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Local Politics: The Rich Get Richer

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"All politics is local," the late Speaker of the House Tip O'Neil opined famously. And New Yorkers have been getting a large dose of the maxim in recent weeks, one out in the open; one not so obvious at all.

Evidently enjoying all the fanfare, New York City politicians and State Senators Pedro Espada (allegedly from the Bronx) and Hiram Monserrate (really from Queens) are at the heart of the nationally embarrassing, politically frought circus in the New York State Senate. Our highest ranking statewide official, the astoundingly ineffectual Governor David Paterson, has all but faded into irrelevance while demonstrations and back-door meetings in Queens and the Bronx now seem to hold the fate of enormously serious issues in the legislature of the third most populous state in the nation: the right to same-sex marriage; the rights of domestic workers and farm workers; and preservation of rent-regulated housing.

The big winners if none of these bills move forward, or the Senate Republicans really do gain power? In order,

** the religious right
** rich people
** agribusiness
** landlords and real estate developers

Who loses? That's right: the rest of us, the overwhelming majority of New York City residents. Is it any surprise that tax-dodging billionaire Tom Golisano brokered the deal?

LESS WELL KNOWN, for now at least, is this. A local New York City guy is giving out decidedly mixed signals on President Obama's courageous attempt to bring universal health care to Americans. Longtime Representative Charles Rangel of Harlem, now Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee indicated last week that he intended to take a powder on health care reform at this historic juncture. In a meeting with his legislative director, Jon Sheiner, in Washington on Tuesday, single-payer advocates were told that the Congressman plans only to pass "something" this year, rather than support his President. Sheiner ridiculed representatives of organizations with hundreds of thousands of members--Physicians for a National Health Program and Healthcare-NOW! for not playing real politics. "Give us your booze and your women," he sneered, according to one participant. "That's how the game is played." Sheiner went on to accuse President Obama of "sandbagging" the Congressman, setting him up for a failure in the House because the President doesn't have the votes.

And then Friday he, along with Reps. George Miller and Henry Waxman, unveiled the House health care plan that they had been working on "secretly" (according to the New York Times) for months. And it has the public plan option that President Obama thinks is key to significant reform. Go figure.

Since 2006, Rangel's campaign contributions from the pharmaceutical, HMO and health insurance industries have tripled. He's the top recipient of all HMO/Health Care Services contributions in the entire House of Representative, as of 2008, with a total of $123,950. The drug companies ponied up another $81,500.

I have no idea what the Congressman really thinks. The legislative aide seems to enjoy sneering at the very people ready to produce votes for real reform, while his boss works secretly for the President's bill. Maybe Charles Rangel is hearing the voices of New Yorkers more clearly these days. Welcome to the funhouse of New York politics!

Longtime Representative Charles Rangel of Harlem, now Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee indicated last week that he intended to take a powder on health care reform at this historic juncture.