Friday, January 09, 2009

power broker

I've been reading The Power Broker since before Christmas, and I'll probably still be reading it when it's time to pick tomatoes. It's massive.

The part I read last night astonished me.

With a single sentence in an amendment to a state law, Robert Moses created a little kingdom within United States territory and made it so he could be its king for his entire life.

He was head of an authority that oversaw the construction of the Triborough Bridge. By law, that authority could only remain in existence until the bonds that paid for its construction were retired. But the bridge was enormously successful, pulling in far more in toll receipts than was expected, and those bonds were due to be paid off in a hurry. Once that happened, Moses would lose his power.

At the time, there were plenty of people who would like to see him lose that power, including the mayor, governor, a slew of state reps and no less than President Roosevelt. Moses knew he had no chance of striking the part of the law that forced the authority to be shut down. So he made that part meaningless with this sentence:
The authority shall have the power from time to time to refund any bonds by the issuance of new bonds, whether the bonds to be refunded have or have not matured, and may issue bonds partly to refund bonds then outstanding and partly for any other corporate purpose.
I had to read it twice. It means that although the authority must cease to exist once its bonds are paid off, it can issue bonds as often as it wants.

And with bonds, it could, because of other vague language in the law, raise hundreds of millions of dollars to build stuff all over the place -- roads all over the New York metro area, parks, even housing. And it had power of eminent domain. And it didn't have to have public hearings. Nor any deference to the democratic process.

It was nothing short of an invasion and take over of part of this country.

With one cryptic sentence buried in the middle of a bill.

Amazing.

3 comments:

DKC said...

This reminds me a little of CIMO which is slowly turning into a multi-headed dragon untouchable except by the most stalwart of slayers. Also four million over budget currently.

CharlieHipHop said...

Yeah, but Moses was defeated (thank doG) by a relatively small group of downtown beatniks when it came to building an expressway through the Village.

Power is a funny thing.

joe said...

Cool. I haven't gotten to that part of the book.