Tuesday, January 8, 2013

When Is a Democrat Not a Democrat?

The myth of collegiality and cooperation among Hudson Democrats was pretty much dispelled last night at the organizational meeting of the Common Council. In Council president Don Moore's beginning of a new year statement, which has usually been a "state of the city" address, the list of the past year's accomplishments came far toward the end and seemed short compared with the recitation of goals for the year ahead. What got the greatest attention was something that is usually pro forma at the organizational meeting of a legislative body: adopting Robert's Rules of Order.

Moore introduced the topic in this way:
I want to refresh our understanding of the central purposes of Robert's Rules of Order, which we affirm, as we do every year. As a Council, we have accumulated a number of accomplishments over the first year of our two-year session, but they have come at times at some cost in the decorum and order that Robert's Rules calls us to observe. We are adult enough to acknowledge that the fingers can be pointed in all directions. I don't want to finger-point; I just want to point back to the reason why a deliberative assembly, in Robert's terms, a legislative body, must avoid to the maximum extent possible, personal references in debate, extended harangues, and most certainly eruption of profanity.
He went on to read passages from Robert's Rules, one of them being this:
When a question is pending, a member can condemn the nature or likely consequences of the proposed measure in strong terms, but he or she must avoid personalities, and under no circumstances can he or she attack or question the motives of another member. . . . 
The Council's ability to abide by these rules and Moore's to maintain a "sustained level of decorum" was soon tested.

Among the usual business of an organization meeting is announcing the majority and minority leaders. Naming a minority leader is something of a challenge with this Council, since every one of them was elected as a Democrat. Only Alderman David Marston (First Ward), who ran and was elected as a Democrat, is not actually registered as a Democrat. Some thought this made him the logical choice last year for minority leader, but instead the Council apparently chose to apply a different definition of minority and name Alderman Ohrine Stewart (Fourth Ward), an African American woman, as the minority leader. This year, a different solution is being sought.

Alderman John Friedman (Third Ward) announced that, although he would remain a member of the Democratic Party, he was withdrawing from the Democratic Caucus, and he and aldermen Marston, Nick Haddad (First Ward), and maybe also Chris Wagoner (Third Ward), who was absent from last night's meeting, were forming a new caucus. The new caucus would be a minority caucus and therefore wanted to name the minority leader. He cited the December 19 vote on the anti-fracking law as the reason for this action, alleging that "the motives of the opposition were political."

There was a flurry of response from the "opposition." Alderman Abdus Miah (Second Ward) seemed to want to explain his problems with the proposed law. Alderman Wanda Pertilla (Second Ward) told the renegades, "You've been caucusing all along. Thank you for making it public." Alderman Cappy Pierro (Fifth Ward) explained that "our salt is bought on state bid" and said he had "a real problem when there are comments that we are dumping contaminants on the street--it's up to the State of New York."

Further discussion of law to ban toxic waste from hydrofracking from the city was postponed to the informal meeting, which followed immediately after, and Gossips will take up the issue again in a later post. No decision seemed to be made about whether or not the new self-proclaimed minority caucus would be allowed to name a new minority leader, and it was not clear if Pierro will continue as majority leader.

The full text of Moore's statement is available here.

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