Community Power in a Postreform City: Politics in New York City

By Robert F. Pecorella | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FIVE
Institutionalizing Postreform: Fiscal Control and Decentralization

During the twelve years encompassing Mayor Wagner's final term and Mayor Lindsay's two terms, New York's reform regime was buffeted by increasingly intense centrifugal pressures. Under conditions of fiscal stability, the functional decentralization inherent in reform governance enhanced the regime's political responsiveness as governing coalition interests secured direct access to decision makers unencumbered by any need to accommodate competing concerns. However, in the early 1960s, new service demands began to force an increase in the nature and extent of the reform regime's obligations and consequently in the breadth of its governing coalition. The broader scope of regime activities, not unexpected when local officials vie for power within a changing political environment, began to further weaken reform's centripetal forces. When the continuing political pressures were coupled with economic slowdown in the early 1970s, New York's reform regime faced a crisis.

Wagner's abandonment of the regular Democratic party in 1961 forced him to develop first an electoral and then a governing coalition built around municipal employees. Indeed, Wagner's third term politically codified the influence of organized service providers, already a major factor in many city agencies, within city hall itself. Lindsay's outsider status prompted him to develop a political base responsive to the demands of increasingly organized community-based service recipients. Moreover, when his initial confrontations with municipal unions resulted in several costly strikes and widespread instability, Lindsay also fully embraced service providers' demands. As a consequence, Lindsay's governing coalition expanded to include not only reform's traditional interests but a host of new forces organized territorially around the city ( David and Kantor 1979).

By 1973, therefore, the reform regime had evolved from its initial phase under LaGuardia, through its pluralist stage in the late 1940s and 1950s, to its increasingly fragmented statist phase of the late 1960s. By the early 1970s, fragmentation, economic slowdown, and postreform pressures meant ever- increasing problems for the regime. By the time Abraham Beame, a product of the Brooklyn political organization, was sworn in as New York's 104th mayor, the city was on the verge of crisis. Despite initial efforts to control expenditures,

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