As anyone who’d bother to read this post knows, South District Councilmember Mickey Kearns and Delaware District Councilmember Mike LoCurto submitted a resolution asking the city’s law department to draft a statute banning some city employees from engaging in politicking. The resolution, they say, is a response to complaints that workers in City Hall are made to carry petitions, donate to campaigns, and canvass for candidates whom the mayor instructs them to support. (I’m having trouble downloading the text, so no link, sorry.) This mini Hatch Act—so called because it is a local version of the federal law—is intended, say Kearns and LoCurto, to protect city employees from being pressured by their superiors to do political work.
Niagara District Councilmember David Rivera and Council President Dave Franczyk signed onto the resolution, and the fifth man in the majority coalition, Lovejoy’s Rich Fontana, voted yea to send the resolution to the legislative committee.
That’s where it ran into attorney Peter Reese, who excoriated the measure for 10 or 15 excruciatingly funny minutes. (I don’t watch City Hall TV myself, or whatever it’s called, because I don’t have cable; if you do, and if such things interest you, try to catch Reese’s performance.)
Reese said the proposed legislation did not represent reform at all, that in fact it was “politics as usual.” He called the proposed legislation anti-union, because as written it could make union activity grounds for dismissal.
Edit: Mike LoCurto tells me I have misunderstood the section of the proposed legislation that led me to write what is now in brackets and italics below: “The exemption would only be for employees who are currently committeemembers,” LoCurto write. “They could remain committeemenmbers for their current two-year term. They would not be permitted to donate to campaigns during that time.”
[He said it was racist, for several reasons, not least of which is this: Current employees would be grandfathered, so they could still politick. Only new employees would be excluded from political activity. If you sort city employees by councilmanic district and race, you’ll find a preponderance of white South Buffalonians. New Latino hires from the Lower West Side? You can’t campaign for a candidate from your community. New African-American hires from Cold Springs? You don’t get to pass petitions for you next door neighbor whose running for Common Council.
White guy from South Buffalo who has had a job since the Griffin administration and never fails to drop $50 into the hat at a Goin’ South beer bash? Keep writing those checks.]
(Later in the hearing, North District Councilmember Joe Golombek pointed out that a ban on City Hall employees politicking would deprive the mayor of some of his ground troops in his re-election bid next year; meantime, county and local state employees, who tend to align with the county chairman, would remain free to campaign for the mayor’s opponent.)
Reese said the legislation had been misnamed: Instead of the “City of Buffalo Employee Protection Act,” it ought to be called the “Minority Exclusion Act of 2008.”
Worst of all, he said, it created a “political superclass.” Only folks like plow drivers, clerks, cashiers, sanitation workers, etc. would be prohibited from politicking. Appointees who serve at the pleasure of the mayor, the comptroller, or the council—immediate staff of the three branches of city government, in other words, the people who are closest to politicians and most overtly political to begin with—would not be covered by this mini Hatch Act.
It compromises First Amendment rights, Reese said. And state courts have already ruled that passing designating petitions for a political candidate is an absolute right of every citizen.
“And these are the things I like about this bill,” Reese said.
(This post continues; click to read more…)