The driving force for much of the political turbulence now buffeting American society is to be found in the growing inequality between the nation’s elites and average citizens.
As is evident to anyone who’s surveyed the city of Mount Vernon, the state of affairs in the “city of homes” is no exception: the economic disparity between the tony neighborhoods on the Northside, and the run-down, ramshackle neighborhoods concentrated on the Southside, is a microcosm of the situation in the nation as a whole.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the Gini index of income inequality calculated for the City of Mount Vernon is .4826. Ranging between 0 and 1, a score of 0 on the Gini index indicates perfect economic equality between households, while a score of 1 indicates maximum inequality.
One problem with this type of inequality is that it tends to anesthetize high earners from the economic pains experienced by ordinary people, earning far less. In a democratic society like our own, the consequences can become especially pernicious if a similar gulf in incomes opens up between our elected officials and the constituents who they’re supposed to represent.
At present, the Mayor of Mount Vernon earns an annual salary of $143,000. Though the Mayor’s not likely to unseat anyone from Forbes list of the richest Americans anytime soon, her paycheck is actually more than 4 times higher than the median salary earned by workers here in our city, which the 2017 American Community Survey estimates was $34,483 that year.
Under such conditions, it is little wonder that the city has been cursed by a string of mayors who’ve continued to bungle and mismanage the city’s affairs. No matter how terrible things may be, in the end, whoever occupying the Mayor’s office is guaranteed to live like a king (or a queen, in the case of Mayor Patterson-Howard). Indeed, the current salary places the mayor in the top 20% of the city’s earners.
Word has it that Mayor Patterson-Howard is seeking a pay raise of an additional $33,000, which would bring her annual salary to $175,000.
Granting this request would be a major mistake. It would only further open the gap between the city’s top elected official and the men and women across the city who are desperately trying to eke out a living.
Effective leadership is more likely to emerge from City Hall when the chief executive shares more fully in the people’s economic pain.
Increase the mayor’s salary, however, and it’ll just be a matter of time before cries for economic reform will be answered with the immortal words of Marie Antoinette: “Let them eat cake.”
Editor’s Note: Council President Lisa A. Copeland addressed the proposed raises in a statement on social media, Wednesday morning.
“Later on today we have our first regularly scheduled Board of Estimate and Contract meeting at 9:30am.
My understanding is that Mayor Patterson-Howard and Comptroller Reynolds have been working on the 2020 Budget. Based on the last budget that I saw from Acting Mayor Wallace, I did give some of the concerns of the Council to the Mayor. The process is the BOE votes in order to call for a Public Hearing, then votes on the Proposed Budget 2020. Then the Proposed budget goes to the City Council, who then calls for a Public Hearing.
The Council can only decrease the budget however we cannot adjust salaries. Then the Council votes on the Proposed budget.
Further there was discussions had around increasing the salaries of the Mayor, Comptroller and City Council (by the Charter the City Council President receives an additional $3,500 for being President. The Comptroller brought forward this idea because she is paid less than her highest paid employee. As I explained to Mayor earlier today, you cannot raise your salary while you are serving in that term. The last time the elected officials received a raise was in 2008. That is because the raise was adopted by Local Law as is the process. While the public hearing for the Local Law occurred in 2008, the actual Local Law that was adopted by the City Council was done in 2007. Again, an elected official CANNOT raise their salary while in their term. Those are the facts. If the Council passes a Local Law to increase the salaries of the Mayor, Comptroller and City Council, it would not take effect until 2022, which is the next term for the Comptroller and 3 City Council members that are up in 2021.
I hope that I have explained this sufficiently. I asked the law department to provide this information to Mayor Patterson-Howard, Comptroller Reynolds and City Council members!!”
The proposed raises were removed from the agenda and not voted on and Council President Copeland removed the statement from her Facebook page.
We reached out to Mayor Shawyn Patterson-Howard to give her a chance to comment on the editorial, she declined.