With the advent of the silly season in the political campaign season, there are any number of allegations and recriminations floating around the various campaigns at the State, County and Local level. The real issue is sky-high property taxes. Peter Parente has been singularly focused on this issue -- keeping down taxes by ending giveaways to developers starting with Capelli Enterprises and Forest City/Ratner. Jared Rice has talked in generalities and appears to view it as his right to be elected to City Council.
The talk in platitudes ended on Wednesday night. Jared Rice has repeatedly dismissed concerns over generous tax abatements doled out by his fellow Democrats over the past two decades but until recently avoided specifics on what he would do if elected. At the candidate forum at the East End Civic Association, the two candidates for the unexpired term of James Stowe for the New Rochelle City Council District 3 seat, were asked about Property Taxes by, of all people, Roxy Stowe. Stowe, the current District 3 Council Member, cited the property tax issue as the biggest issue facing residents, especially seniors who are losing their homes. Parente, a homeowner, made an impassioned response. Rice, who has never owned a home and never paid property taxes, dismissed Parente's response has somehow not genuine and claimed to offer a "real" answer to the property tax issue -- a 4 Point Plan to keep property taxes in check and avoid layoffs in New Rochelle.
It was the first time I had heard of this plan and listened with great interest.
At about the 3:45 mark in the video, Rice offers his four points:
1. Freeze municipal salaries and benefits.
2. Provide incentives for businesses.
3. Apply for federal grants.
4. Become more energy efficient.
Let me be the first (apparently) to explain something to Mr. Rice about his plan to freeze salaries. The City Council does not negotiate with the unions or determine salaries, that is the job of the City Manager. Even if Mr. Rice were involved in union negotiations, he would not be able to unilaterally freeze salaries and benefits. We have something called "collective bargaining" in this state which does not permit such a thing. In fact, to do so would be illegal and result in a lawsuit which the city would lose.
Providing "incentives" for business is part of why the City's taxes are so high already -- we have provided tens of millions in tax abatements for businesses that have failed to lure the oft-promised retail tenants and the sales tax they would bring. Incentives in the form of financial aid or lower taxes will increase taxes for everyone else so how is this point going to keep taxes in check? It will not. Mr. Rice points to Avalon and argues that if the developer had not been given tens of millions of dollars in abatements 15 years ago there would be nothing but an empty lot at that location today. Really? This is as good an indication as any of where Rice will stand on upcoming votes like LeCount Place and Echo Bay Development -- if the City does not bribe developers they will not build. There are far more buildings in New Rochelle than those receiving tax abatements -- does Mr. Rice ever wonder how those buildings got built? The idea that Avalon Bay and only Avalon Bay could have developed the Avalon 1 parcel is ridiculous. Had the City refused to give the abatements or even structured a better deal (clawbacks anyone?) there would always have been other developers willing to build.
Applying for grant money? In case he has not picked up a newspaper in the past two years -- the State is broke and the federal government is awash in debt. Regardless, the city already applies for what grant money is out there. Money, by the way, which comes from other taxes paid by New Rochelle residents to other taxing authorities. There is no "free" grant money; it is just rearranging money all of which comes from taxpayers by definition.
The last point in Mr. Rice's plan is beyond absurd. While touting his concern for "green' initiatives, Rice stated that he had not read the Mayor's GreeNR plan. The GreeNR plan is a terrible idea but it is a comprehensive 20 year vision for New Rochelle which is actively under contemplation by the City Council. Rice says it encompasses one of they key points of his "plan" and yet he has not read it and apparently knows nothing about it. It was published in April 2010. In all that time, he has never once bothered to sit down and read a plan that is at the foundation of his own four point plan? If he had watched any City Council meetings where this GreeNR plan was discussed he would know that even the Mayor and the Sustainability Coordinator have acknowledged that there is very little in savings available to the City through energy efficiency because the City owns few buildings and relatively few vehicles.
