Hey Twentysomethings: My Clueless Daughters Will Not Be Voting in the Mayoral Primary, Will You?

What happens when you cross two carefree college students in their late teens and early 20s with the New York City Board of Elections? The loss of the ability to vote, in something as rare in New York City as the reappearance of as the 17-year cicada – a real election with a real choice. From the time they came from college in May, I pestered my daughters to send in a new absentee ballot form, but like most Americans that age they didn’t want to do something unless and until they had to. And when they finally got around to looking at the absentee ballot form, they decided they didn’t have to do anything at all. The form allows you to put in the dates when you will be away. They filled out the form last year, voted in last year’s election, and put in as the dates that they would be away all four years of college. That’s it, they decided, they were covered and didn’t need to fill out the form again. “That’s what the form says Dad,” followed by my least favorite phrase. “It’s fine.”

I checked and that is in fact what the form says. And there is nothing online at the NYC Board of Elections that says you have to fill out a separate absentee ballot every year. Though I’m sure they didn’t bother to check the actual election law, I just did, and it turns out they may have been technically right. TITLE IV, 8–400, 3, (c), i. “if the applicant expects to be absent from such county or city for a duration covering more than one election and seeks an absentee ballot for each election, he or she shall state the dates when he or she expects to begin and end such absence.”

Or maybe not. IV, 8–400, 3, (d) “Such application shall permit the applicant to apply for an absentee ballot for either a primary election or the general election in any year (emphasis mine) and for those persons who will be continuously absent from their county of residence during the period between the fall primary election and the general election in any year to apply for ballots for both such elections in such year.”

But regardless of what the law says, and even though I assume there are retired public employees in Florida who get absentee ballots every year, after filling out a form once and saying that they planned to be absent from New York City the rest of their lives, I knew damn well they wouldn’t be getting those ballots. If they really wanted to vote, they should have been smart enough to realize that the powers that be don’t want them to, and made damn sure by filling out the form again, required or not. As I told them. “It’s fine?” Hardly. And not just with regard to this election.

So today I called them up and asked who they had voted for, fully expecting to hear their shocked response. I’m sure some folks at the Board of Elections are going to have a laugh over this.

Now my daughters aren’t the least responsible young people in New York City. They are probably close to being the most responsible young people in New York City. So my guess is that all over New York City, there are people in their 20s who didn’t get around to registering to vote. Or who will forget to show up on Tuesday, or not go because they are too busy with things that are too important to them, and they are too important. (The same is true of people in their 30s, and people in their 40s, and people in their early 50s).

But I guarantee you Generation Greed will be voting. Some egalitarian members of that generation made a lot of noise about “peace, love and understanding” back in the 1960s, but the majority of its members have been acting out and voting their self interest ever since. Every generation thereafter has been worse off, the availability of I-phones excepted. Many of those in the public employee unions – and more importantly government retirees — will be voting too. They got a series of retroactive pension enhancements, followed by cuts in pay and benefits for new hires and service cuts for the general public, and want to be better off still relative to the vast majority of people who don’t matter, and a future that doesn’t matter because many of them live in the suburbs and most expect to be in Florida. As for the rich, the financial sector, and the real estate sector, they voted long ago — with their wallets. And they are expecting to be repaid as well.

I called my generation, the back half of the baby boom, and Gen X after us, Generation Apathy. Those our age knew we had been made the losers, and instead of doing something about it most of us just ignored our institutions and concerned ourselves with ourselves individually alone. We’re going to find out how good an idea that was. Occupy Wall Street to the contrary, it appears that Generation Apathy has been followed by Generation Apathy II, and they are even more screwed than Generation Apathy I. Perhaps young people have always been always clueless and self-absorbed, but back then they had the older generations looking out for them instead of taking advantage of them. Not now.

