Battle of the Titans — Bloomberg v. Morgenthau

The mayor is not big on checks and balances

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Some of us thought that, with the retirement of Robert Morgenthau as District Attorney of New York after 34  years, his problems with Mayor Michael Bloomberg would end.

But that was not to be. When Morgenthau -- a public servant who enjoys respect from coast to coast -- was appointed by a judge to scrutinize how the city was complying with a long pending lawsuit that seeks to boost the number of minority members in the city's firefighter force, Bloomberg's underlings started yammering. They said Morgenthau couldn't be fair because he had a long-running feud with Bloomberg.  

Finally, after nearly a week of contentious talk by Bloomberg's minions, Morgenthau stepped down, advising the judge that he was not biased against the city's viewpoint but suggesting it would be in the court's best interest to appoint a special master who is not resented by either party.

Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis was furious. He denounced the Bloomberg administration for deliberately delaying the proceedings and added: "The court is confronted with the odious specter of a city government taking every possible step to perpetuate a fundamental, decades old injustice against its own citizens."

Judge Garaufis added: "New York City is not a fiefdom.It is a representative democracy."

He has appointed former U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White to oversee the city's efforts to appoint more minority fire fighters.

City attorneys were happy with the judge's decision. They think Mary Jo White is the right person to deal with the issues -- and they deny any effort to disqualify Morgenthau so the case would be delayed.

Yet the record of the relationship between Morgenthau and Bloomberg is illuminating. They have been feuding over money for months. It seems that the former prosecutor put funds confiscated in settlements in special bank accounts. Bloomberg insisted: "This is the public's money and you just can't have two sets of books."

Morgenthau said the accounts were well known to the administration -- and he has even written checks to the city from them. He believes that an independent prosecutor should spend this money as he sees fit.

Morgenthau, a naval officer who survived two torpedo attacks in World War II, apparently isn't fazed by this controversy. He stepped out of the picture because he didn't want to risk the equivalant of torpedo attacks from City Hall.
Dick Dadey of the reform organization, Citizens Union, told me: "This rivalry is a distraction from the need to provided independent oversight of the compliance by the city administration with the judge's decision. In this situation, it's important that the Mayor has a monitor he respects and Mary Jo White fits the bill. The Mayor's people should have respected the position of the judge -- but the important thing is to get the process going and the White appointment should accomplish that."

This nation functions under a system of checks and balances.

Michael Bloomberg has ascended to his high position by dint of hard work and many achievements. But, when it comes to checks and balances, he seems to have a different philosophy.  "It's my way or the highway!" is the Bloomberg doctrine and New York has to live with it for a while.              

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