Rice's Four Point Plan is worse than empty rhetoric. He is proposing one idea that is illegal (violating New York State Labor Laws) and another without even having read his party's own plan (GreeNR). Meanwhile, in previous community appearances, Mr. Rice has talked about ending "mass incarceration" of African-Americans, solving problems like "nutrition" and serving as mentors and role models for young people.
Ending mass incarceration in New Rochelle sounds like a solution in search of a problem but if Mr. Rice really believes that black people are being rounded up en masse and unfairly sentenced to prison by the New Rochelle justice system perhaps he should call his mom who is, after all, a judge in New Rochelle and is presumably complicit in any imagined scheme to wrongly imprison African-Americans.
Mr. Rice talks quite often about young people -- helping them, mentoring them and providing opportunities for them. He talks about it so much you would think he is running for the position of Youth Bureau Director. In listening to him talk, he never seems to provide any examples of what he himself has done in the community to help disadvantaged youth, or anyone else for that matter. Mostly what we seem to hear from Mr. Rice is that he is entitled to be elected to represent District 3 because the district was drawn as a black-opportunity district and he is black. He said this again the other night at the East End meeting. Is this Mr. Rice's vision for New Rochelle where Black people represent Black districts, Latinos represent Latino districts and White people represent white districts? This seems like a bleak vision and the polar opposite of bringing people together. What happened to having the best man or woman for the job?
Most distressingly, Rice has been unable to explain how he would be anything other than a "yes man" for Mayor Bramson on the Council. He has defended the current and former Democratic administrations against every and any criticism and failed to present a single example where there is some daylight between him and the Mayor. For all of his talk about "change", it has become clear that a vote for Rice is a vote for the same status quo that got the City into its current financial mess in the first place.
The irony of Rice's embrace of the Idoni/Bramson legacy is palpable. Rice got the nomination by doing an end-around on the Democratic establishment. That seemed to offer hope that Rice would be a different kind of Democrat, ready to take on his own party and place the needs of his constituents over the needs of the North End clique that runs New Rochelle today. What he has shown so far is that he will vote with the Mayor on his plans to build half a dozen more Avalon-sized buildings in downtown, will support a GreeNR plan that will increase costs for homeowners and create new regulatory burdens on businesses and do nothing to lower taxes in New Rochelle.
There has only been one REAL idea in this entire campaign. Peter Parente has said, if elected, he would meet with ShopRite and Stop and Shop to explore setting up a shuttle service to run from the community center at 95 Lincoln Avenue to either or both of these grocery stores. This would address a long-standing need and has the benefit of making good business sense for the grocery chains. No one expects a City Council member to bring about world peace; simple, realistic ideas, well executed are what New Rochelle needs. Rice talks in the clouds; Parente has feet firmly planted on the ground.
The reality is that Mr. Rice has had every advantage in this campaign -- he is black in a black opportunity district, he is a Democrat in a district with a five to one registration advantage for Democrats and he has access to the deep-pockets of Noam Bramson behind which stand the even deeper pockets of Nita Lowey -- and has failed to connect with voters. He has squandered his advantage by running a vacuous campaign predicated on the bizarre notion that because he thinks highly of himself he deserves a seat at the Council table.
Perhaps the strangest thing to happen in the campaign so far was his response to a Parente supporter about a book featured on Rice's web page -- the 48 Laws of Power. Playing off the title of a book by former Education Secretary Bill Bennett, one reviewer called the 48 Laws of Power an "Anti-Book of Virtues". Business Week said the book "adds up to a grim portrait of a ruthless, duplicitous universe". Another book review said the laws boil down to being "selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible."
When asked to explain why he was endorsing such a book, Rice said the 48 Laws of Power was a "good book" with "a lot of information in it". Rice tried to dismiss the implied criticism behind the question by saying that people should not judge him by what he says. For a candidate with no track record of public service, that makes judging him impossible. However Rice wants to be judged, the fact is he thought highly enough of this disturbing book to feature it on his web page, one of three out of the thousands of books he says he has read.
