Sunday, July 27, 2008

Welcome To The DPRB!! (Democratic People's Republic of the Bronx)

In my political almanac, New York City is listed with North Korea, Vietnam and Cuba as an entity with no meaningful opposition party. In voter registration drives, people are advised to register as Democrats if they want projects in their district funded. Many people in Crown Heights, Boro Park, Flatbush and Williamsburg have political beliefs well to the right of the political spectrum yet register as Democrats. My one criticism of Rudolph Giuliani is that he did not revive the political fortunes of the Republican Party on a long term basis. Mayor Bloomberg ran on the Republican ticket only because it was cheaper than fighting his way to the top in the Democratic primaries.
My opinion of New York City as a one party system found some vindication in an article in The Gothamist. According to the article, Robert Johnson, the District Attorney for the Bronx used the powers of his office to launch an investigation into 'Room Eight , a blog frequently critical of the Bronx GOP . Compounding the "sin" of being out of step with Bronx Republicans was the recommendation of the offending columnist, "Republican Dissident" that a candidate be found to run against Robert Johnson for District Attorney.
The Bronx District Attorney's office actually subpoenaed "Room Eight" for the IP address of "Republican Dissident" and ordered the blog to keep the existence of the subpoena a secret. This put the editorial staff of "Room Eight" in an ethical quandary. They did not know if the Bronx DA was investigating a crime of violence or not. The DA refused to provide details. When the bloggers sued in court for information as to why they should comply with the subpoena, the Bronx DA's office backed down. Unfortunately, "Republican Dissident" was sufficiently cowed by the judicial sabre rattling that he removed all of his posts from "Room Eight."
The State Attorney General should, it seems investigate this brazen attack on free speech. To use the authority of the District Attorney to stifle political dissent should be considered far beyond the pale of acceptable behavior. If our political leadership is so stagnant that it must rely on the tactics of a dictatorship to survive, then New York's political machine is more rotten than I had thought. New Yorkers want a free spirited exchange of ideas and an examination of a candidate's merits to determine who holds power. This fraudulent investigation should itself be investigated. New Yorkers deserve no less.
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Article Below Reprinted From The Gothamist 7/15/08

The legal travails of Room Eight, a blog dedicated to NY politics (its name refers to "Room 9," which is where the press corps are located in City Hall), are examined in today's NY Times. In a nutshell, Bronx DA Robert Johnson's office subpoenaed the blog's co-founders Ben Smith and Gur Tsabar, demanding the IP address of an anonymous contributor. And what's more, they were not allowed to even disclose the existence of the subpoena of they “could impede the investigation being conducted and thereby interfere with law enforcement."

The subpoena related to information about a blogger--Republican Dissident--who was critical of the Bronx GOP and recommended someone run against DA Johnson. When Smith and Tsabar asked for more information about why the subpoena was needed, they were given none--Smith told the Times he's not averse to helping the authorities, but "Was somebody found face-down on their keyboard and the I.P. address was going to help identify the killer?...We’re not free speech absolutists here." So they sued with the help of a pro bono legal organization and the subpoena eventually withdrawn. Today, Smith and Tsabar write on Room 8:

"The district attorney’s office refused to offer any details of their investigation, leaving us with the concern that the crime they were investigating was the criticism itself, most of which involved linking – with harsh, at times mean, caricatures – to news stories and to publicly available documents, like a deed in [Republican Dawn] Sandow’s name to a house outside the Bronx.

"We don’t have any position on Republican Dissident’s views or his style of expressing them. We do, however, feel very strongly that he has a right to do so without fear of exposure in an investigation that – as far as we know – appears to have concerned nothing beyond his online political speech...

"More broadly, the scary reality is that here in the free speech capital of the world, a prosecutor tried both to demand confidential information about an anonymous critic and insisted, under penalty of law, that his request for the information be kept secret. We’re glad he backed down, and confident that the courts would have rebuffed his demands."

The blogger, Republican Dissident, eventually removed all the blog posts from the site.

Daily Gotham's Bouldin thinks Attorney General Andrew Cuomo should investigate the matter and the Observer's Azi Paybarah writes, "What in the world was Johnson (and, certainly, the A.D.A who wrote up the subpoena) thinking?"

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