Monday, June 30, 2008

A Post-Minarik World -- What's Next?

Maggie Brooks made a gutsy, decisive move in securing the resignation of Monroe County Republican Party chairman Steve Minarik.  It has proven already to be a resounding public relations success.

First, it separates Brooks from the public defender appointment and the community college's presidential search, each of which a hostile press spun into a public-relations negative for County Republicans -- although not for Brooks herself.  The fact that she was not associated with either situation, either in reality or in the public mind, makes her dismissal of Minarik that much more of a public relations win:   without saying so outright, she conveyed the message: "Minarik was responsible for these things and now I've gotten rid of Minarik."

In fact, we think Brooks's public relations success is so helpful to her and her party that it even wipes away negative residue from the court loss over the FAIR plan, an initiative the public did associate with Brooks, because of her public advocacy for the Plan.

However, beyond this very positive short-term fallout for Brooks, we wonder what comes next.   We're not talking about who will be the new Republican Chairman.  Brooks has underscored her role as the dominant figure in the Republican Party.  Whoever the new Chairman may be, that person's job will be to support the County Executive in her policy initiatives and decisions.   We're talking about what Brooks will do, now unencumbered by a party chairman with whom, we have to believe, she had serious differences over policy matters and approaches.

If Brooks intends to follow an approach suggested in the statement about Minarik's departure, she may be in for a serious disappointment.

"I was elected on a platform of collaboration and working together for positive change in our community, and I need party leadership that reflects that."

The problem for Brooks is that, while the Republican Party can change its chairman, the Monroe County Democratic Party will not change the relentless focus on its principal goal:   to force Maggie Brooks to raise the property tax, and to force Republican County Legislators to vote for it.

Consider some events of recent weeks:
• Assemblyman and Monroe County Democratic Chairman Joe Morelle spikes State Assembly passage of a no-brainer:   a bill making it easier for taxpayers to pay back property taxes, by increasing the number of installmemts.  Doing that would have caused the business engaged by the County to collect back taxes to have to pay an additional $1million fee (from the business, not from county taxpayers) to Monroe County each year.

That benefit to the county was the bill's undoing.   No way Morelle was going to put Maggie Brooks $1 million further away from having to raise property taxes to balance the budget.

• County Legislature Democrats demanded for years "a seat at the table" in planning for solutions to the budget crisis.   A month ago they were given one -- and refused to sit down!   Instead they demanded the County Executive first present a budget plan of her own.   Had she done so, Democrats would only have used it to criticize her.   They know exactly what the budget options are:   raise taxes or cut popular services.   If Brooks tried to work with the Legislative Democrats, at every step the conditions for their participation would require "just one more thing."

The reality is that Democrats in the County Legislature will oppose any proposal to ameliorate the budget gap if they think it would actually work, since it only would postpone the day when Brooks would be forced to raise property taxes as the only way out.  If, in the end, Brooks and the Legislature are forced to do just that, the Democrats will claim that they never did enough to avoid it.

"Collaboration" and "working together" require more than one side wanting to do it.   Democrats have a goal -- force Brooks to raise the property tax.   They eagerly will engage in public happy-talk about "cooperation," but nothing -- nothing -- will deter them in pursuit of their goal.

In particular, if Brooks imagines that she can win Democratic cooperation for a sales tax increase as an alternative to a property tax hike, it's not going to happen.   She is sophisticated enough that she must know this.

Nevertheless, there's political popularity in "everyone just getting along."  If Brooks can wrap the County Republican Party in that mantle, that she herself has worn so well, that could go a long way to helping Republicans hold on to County government, even if the budget might require some tough solutions.  By distancing herself from Steve Minarik so definitively, Brooks now has set the stage for this to happen.

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