Not only do those who took the better deal for themselves in Generation Greed, and the shrinking number of people to grabbed a better deal for themselves in subsequent generations, expect more and more goodies in every economic upturn. And to be exempted from all sacrifices in every economic downturn. And they expect their elected officials and their media to rationalize for them the reason that they are the first generation of Americans who will leave those coming after worse off than they were, so they don’t have to feel bad about it. As in the movie. Kids are resilient. It’s fine.

When I ran for (or rather against) the New York State legislature in 2004, I put the following in my manifesto. “The State of New York represents feudalism, American style. Under capitalism, you get what you earn, at least in theory. Those who believe that people need an incentive to work and innovate can agree with that. Under socialism, you get what you need, at least in theory. Those who believe that we are all part of one human family can agree with that. But over time, when you have the same group of people in power, both capitalism and socialism degenerate into feudalism, under which the privileged expect to continue to get what they have been getting, and perhaps a little more, whether they need it or not, deserve it or not. For those who have real needs, and who produce real earnings, it's just tough luck. The feudalism of unearned privilege explains much about the state of the State of New York, where all past deals are set in stone.”

Well, my stand against feudalism didn’t get very far, did it? In fact, feudalism has been nationalized and infected the city government, with those inside the room grabbing more and leaving those outside the room increasingly worse off, with less. Something that seems certain to get worse in the next election.

Particularly if Bill Thompson is elected. If there is one candidate who is certain to protect unearned privilege and provide the beneficiaries with deceptive rationalizations as others – generally worse off — become worse off still, he’s the man. When I first noted something he said, he was proposing more tax breaks for senior citizens, who already pay far less than working taxpayers with identical incomes.

Later, to pay for the pension increases for those in his generation that evidently Bill Thompson though were just fine, he decided to shift a lot of the pension money to hedge funds, were Wall Streeters get paid even more to rip off investors. 

Finally, as Comptroller Thompson stood by quietly while New York City teachers of his generation were allowed to retire five years earlier in 2008, and again while future teachers were screwed and less education money was available to be spent on actual education to pay for it. In the hopes of getting the endorsement of the United Federation of Teachers, which he later received.

As it happens, one of my daughters once expressed an interest in being a teacher. I explained to here that once the UFT got through robbing the children and their own future members to benefit those cashing in and moving out, she would end up underpaid (despite high spending on teachers in general) in failing schools (despite high school spending). Fortunately, that time she listened to me, helped by the budget cuts that rolled in while she was at a NYC high school.

After re-wrecking the schools (the cost not yet fully being felt because it is being hidden and deferreed, which is why the UFT is so desperate to get its cronies in as Mayor and Comptroller) and screwing its younger members to benefit those going to Florida, the UFT also sought to take advantage of the apathy of the loser generations. Its leader Mike Mulgrew pushed through a change to increase the voting weight of retirees relative to those actually still teaching. According to GothamSchools the retirees outvoted the active teachers in the last union elections. Add in the “not my job” grifters, and the retirees plus the not my job grifters probably outvoted those busting their ass to do their best for New York City children by a wide margin. No wonder the unions do what they do. And now the dues of those who did not vote are being spent to put out propaganda denying what that union has done. 

Speaking of propaganda, where has the mainstream media, with its dwindling Generation Greed readers, been while the future was being sold? Here is a recent editorial in the New York Times.

Come January, a new mayor of New York will take office with the city facing a bad budget forecast: cloudy, chilly, with a chance of apocalypse,” said the Times editorial board. “It would be good for voters at least to hear answers to tough questions. How are you going to solve the budget puzzle, starting with filling the $2 billion hole that Mr. Bloomberg left behind, and the $8 billion the unions are demanding? What services will you cut? What taxes will you raise?

The next mayor will have a chance to repair Mr. Bloomberg’s abysmal labor relations, engaging the unions in a tough-but-honest conversation. He or she can start doing the same with the rest of us, right away. That will require saying things that are risky and unpleasant. But that’s the difference between campaigning and governing. The sooner we hear the truth, the better off we’ll all be.

