They marched to Wall Street to protest issues as varied as the war in Afghanistan, bonuses for bankers and budget cuts. But many of them directed their unhappiness in the same direction: at Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.
To the thousands of protesters who inundated Lower Manhattan on Thursday, New York’s billionaire mayor seemed a fitting symbol of much that they found wrong with society, including the wide gap between rich and poor and the call to lay off teachers.
Teachers wore black shirts reading, “ ‘The Education Mayor’ Really?” Others called Mr. Bloomberg out of touch. One man carried a sign comparing him to Mr. Burns, the cold-blooded businessman from “The Simpsons.”
Mr. Bloomberg’s popularity has suffered in his third term, and public criticism has escalated since last Friday, when he proposed laying off 5,400 city workers, the majority of them teachers, to balance the city’s budget.
Mr. Bloomberg, speaking with reporters before the protests on Thursday, blamed Albany for the city’s budget cuts, which he attributed to a reduction in state aid. The mayor suggested that the protesters would have been wiser to direct their energy at pressuring the governor and the Legislature to allocate more money for the city.
“If they thought we should have more money, why don’t they go up to Albany and fight for it?” he said. “We’ve been up there and we haven’t really got a lot of help.”
There he goes again, blaming Albany for budget cuts when it is he who has chosen to a) spend $550 million on technology upgrades to the school system even as he lays off teachers to save $377 million b) refuses to raise ANY taxes on rich people or corporations even though many (like General Electric, for example) pay little to no tax at all c) has a surplus which he would rather use to pay next year's debt service than pay this year's bills d) continues to hand out no-bid contracts to all his cronies - like Rupert Murdoch and Joel Klein getting a $4.5 million extension on Wireless Generation's School of One contract, a contract which Klein himself signed originally when he was chancellor of the city schools.
He could change any or all of those things I named above and have more money to avoid layoffs - but he has chosen not to.
Meanwhile, more and more scandals come down the pike showing an absurd amount of crime being perpetrated on taxpayers by the outside consultants Bloomberg hires.
The latest outrage was reported by Juan Gonzalez in the NY Daily News this morning and involves a top DOE official who resigned after retracting some testimony she made in a corruption inquiry of a company she was supposed to be conducting oversight on.
How much has been stolen in this latest scandal? Dunno, but it is looks like a lot - the contract she had oversight over was for $43 million. Here again are the details of this burgeoning scandal:
Judith Hederman, the $168,000-a-year executive director of the DOE's division of financial operations, submitted her resignation on May 4, DOE officials confirmed.
That was the day the Daily News reported that Richard Condon, the schools' special commissioner of investigation, had filed court papers saying a "high-level" executive at the DOE with "oversight" over the $43 million contract of Florida-based Future Technology Associates, had a "personal relationship" with one of the owners of FTA.
FTA, which has not been charged with wrongdoing, is under investigation for "potential corruption and conflict of interest," the court papers say.
An affidavit submitted by Condon's deputy, Gerald Conroy, as part of a court dispute over the agency's subpoena power, did not identify the DOE official. A source at the DOE has since confirmed it was Hederman.
The affidavit said the unnamed official, who was interviewed under oath on April 14, initially denied having a personal relationship with either of FTA's owners, Tamer Sevintuna or Jonathan Krohe.
Four days after that interview, the official's lawyer called Condon's office and retracted the original denial of a personal relationship.
Hederman worked at the DOE since 1995. For nearly two years, until last November, she supervised the FTA contract.
She did not respond to phone calls and email requests in the past week for comments. Sevintuna and Krohe have repeatedly declined to respond to questions.
For more than a year, Condon's office has been probing a web of companies that Sevintuna and Krohe secretly controlled and utilized as subcontractors for themselves, including two that supplied consultants in Turkey and India to service the DOE computer system remotely.
FTA's contract bars the company from subcontracting or using outside consultants, and officials say the firm never told them about the practice.
Some of the Turkish workers, The News has found, were paid as little as $3,370 a month by a separate firm Sevintuna and Krohe owned in Turkey, yet FTA billed the DOE $22,400 a month for the labor of those workers. At least six were still on the DOE payroll as recently as March.
Nearly two years ago, The News began asking DOE officials about the unusual aspects of the agency's contract with FTA.
For example, the firm has never had any established offices, even though it has supplied as many as 80 consultants at a time to the DOE and has received close to $100 million from the school system over the past decade.
FTA headquarters in Jacksonville, Fla., is a mailbox in a UPS store. So is a second address in Brooklyn.
Another FTA subcontractor, MERA consulting, which received $14 million from the DOE contract, was wholly owned by Krohe. MERA's main address was another mailbox in the same Florida UPS store.
Only weeks after Condon's investigators began asking questions about MERA, Krohe dissolved the company.
Much of this appears to have happened while Hederman was supervising the contract. Hederman is gone, but the probe continues.
Couple this scandal with the CityTime fraud and the Williard Lanham DOE computer consultant fraud and a pattern emerges - the outside consultants are stealing the city blind, they're doing it with the help of some of the city vendors (like Verizon and IBM in the Lanham case) or with the help of the very city officials who are supposed to have oversight over them (like Joel Bondy in the CityTime scandal and Judith Hederman in the FTA scandal.)
Major money is going missing, yet Bloomberg, rather than take responsibility for his failures and his refusal to conduct decent oversight of the outside contracts, points a finger at Albany and at protesters as the crux of the budget problems.
But I'm glad to see that nobody's buying the garbage he's trying to sell:
The protests on Thursday were backed by some of the city’s biggest unions, including the United Federation of Teachers and 1199 S.E.I.U., which have been highly critical of the mayor.
“Who protects the kids?” shouted Michael Mulgrew, president of the teachers’ union, on a stage near City Hall Park. “Who’s going to fight the mayor?”
As the crowd meandered down Broadway, Karriem Akbar, 41, a vendor from Harlem, joined in. “The spirit just overtook me,” Mr. Akbar said. “Bloomberg is a multibillionaire, and he is making these cuts? We should help the poor and tax the rich.”
Donna Chin, a literacy coach at Public School 184 in Manhattan, said the prospect of teacher layoffs had made it difficult for educators at her school to focus. “This is usually a time when we can reflect and plan for the next year, but right now there is too much uncertainty,” Ms. Chin said.
The budget proposed by Mr. Bloomberg still faces debate in the City Council, which must approve the city’s annual spending plan. Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker, has pledged to try to prevent teacher layoffs, but has not said how she would balance the budget without them.
Many of the demonstrators called for the state to impose on high-income New Yorkers a surcharge sometimes referred to as a millionaire’s tax. But state leaders, including Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, have rejected the idea. A previous elevated state income tax rate for high earners expired in December.
Is Cuomo and his refusal to raise taxes on his wealthy Wall Street and corporate cronies part of this budget problem?
Of course - but so is Mayor Bloomberg and his refusal to be held accountable for the mess that is his government and the waste and fraud that seem to transpire in it every day.