By Stephen Stirling
The state Assembly Democrats, led by Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), held a closed door conference in Albany Monday for the third time in a week, ultimately deciding that Bloomberg's plan to charge drivers $8 to drive into Manhattan below 60th Street during business hours did not have enough support to bring to a vote.Most, if not all, members of the Queens Assembly delegation were against the plan, which would have brought $354 million in federal funds from Washington to improve transit around the city if approved by April 7.State Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) said members of the Assembly Democratic majority were opposed to the plan by as much as 4-1 and the approach Bloomberg took with the City Council last week played a large role in Albany's decision to turn the plan down.”What happened in the Council was a major setback for the mayor,” Lancman said. “And Albany is not an Athenian democracy. For Albany to be disgusted with what happened in the City Council takes a lot.”The City Council voted in favor of congestion pricing 30-20 on March 31 after Bloomberg, a Republican turned independent, and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) spent weeks lobbying furiously for the plan. In the days following the vote, several members of the Council, including Councilmen James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) and Tony Avella (D-Bayside), accused Bloomberg of offering political favors to capture votes for his proposal. Bloomberg raised eyebrows when he recently told a breakfast for congestion pricing supporters that he would back Councilman Hiram Monserrate (D-East Elmhurst), who supported the plan, if he ran against state Sen. John Sabini (D-Jackson Heights) this year. “I think the very fact that people had to be bribed says it all,” Avella said. “But once you're outside the city, you're just the mayor of any city, and I don't think [Bloomberg's] ever gotten that.”Last week Avella filed a Freedom of Information request for details of any negotiations that occurred between Bloomberg, Quinn and members of the Council. City Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing), one of five Queens Council members to vote for the plan, said its death was disappointing but was the result of bad politics.”A high-and-almighty approach supplanted what should have been a collaborative process. The worst part of the administration's approach was that the City Council was pawned off in the process,” said Liu, chairman of the Transportation Committee.Liu and other Council members wanted a tentative agreement with the Assembly on congestion pricing before the Council took a vote.”It was a sheer miscalculation for anyone to think that having the Council vote prematurely would somehow put pressure upon the state Legislature to follow suit,” he said. “In fact, it was a sheer miscalculation that was more like sticking a thumb in their eye and in the end, many Council members were needlessly thrown under the bus.”Bloomberg fired back at the Assembly, saying the decision not to bring the measures to a vote showed a lack of leadership and courage. “If that wasn't shameful enough, it takes a special type of cowardice for elected officials to refuse to stand up and vote their conscience – on an issue that has been debated and amended significantly to resolve many outstanding issues, for more than a year,” Bloomberg said in a statement.The plan's death means Queens will lose out on a number of transit improvements, including the creation of seven new bus routes in Queens and additional buses on 13 existing bus routes headed toward Manhattan.Borough politicians said the need to address congestion in the city remains dire, but Avella said he is not optimistic that Bloomberg will be as open to lobbying for a plan that is not his own.”I have my ideas, and I think my colleagues will come up with some incredible ideas, too,” Avella said. “Unfortunately, I think he's just going to lick his wounds.”Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e-mail at Sstirling@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.