…with some officers leaving their posts and union leaders warning darkly about the need for citizens to arm themselves for protection…
Where shall we find that rarest of creatures — the politician who puts reason before rhetoric, and common sense ahead of the ballot box? Why, in New Haven, Connecticut, of course — which, up until now, has been distinguished chiefly as the home of Yale University*, a small liberal arts school of little note or importance, other than the puzzling tendency of graduates to become US presidents, governors, senators and plutocrats.
But of all New Haven’s distinguished residents, past and present, now have a surprising rival: John DeStafano, Jr. Mr. DeStefano, a Democrat, has been mayor of New Haven for seventeen years, and has fought steadfastly for rights and welfare of its largely working class citizens, including — sometimes in particular — for its police, firefighters, and other civic employees. As a result, he enjoys a popularity that no Clinton, Bill or Hillary, or Bush, George H. W. or George W., has ever achieved in their public lives.
But now, confronted by a large municipal deficit, he has made a very, very unpopular decision. He has called for the elimination of 82 public employees, and the next thing he knew, according to The New York Times’s Peter Appelbome:
“…more than 200 police officers — or more than half the force — descended on New Haven’s High Victorianism Gothic City Hall, flashing lights and blaring sirens, blocking a street, protesting a plan to lay off 16 police officers…with some officers leaving their posts and union leaders warning darkly about the need for citizens to arm themselves for protection [emphasis mine].”
Wow. The police are urging citizens to arm themselves? Now, that’s pretty strong stuff. But the police are upset for a good reason — they have a pretty sweet deal, says Applebome:
“…the average officer leaves the job at age 49 with an average pension of $74,400, and where pensions equate almost to a full salary for life plus subsequent cost-of-living adjustments.”
This “was particularly awkward for Mr. DeStefano” to complain about, because, as Applebome points out, “the contracts he now characterizes as unaffordable are ones he negotiated.”
Still, the police are sending a very strange message to the citizens of New Haven — “If you dare fire any of us, we’ll just leave you to deal the criminals.” For all the rhetoric we have heard about the sanctity of collective bargaining where public services are concerned, this attitude puts the whole argument in fairly sharp relief.
Nor is the mayor distracted by the usual attempt to substitute straw men for real problems:
“I had the head of Afscme say to me, after saying this is a revenue problem, that a disproportionate share of wealth in the United States is concentrated in 1 percent of the nation’s population,” Mr. DeStefano said, referring to the municipal employees’ union. “And I said, you’re right. If there’s a picket line, I’ll go on it. But that’s not what we’re here to discuss today. There is something we can do about ensuring that we have responsible, sensible benefits that are affordable to the taxpayers of New Haven. That we can fix. The 1 percent, that’s above my pay grade.”
Attempting to dismiss bloated union pensions and sweetheart deals for public employees by crying crocodile tears about disproportionate wealth won’t work any more. The only thing that will work is common sense, which Mr. DeStefano seems to have in adequate supply. And common sense says that even cities have to meet their payrolls. When they can’t, then they have to cut back. Borrowing on the credit of their children won’t work any more.
* The author has been advised by counsel that he should disclose that he graduated from a competitor institution, located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and that some conflict of interest may therefore require admission. The author disagrees, and asserts that no meaningful comparability or competition exists, other than an annual football contest of arcane and antique character, bearing little or no resemblance to those events broadcast on national television between schools that form the amateur leagues of the NFL. Too much? Okay.