I'm finally reading The Ungovernable City, the biography of Mayor Lindsay's tenure. Though he ran as a Republican, Lindsay was a progressive reformer in the model of New York's liberal party. Like the Liberals of the time, Lindsay had a vision of tearing down the old, inefficient machine and building a vast new system that ran on the highest of principles. This made him a stand-out hero in the House of Representatives, but it didn't make him particularly effective even there. And it was a disaster when he tried to run the nation's largest city, filled with fractious interest groups who didn't share his particular set of principles. Arguably, politics is the art of getting a deal when you can't agree on the matter of principles.
I may blog more about this later, but I was particularly struck by this passage:
Quill's name has become permanently associated with the 1966 transit strike, but it was arguably Mayor Wagner who made it a possibility when he signed Executive Order 49 into law on March 31, 1958. The act gave municipal unions the right of collective bargaining. Alex Rose, the vice chairman and effective head of the Liberal Party, president of the United Hatters, Cap and Millinery International Union, and a Wagner adviser, had urged Wagner to sign the bill, which became known as the" Little Wagner Act" (a reference to federal labor legislation introduced by his father, Senator Robert F. Wagner, in 1935). Toward the end of his life, though, Rose came to regret doing so because "the city is not an employer in the traditional sense. Profits do not exist. Workers are not extracting a share of the profits but rather a share of taxes. Unlike bargaining in the private sector, municipal collective bargaining is part of the political rather than the adversary process."
Mayor Wagner made it work because he had strong political ties to the unions; he co-opted the collective bargaining process to deliver results that were politically palatable to the taxpayers. But this was undone by two things. First, Wagner's wife died, and the city grew more fractious; with his popularity waning and his private life in turmoil, Wagner declined to run for another turn. And second, the transit union grew more diverse. "Red Mike" Quill had been able to deliver his union for Wagner when it was composed largely of Irish Catholics like himself. But by the mid-sixties, he had growing numbers of black and Puerto Rican members who did not feel the same bonds with the union establishment; moreover, since the minority members of the union disproportionately had low wage jobs, they resented the deals that kept them, they felt, underpaid relative to other city workers, and indeed others in the transit system.