I just got an email from Peter F. Vallone Jr., currently representing New York City’s twenty-second district in the City Council. His is a pretty sweet job, and if term limits weren’t an issue in New York, I’m sure he’d be content to sit on the council indefinitely. Unfortunately, rules are rules, and residents of Astoria, Queens are going to have to elect somebody else this November.
So what was the email about? Vallone is running for Queens Borough President, a largely ceremonial post, and I’m on his mailing list. Every month or so I get some really lame message, (this month’s was, “We’re Rockin’ and Rollin’!”) soliciting support, donations, money, whatever. I normally wouldn’t care at all. I mean, this is what politicians do, try to rally up the people, try to win elections. But in this case I’m really ticked off.
I’ve got something of a personal vendetta against Vallone. You see, back when I was in the Peace Corps, with the end of my service approaching, I was getting kind of anxious about what I was going to do when I got back to the States. I needed a job. I needed something. I started thinking about where I could turn to for some help. I remembered my City Councilman back home in Queens. After some brief research, I found that we both went to the same school, Fordham University.
Why not send him an email? I wrote, explaining my history, our shared connections, and my current service with the US government. “Is there any way you could help me get a job, give me some advice?” was the gist of the message.
The response was a basically, “Dear Rob, Get lost. Vallone,” in not so many words. Actually I remember the email almost exactly. It said something like, “Procuring employment in today’s economic climate is indeed an arduous task. Unfortunately, I can’t help you out.”
OK, thanks, I guess, at least for the response. Whatever. I came back to New York and picked up where I had left off, waiting tables in a restaurant. After a few months of feeling like I wasn’t getting anywhere with a real job search, I sought his advice again, maybe he’d be a little more sympathetic. Specifically, I was looking to land a job as a recruiter with the Peace Corps office in New York. “Hey Councilman,” my email went, “is there any way you could put in a good word for me? Maybe we could meet up and I could talk to you about my service?”
The response: “Procuring employment in today’s economic climate is indeed an arduous task …” Are you serious? I know City Councilman is a busy job, but come on, I’m a constituent, I’m the kind of person you should be wanting to help out here. Instead, somebody at your office is just rattling off these over-worded form letters. I sent back a snarky reply, in which I used the word “arduous” like three or four times. And for a while, that was the last I had heard from the Councilman’s office.
Cut to the past couple months. All of the sudden I start getting regular emails from Vallone telling me all about his plan to run for Queens Borough President. Come to this rally! Get excited! Give me some money! Are you kidding me? You had no trouble brushing me off when I asked for some help, but while you rejected my plea you were simultaneously adding me to your email list? What the hell?
So when I got his most recent email this morning (Rockin’ and a Rollin’!) I just started getting angry. My anger had nowhere to go, so I turned to the Internet. Vallone is famous for being this kind of in your face New York personality. He likes to dress up in leather motorcycling outfits and get his picture taken for the tabloids. During most of the first decade of this century, Vallone wasted much of his time on Quixotic legislation to have New York City secede from the rest of New York State.
What else has he done as an elected official? He’s basically a lackey of City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, herself a lackey of Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Case in point, after Bloomberg’s disastrous response to the blizzards of 2011, Vallone tried to introduce legislation mandating the Mayor to advise the Council when he’d be away on any long distance travel. Bloomberg said no, Quinn said no, Vallone dropped his bill.
Vallone is anti-graffiti. Wow, what a courageous position. He’s pro-motorcycle. He’s pro-public safety. He’s pro-stop-and-frisk, the nefarious NYPD tactic of blatant racial profiling, stopping New Yorkers of color, patting them down for, whatever, for drugs, I don’t know, and then entering their names, guilty or innocent, into a police database. He was against the 9/11 trials being held downtown, a major reason why Guantanamo Bay has yet to be shut down.
And then I did some further reading and it turns out that he doesn’t really have any business being on the City Council in the first place. His dad used to be Speaker of the City Council, but when he was forced to retire, Vallone Jr., in the storied tradition of New York carpetbaggers, quickly moved to Astoria to take the reigns of the campaign machinery and inherit his daddy’s seat, muscling out a bunch of local leaders in the process.
Now Vallone’s term is up. What’s next? Queens Borough President. Besides earning a pay raise from $112,000 a year to $160,000 a year, what would Vallone do as Borough President? Not much. Why? Because the office is almost purely ceremonial. It’s a hundred year old relic of city politicking, a result of the Consolidation of New York City from the nineteenth century. It might have been argued that they still wielded some power and influence as members of New York’s Board of Estimate, but that Board was eliminated in 1990 with all of its remaining power defaulting to the City Council.
Look, I know that this is a pretty petty attack on my part. But I do feel justified. I vote Democratic almost universally, and in the sense of local government, I feel that my allegiance to party is doing Astoria a disservice in terms of fealty to the Vallone brand. You can’t go more than one city block in Astoria without running into the Vallone name. It’s on the side of buildings. Hell, his name is emblazoned on every municipal trashcan in the district. Seriously? What part of New York City doesn’t have trash cans. Where do you get off using these basic amenities as campaign ads?
And I don’t know how often your duties permit you to interact with constituents, but in my case, I would have appreciated a little more than your arduous email. Enough with the Vallones. This exemplifies the worst of machine politics, in the great tradition of Boss Tweed and Tammany Hall. You served on the City Council thanks to your dad. Terrific. And now you want to be Borough President? Come on. Get out of government. Enough. Go back to the private sector. You’re nothing but an empty suit with a million bucks in the bank and a locally famous last name.