Volume 74, Number 9 | June 30 - July 6, 2004

Talking Point

Trash-talking: Ticket blitz is making me a grouch

By Wendy Fried

On a night not long ago, sometime between the dog’s last walk and the morning newspaper delivery, Mayor Bloomberg paid me a visit to ask for help. He didn’t wake me, but tacked a note to the door.

The note, like many of the mayor’s communications, lacked the personal touch. It said I owed him $25 for breaking the recycling rules by putting out my newspapers in a shopping bag. Much to my surprise, a bunch of my neighbors had similar missives stuck to their doors that same morning. This was something new. In the past, the punishment for recycling blunders had been simple and elegant: The offending materials were left on the sidewalk, a wordless and often pungent reproach to their owners.

The ticket frenzy is no longer news, precisely because it’s become part of life. Just in the past month, the mayor left me more requests for assistance in the form of $65 parking tickets, each for just barely overstaying my welcome at a meter. I was guilty as charged. But let’s be frank — parking in this city used to be a game of chance in which one could occasionally beat the house. When did the N.Y.P.D. develop the uncanny ability to hone in on an expired meter faster than Nazguls can locate the Ring of Power? A friend of mine even received a ticket for staying past the one-hour limit at a failed meter, a rule that for years she had assumed was mythical.

The odd thing is that up till now I’ve been eager to help the mayor. I didn’t vote for him because I couldn’t bring myself to pull the lever for a Republican, not even a pretend Republican. So I voted for that other guy, but he annoyed the bejesus out of me and secretly I was pleased when Mr. Bloomberg won.

I was happy to make amends for my vote early in the mayor’s term, when I got a call from one of those New York Times/CBS News “how’s he doing” polls. Not terribly well, the poll results said, but I was one of the few who rated his performance favorably. And when he raised my property taxes last year, I helped him by paying the bill promptly and trying not to complain. It was refreshing, really, to see an elected official face up to a problem and take measures, however unpleasant, to deal with it. If I felt like blaming anyone besides Osama bin Laden for the city’s financial woes, it might have been Mr. Bloomberg’s predecessor. But if Mr. Bloomberg is glue, Mr. Giuliani is indisputably rubber. (Even in the small Tennessee town where my in-laws live, and where for decades the only nod to Mr. Giuliani’s ethnic group has been the Eye-talian spaghetti served at Pope’s Cafe, the ex-mayor remains a few rungs below the Almighty, adultery notwithstanding.)

The current mayor has had only one political strong suit: his stubborn insistence on serving the bad news straight up, which seems a fitting compliment to the intelligence of New Yorkers. So it’s disappointing that he continues to leave his entreaties on doorsteps and car windshields all over town while insisting, despite statistical evidence to the contrary, that the “ticket blitz” is a figment of our imagination. Did we imagine that just a few weeks ago he nixed a bill limiting the hours of the day during which hapless citizens could be fined for sanitation mishaps — only to have the City Council unanimously override his veto?

Granted, if the ticketing is really covert taxation, at least it’s progressive, since landlords and car owners can presumably afford to write checks more easily than many other city residents. But it’s the sneakiness that stings. When an appointment runs late and we dash breathlessly to the meter, fingers crossed, only to find another of those little orange notes flapping in the breeze, we wonder why our tough-love mayor has chosen such a cowardly method of communication. Maybe we’d be more forgiving if other events weren’t making us somewhat testy. It’s no fun constantly sharing our town with the Big Orange — the threat level, that is, not the Tennessee football team.

So, Mr. Mayor, if you don’t like the way we’ve gift-wrapped our garbage, feel free to leave it on the sidewalk. But if you need a few extra bucks for our beleaguered city, please do us a favor. Just knock on the door and ask, politely.


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