My Kingdom For A Parking Space


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If mayoral candidate Fernando Ferrer's "pay to pray" gambit is a sign of things to come, the Democratic Party learned nothing from the electoral catastrophe of 2004. Rather than putting forth a smart, progressive vision to meet the big challenges facing New York City in the coming term, Ferrer is pandering to the city's most conservative voters. It's the same strategy that got John Kerry and the Democrats killed in 2004. In a town where Democrats outnumber Republicans by a ratio of five to one-where Democrats almost have to try to lose-it's a strategy that might just give the Republicans a fourth consecutive term in the mayor's office.

Speaking at an East Harlem church a couple of weeks ago, Ferrer attacked Republican mayor Michael Bloomberg's 2002 decision to eliminate free Sunday parking meters. "I believe that there shouldn't be a tax on worshipping," Ferrer told the crowd of mostly European tourists. "People shouldn't have to pay to pray. People shouldn't have to feed the meter to worship." The snappy "pay to pray" soundbite combined with the fact that the church was called the Greater Highway Deliverance Temple ensured massive media coverage, and Ferrer's first major policy proposal of the 2005 election was thus launched.

It raises intriguing questions. If churchgoers shouldn't have to feed parking meters on Sunday, what about Jews on Saturday? Perhaps they should have to pay for parking as a form of punishment since Jews aren't supposed to drive on the Sabbath anyway. Then you've got the Muslim Sabbath on Friday and the fact that Muslims pray five times a day. Should these faithful ever have to pay for parking? New York City's alternate-side parking calendar already gives breaks for holidays as obscure as Idul-Adha, Orthodox Holy Thursday and Shemini Atzereth. Once you reinstate free Sunday meters in front of churches, what's going to stop the city's Zoroastrians and Hare Krishna from asking for their own special breaks? More important, since the majority of New Yorkers don't own a car at all, what kind of break do they get? Why should you have to pay subway fare on your way to yoga class?

As Mayor Bloomberg quickly noted, parking meters actually serve a vital role. On busy commercial streets, meters help ensure a turnover of parking spots. They prevent people from monopolizing parking spaces for an entire weekend. Mom-and-pop businesses depend on this. In fact, since Sunday is now much more a day of commerce than a day of rest, meters make it much more likely that motorized churchgoers will be able to find a parking space at all.

Most important, parking fees deliver much-needed cash to city coffers. In 2004 the city collected $91 million from single-space meters, according to the Times. Of that, $7 million came from Sunday meters and another $5 million from Sunday parking tickets. These parking fees are a fair and well-deserved tax on the city's costly, privileged, motoring minority. Space is one of New York City's most valuable and limited resources. Just because you chose to buy a Chevy Avalanche doesn't mean we have to allow you to freely annex and occupy our street space for its storage.

New York City economist and activist Charlie Komanoff of BridgeTolls.org is an advocate of developing a congestion-pricing tolling system for New York City. Urban tolling has been enormously successful in London. In addition to delivering environmental and quality-of-life benefits, congestion pricing, according to Komanoff's calculations, could raise as much as $700 million annually. He is extremely disappointed in the opening salvo of the Ferrer campaign. "If Freddy Ferrer won't stand up for civic and constitutional principles, let alone a driver's self-interest in finding a parking space, what hope is there that he'll stand up for the public good on an issue like East River bridge tolls?"

John Kerry and the Democrats blew the 2004 elections in part because they chose to pander to Americans' most regressive and destructive instincts rather than putting forward a progressive vision to address the big challenges that are so clearly before us-education, environment, energy, war. Ferrer is already touting his election as a beacon for the Democratic party in 2008. At a rubber-chicken dinner at a local Brooklyn Democratic club last week, he announced, "This is the year we send the message coast to coast: It starts here in New York City. Then we go to Albany, and then we take back the White House for Democrats..."

Free parking for America! Go, Freddy.

-Aaron Naparstek

naparstek@nypress.com





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