Op-Ed — Council Pay Raise and Populist Anger

NY City Hall _ Council Chambers
 Populist Anger Against Council Pay Raise

by Dennis Saffran

It is obscene that the New York City Council has voted itself a retroactive $36,000 pay raise, to nearly $150,000 a year, when the median household income in the city is $51,000 and the average cop makes about $60,000.  And it is astounding that, at a time of often justified populist anger against the political establishment – on both the left and the right and in the center – the councilmembers are so tone deaf, out of touch, entitled and contemptuous of the people.


I’m happy that Councilmember Paul Vallone was one of the seven dissenters, but his opposition came with a Barry Bonds-size asterisk.  He voted “No” only after the Council rejected his amendment to gut the related ban on outside income, which he is one of only four members affected by! In the 2013 campaign he pledged, in response to criticism by his Democratic primary opponents and me, to close his law practice and be a full-time councilman if elected.  I haven’t publicly criticized Vallone since the election, since I think it can come across as tacky and sour grapes for a losing candidate to attack the winner, and since he can be a moderate voice in a Council full of extremists.  But his willingness to vote himself a big pay raise if he’d also gotten to keep a big chunk of his outside income is a betrayal of both his campaign pledge and the public trust.


I’m also happy that the three Republican council members opposed the bill — but their opposition statement leaves a lot to be desired.  They suggest that they might have voted for the only slightly less obscene $25,000 raise, to $138,000, recommended by the independent Schwartz commission.  We all ran for the job knowing that it paid $112,000, which is already a lot more than the average New Yorker makes.  (And many of these ordinary New Yorkers work longer hours at far more difficult jobs than City Council members, and do so without the psychic income of getting their names in the paper and receiving an endless stream of awards and honors from civic and political groups.)  For those who were elected to then vote themselves a big raise, whether $35,000 or $25,000, in the middle of their terms is repulsive, and the Republican caucus should have said so clearly.

Dennis Saffran is an appellate lawyer and writer and a former NY City Council candidate from Northeast Queens. His writings have appeared in City Journal, NRO, WSJ and the NY Post.

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