes in this town.” If you're a Rochester area person, let him know that you want one of those votes to be him. As he hints, and as I've read in several places, there are expected to be a few votes that might come out of the woodwork if the gap gets sufficiently small. In any event, even after the Republican wave of 2010, we are at least two votes closer, and the Democratic caucus (including the four Independents, who were elected as Democrats) has gone from 24–8 to 26–4, increasing pressure on the holdouts there.

Another advantage this time around is having a governor who's actually able to help out some. David Paterson's commitment to the cause can't be faulted, but by the time this came to a vote he was pretty much an ineffective laughingstock. This time, we've got Andrew Cuomo, who recently won decisively over crazy person Carl Paladino, and has a good bit of personal popularity. Cuomo recently met with several of the leading gay rights organizations in New York, as well as legislative leaders on the issue, to work out a strategy. And, while personally an opponent, Senate President Dean Skelos, a Long Island Republican, has promised the Log Cabin Republicans that he will bring the measure to a vote (remember, in New York, the Senate President pretty much determines what gets voted on all by himself). He can be contacted here to encourage him to keep that promise.

Remember, we can get nowhere without the help of wonderful organizations like the following:
Empire State Pride Agenda
Marriage Equality New York
Equality Matters
HRC New York

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Write a Dumb Article About Bike Lanes, and the Internet Will Mock You

Over on the New Yorker's website, John Cassidy wrote a blog post about New York City's bike lanes. Oddly for the New Yorker, he paints the cycling advocates as a cabal of humorless Jacobins in league with the Mayor and his transportation secretary, crushing the freedom of those like himself who drive huge cars. And oddly for an economist, he seems unable to recognize any congestion-related externalities of automobile traffic. So, a number of other bloggers have pointed out various flaws in his piece. And rather than link to the piece in question, I'll just run down the most notable comments (I'm pretty sure you can find a link to Cassidy's post in any of the following).
First up, to provide a rather sarcastic bullet-point summary is Aaron Naparstek's “The New York City Bike Lane Backlash is Completely Irrational.” The meat of Cassidy's argument, such as it is, is probably the part summed up here:
  • Now that the city has striped 200 miles of bike lanes on its 15,000+ miles of roadway, we have clearly reached the point of diminishing returns for bikes and bike lanes. As for cars and car lanes — sky’s the limit. As an economist, I see no end to the number of cars and car lanes we can cram in to New York City.
  • Every New Yorker should be able to drive his Jaguar into Greenwich Village for dinner, as is my pastime, and find convenient, free parking on a public street near the restaurant.
In similar style, the New York Times Magazine's Adam Sternbergh runs through the “requisite rhetorical tactics” should one wish to write one's own anti-bike lane article, including:
Oddly self-contradictory declaration of support: “Generally speaking, I don’t have a problem with this movement; indeed, I support it.”

Invocation of meddling government apparatchiks: “A classic case of regulatory capture by a small faddish minority.”

Invocation of America’s long, sun-dappled love affair with cars: “Since 1989, when I nervously edged out of the Ford showroom on 11th Avenue and 57th Street, the proud leaser of a sporty Thunderbird coupe, I have owned and driven six cars in the city.”
Moving towards more serious criticism, we get to Felix Salmon, a prominent blogger on economics for Reuters starting to explain where Cassidy really gets the basics wrong (emphasis mine):
And you surely know, even if you’re loathe to admit it, that traffic expands to fill the roads available: if you build more road space, you don’t reduce congestion, you just increase the number of cars. And similarly, if you reduce the amount of road space, you don’t increase congestion so much as you reduce the number of private cars. Which is a feature, not a bug.

Cassidy is convinced that the addition of bike lanes has increased the time he spends stuck in traffic, or looking for his beloved free on-street parking.
And that's actually a rather subtle point to grasp in actual practice. If the people laying out our roadways had realized many years ago that adding lanes does very little to relieve congestion in urban areas, we could have done things a lot better. The fact is, when Cassidy is sitting in traffic on Third Ave. in Brooklyn looking at a bike lane that could carry some traffic if it were given to cars, he's wrong about the limiting factor involved. There's apparently no shortage of people willing to endure that traffic for whatever reason, and an extra lane would just get filled with more of them, until everyone was stuck in the same traffic.

Incidentally, this principle is why the Big Dig hasn't relieved as much congestion as was promised originally, and has probably increased congestion on some of the surface streets. Make it easier to get to the North End, you end up with more cars on its little crowded streets. Not that it hasn't been at all successful, by any means. But that's a whole other subject (and, really, one I'm not at all qualified to speak of).

Moving along, I'll note that Paul Krugman over at the New York Times echoes Felix Salmon's opinion of Cassidy's “awesomely self-centered rant.”

The Washington Post's Ezra Klein takes a slightly different approach to pointing out the same thing:
There’s no further room for roads in Manhattan or its environs, but given the city’s comfort with tall buildings, there is room for more people. If each and every one of them decides to buy a car, as Cassidy has, the streets will become essentially impassable. The question, for drivers, is one of survival: How do you persuade the maximum number of New Yorkers not to drive?

The answer seems obvious: You give them other options.
And that's pretty hard to argue with. You simply can't build enough roads for New Yorkers (and everyone else who might be in New York) to drive everywhere they want to go. This is one of the issues that is going to be very important in urban areas all over the US over the next several decades. We are still growing as a country (I think by at least another 40 million in the next fifty years) and becoming more urbanized. Solutions for managing this are going to be hard to come by, and will require work, and trade-offs. Squeezing a couple hundred miles of bike lane into New York City is part of that.

Lastly, we come to Ryan Avent writing for The Economist's “Free Exchange” blog (which is mostly about economics and finance; he has his own blog at “The Bellows” where he mostly covers urban issues, and which I highly recommend). Looking at things “from an economic perspective” he finds that Cassidy's article “really is a doozy of a misstep” for failing to consider negative externalities in a number of areas:
When Mr Cassidy drives, he imposes a small congestion cost on those around him, drivers and cyclists included. Because he and others do not consider this cost, they overuse the roads, creating traffic…

Cars also release several harmful pollutants… It would be possible to account for these pollution externalities, to some extent at least, by taxing them. But at the moment, fuel taxes are too low to cover road maintenance, to say nothing of the costs of automobile pollution…

To give away valuable parking spaces for free is hugely inefficient. It encourages too many people to drive, and it encourages people to stay in free spots longer than the welfare-maximising amount of time…

[I]f drivers paid for all the costs they impose on others, there would be fewer drivers complaining about bike lanes and more people using them.
I don't really have much to add at this point that hasn't been covered in all the above links. There's all sorts of issues that touch on various aspects of what I've said here, and I'd like to get a little bit more in depth on them at some point. Non-automobile transportation in major urban areas is a subject near to my heart, after all.