While Mr. Parente has talked about reaching across the political aisle to get things done, Rice espouses an ideology of "Crush your enemy totally". Where Parente has laid out some simple, clear ideas, Mr. Rice obfuscates which would be in keeping with Law 3, "Conceal your intentions". Where Parente is widely known in New Rochelle for rolling up his sleeves and bringing the community together for 9/11 vigils, Veterans Day ceremonies, Memorial Day parades and much more, Rice endorses a book which advises how to "Get others to do the work for you, but always take the credit". Where Parente is widely admired and has friends from one end of New Rochelle to the other, from all walks of life, Rice has praise for a book that treats friendship as a tool to exploit for personal advantage (Law 2 "Never put too much trust in friends, learn how to use enemies", Law 14 "Pose as a friend, work as a spy").
Other parts of the book sound like a grifter's guide to success: Law 12 "Use selective honesty and generosity to disarm your victim", Law 21 "Play a sucker to catch a sucker", Law 33 "Discover each man's thumbscrew". Perhaps the most disturbing is Law 17 "Keep others in suspended terror: cultivate an air of unpredictability".
In his campaign, Rice appears to have particularly embraced Law 25 "Re-create yourself" (ignore my web page from two years ago and read my new web page that I created for the campaign, he told voters on Wednesday) and Law 45 "Preach the need for change, but never reform too much at Once" (as noted above, the City could save $30,000 by just giving Bramson 2 votes on Council and eliminating District 3).
At the candidate forum, Rice sought to change the subject and distance himself from his self-selected association with the 48 Laws of Power, by vilifying gangster rappers.
"The bad image today is the gangster rap music, the guns, the shoot 'em up" said Rice. "That's the image that's bad for these youth today, what I'm about is positive...I'm about education, I'm about the future, I'm about family."
That sounds great but Rice's web page features a quote from one of the most successful and well-known gangsta rappers, 50 Cent, an artist whose songs glorify guns, violence, drugs, alcohol, sex and a hedonistic, materialistic lifestyle. His first major success as a recording artist came with the album Get Rich or Die Tryin' followed up by The Massacre. One of his more popular songs is High All The Time. The lyrics to many songs by 50 cent are so graphic that I will not publish them here. Just Google for "50 Cent Lyrics" if you want to know more.
No one is entitled to elective office yet Mr. Rice has sought to build an entire campaign around this premise. I've met Jared Rice, spoken to him a number of times and do not think he is a bad person. I actually found myself liking him. But he is very young, has shown no real commitment to the community and cannot seem to give a clear picture of who he is or what he stands for. Maybe some day, if he puts in some time, builds relationships in the community and connects his words with his deeds, he can be a good candidate for office in New Rochelle. In the meantime voters should look elsewhere and so should he. The City Council just added three new seats to the board of the Youth Bureau. That might be a good place for him to start.
Come November 2nd, voters would do well to remember that while Jared Rice was still at the Albert Leonard Middle School, Peter Parente was leading a combat unit into battle in Operation Desert Storm. While Rice was in college down in Delaware, Peter Parente was putting his blood, sweat and tears into resurrecting a venerable but dormant New Rochelle tradition, the Memorial Day parade -- today the single biggest event in New Rochelle, one which truly does bring people from all over the City together.
With Peter Parente voters know what they are going to go get -- a loyal and dedicated New Rochellian who believes election to City Council is an honor granted by his fellow District 3 residents not an obligation owed to him because he employed tactics gleaned from an amoral treatise on political power plays. With Jared Rice, a man without a track record who does not want to be judged by what he says, voters have no idea what they are getting. That he was clever enough to pull the wool over Mayor Bramson's eye and secure a nomination does not along qualify him for office. My advice to voters: Take a look at Jared as a candidate in about ten years. In the meantime, vote for Peter Parente on Tuesday.