Do City Council members deserve a raise?

By Bob Friedrich

This is what a classified ad would look like for the position of New York City Council member:

Part-Time Job Available. No Experience Necessary. Flexible Hours—Attendance Optional. Free Parking. Unlimited Vacation and Personal Time. Compensation: $112,000 per annum, plus bonuses, pension and health care.

Sound good? To sweeten the deal, New York City Council members are attempting to give themselves a 71 percent pay increase, to $191,500 per year, for their part-time job. Since their astronomical salary-hike plan has been exposed, they have been back-pedaling “tirelessly”—a word they often use on campaign literature to describe their work effort. Now that their hands have been caught in the cookie jar, they are striving to draw attention away from this subject.

Make no mistake: The fix is in. Council members will vote themselves an increase. It may not be the $192,000 they seek, but it will be substantially higher than their current $112,000 windfall. After all, this is the “progressive” city council that takes pride in lambasting the 1 percent’ers, forgetting that they are part of the club. As the old bromide goes, “Do as we say, Not as we do.”

Does the City Council merit such a large pay increase and does the proposed increase comport with percentage increases of other city workers? Let’s take a look at some of their recent actions, which many New Yorkers might feel call into question even their current compensation of $112,000. The proposal to gift themselves a whopping 71 percent increase should be contrasted with the 1 percent increase recently awarded to the NYPD. The Council wants to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour, which works out to $31,200 annually for unskilled entry-level labor. This is not very far below the $44,500 starting salary of NYC police officers, who risk their lives for us every day.

Does this City Council take actions to protect our safety? Their recent “ban the box” regulation severely restricts an employer’s right to ask job applicants about prior criminal arrest records. “Ban the box” refers to the box on employment forms that asks if an applicant has ever been arrested or convicted of a crime. This newly enacted restriction on employers will make families and seniors more vulnerable in their communities.

As president of Glen Oaks Village, I face this: Recently hired maintenance personnel—whose jobs require them to enter residential apartments—can no longer be asked about prior arrests or criminal records. Previously, a criminal background query would have been part of the employment vetting process that residential housing co-ops and other businesses utilize, but the City Council has now made this unlawful.

In another action recently taken by the City Council, landlords are prohibited from inquiring about prospective tenants’ credit scores prior to subletting an apartment. This will make it more difficult for landlords to properly screen new tenants making monthly rent collections much more uncertain.

This City Council is reportedly considering decriminalizing public urination, turnstile-jumping and other nuisance and public-health infractions. As a civic leader, I can assure you that there is no clamoring from civic groups to “remove criminal penalties” for these quality-of-life offenses in our neighborhoods.

And if Council member Rory Lancman has his way we will soon be using taxpayer funds to bail out low-level offenders so they can be immediately returned to the same streets from which police officers had just removed them.

Lastly, the City Council’s track record for malfeasance and corruption is well known. Two examples: Council member Ruben Wills, who was arrested again last year, and Council member Dan Halloran, who is now serving a 10-year prison sentence.

Councilmembers seek to justify their coveted pay increase by agreeing to make “sacrifices” such as foregoing outside income and ending the generous “lulus” that are bestowed upon committee chairs. But let’s be honest here: Councilmembers never should have been permitted to double-dip with outside income in the first place and should never have authorized the bonus payment of lulus. It is just more business as usual for the City Council when two unjustifiable perks become bargaining chips in the self‑dealing negotiations for an unprecedented pay hike.

The average New Yorker’s salary is less than half of what a city Council member earns. Adding in the perks and benefits, Council members’ part-time jobs are one of the city’s most lucrative. Council members seeking to profiteer from a 71 percent pay hike while most city residents tighten their belts and live within their means is shameful. Council members should ask the public—their employers—if they deserve a raise. I can assure you that seniors who have received a zero percent increase in their Social Security this year would have a lot to say. Perhaps they will in the next election.

Bob Friedrich is a Civic Leader and recent candidate for the New York City Council.

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