Where was that tough but honest conversation in the pages of the New York Times over the past 12 years? When did I see the front-page headlines asserting that their mayor, Mayor Bloomberg, was selling off the future of New York City to benefit their older readers and his own career in the short run? (And he was my last hope not to do this sort of thing, which they all do). When did the Times editorial board raise generational equity as an issue? When did the Times say that as a result of what their Mayor, and their generation, has done the next Mayor will be the next Mayor Beame? Did I miss something?

The recession is over. The Great Recession may have been the worst in 80 years for the nation as a whole, but it was the mildest since the early 1980s in New York City. Stock prices are near record high. New York City employment is at a record high. Real estate prices are back in a bubble.

State income taxes have been increased. Federal income taxes have been increased. Federal payroll taxes have been increased. A new MTA payroll tax has been added. New York City property taxes have been increased. Services have been cut. The take home pay and retirement benefits of younger and future NYC public employees have been cut to a level far below what the Times’ Generation Greed readers and Thompsons (and Lhota’s) Generation Greed voters had been promised to begin with, let alone what they later retroactively received. That Tier IV passed with the enthusiastic endorsement of the New York Times – and the behind the scenes endorsement of the public employee unions. And despite all that we have a fiscal disaster? Why, and who benefitted?

We are at the point where every generation is becoming worse off than the one before, in family life, in the workplace, and now in public services and benefits. And trying to stand up to it, trying to even talk about it, provides nothing but frustration. Because younger generations are too clueless and self absorbed to stand up for themselves, and too lazy to pay attention. And the politicians whose main ideology is the advancement of their own careers, to the point where they will not be affected by the general deterioration of our social institutions, know this damn well.

When I ran against the state legislature, I asked the following questions, among others. “Why are the credit ratings of New York City and State so low? Why are debts so high? Why did the City and State borrow so much in the middle of the 1990s boom, with New York's state and local debts rising from $133 billion to in 1994 to $178 billion in 2000? If New York City had a $2 billion surplus for several years in the 1990s, why didn't it have $8 billion in the bank instead nothing when the recession arrived? Why did the 2000-04 MTA capital plan include so much debt, even as the Second Avenue Subway and other major improvements were just in the planning stage? How will the improvements be built now that so much has already been borrowed? How will the state's infrastructure even be maintained with all that debt already on the books?”

“The State of New York claimed that the big pension deal it passed in 2000 would be ‘free,’ since the City and State pension funds were over-funded. Then why is the City of New York being forced to drastically increase its pension contributions, at a moment of financial crisis, leaving absolutely no money for wage increases? Why does the state impose benefit pension increases for public employees with seniority in booms, resulting in wage and benefit reductions for new public employees-the ones actually providing services now and in the future–again and again?”

And I made the following promise, among others. “As your representative, I would take the difficult road of standing up for generational equity. Yes, we need to do right by the seniors, but we need to do right by someone other than the seniors as well. I would oppose additional debt, and demand that the ongoing renewal of our infrastructure continue, paid for out of current revenues. I would reject attempts to defer paying for public employee pension liabilities from the past into our future. I would insist on health care for the uninsured before any additional benefits are added for those over age 65. I would tell the truth about the future of Social Security. And, unlike the city's representatives in Albany over the past 30 years, I would not vote for state budget that denied New York City's children a fair share of state school aid. Even if offered a grant to provide a select few with taxpayer-funded trips to Atlantic City in exchange.”

Well, that didn’t attract much interest. Certainly the MSM didn’t want to write about the questions I gave up a job to ask. But that was the campaign of an angry Don Quixote who managed to sneak onto the ballot on a minor party line. This is a campaign for Mayor, one of perhaps two offices that people in this city bother to pay attention to. Are younger people going to bother to vote? And if not, do they deserve what their elders keep doing to them? Mario Cuomo, the former Governor, had a short-lived radio show after he was voted out. I tuned in once and he was admonishing young non-voters. “If you don’t participate in the system it is going to hurt you” he said. That was 18 years go. And during those 18 years, the future that younger generations are going to live in has been sold out continuously.