Compromise or Blackmail?

When negotiating, what is the difference between compromise and blackmail?  What is the difference between self-righteousness and righteousness?  How do these things effect the outcome of the negotiations, for the better or for the worse?  Councilmember Jack Eaton has taken up a new style of negotiating which we shall discuss.

Lets start with the simple definitions for each of these words.


Merriam Webster defines these terms as:

compromise:  a way of reaching agreement in which each person or group gives up something that was wanted in order to end an argument or dispute.

blackmail:  extortion or coercion by threats

self-righteous:  having or showing a strong belief that your own actions, opinions, etc., are right and other people’s are wrong

righteous:  morally right or justifiable

Cm Eaton has taken to publicly stating at the council table what he will or will not vote for unless he gets support for his other resolutions.  He has justified his statements using the words like “compromise” and “quid pro quo” amongst other things.  For some reason he appears to think that since he is doing this on camera and in front of everyone that this is less slimy and more transparent.  I couldn’t disagree more and here’s why.


In all politics whether it is congress, state government, or local government there is always deal making and horsetrading behind the scenes.  It is the nature of the profession.  However, this deals usually have to do with pet projects or unimportant issues that a specific politician wants passed.  And many times a politician may trade a vote for something they don’t care about in order to get an extra vote for something they very much do care about.  During budget negotiations this happens all the time, but they are negotiating on the same issue.  This is all normal politics.

When ‘must pass‘ legislation is brought up, typically the politicians negotiate and compromise until a deal is struck.   Both sides give something up.  However, they are negotiating on the same issue, not different issues where one has to choose which issue is more important.   The ‘must pass’ issue is important to both of them, but how the issue is dealt with may be the deciding factor.

In recent years, the Teapublicans in congress have expanded the normal dealmaking of “I’ll vote for your project, if you vote for mine” into more of a extortion and blackmail type of negotiation when “compromising” on ‘must pass’ legislation.  Now the Teapublicans make their extreme right wing policies conditions in passing necessary and ‘must pass’ legislation.  They now threaten to not pass the “must pass” legislation such as raising the debt ceiling in order to force (extort) support for their right wing issues.


Remember last year when the Teapublicans told President Obama that they would not pass a budget or vote to raise the debt ceiling unless they were allowed to defund Obamacare?  That is not negotiating.  That is not compromising.  That is extortion and blackmail plain and simple.  They took two completely separate issues, linked them together, and said we will not do one without the other.  They wanted Obama to choose between saving his signature health plan and saving the US economy. They were trying to force Obama into choosing which of the two issues were more important, they were not compromising on a single issue.

If someone was holding your son and daughter hostage and asked you to choose which one lives, is that compromising or emotional extortion?  Would you or could you make that choice?  No, you couldn’t,  and even if you did, is the result something you could live with?

I don’t use the terms blackmail and extortion lightly.  Even Bob Woodward Associate Editor of the Washington Post described the Teapublican’s actions during this time on Meet the Press as this.

“This is really serious,” Woodward said. “Back in 2011, when the crisis visited them, the Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner was running around saying, ‘If we don’t fix this we could trigger a depression worse than the 1930s.’ When I talked to Obama about this, he said it was the most intense three weeks of his presidency.”
“The Republicans are out here, a group of them in the House, essentially using extortion and blackmail methods to say, ‘If we don’t defund Obamacare, we’re not going to do the routine things of government,'” Woodward said.


Now CM Eaton has started using a type of horsetrading tactic at the council table that is mirroring the congressional tactics.  It has not gotten to the point of blatant extortion or blackmail as the congressional Teapublican’s have shown, but it is quite brazen and different than what has gone on before with council.  Nothing our council does can shut down the US economy or cause a worldwide depression, but it can cause negative financial impacts locally.

Here are two examples that show how his tactics are more extortion-like rather than compromising or horsetrading.

Public Art Administartor

Back in February, CM Eaton  proposed a quid pro quo (yes he used those words) where he would vote for the extension of the public art administrator’s contract in exchange for others voting for the return of the unencumbered percent for art monies to their original funds.  These were two separate resolutions that he should have been considering separately, but he lumped them together.  Remember a compromise has to do with negotiating on a single issue where each side gives something up.  There was nothing given up by CM Eaton.  He was just using an issue regarding an employee contract to help guarantee him votes on returning the art funds.  If the council did not want to lay off the public art administrator, then they needed to do what he said. Eaton played with a person’s livlihood, just like congress did not care if the laid off thousands of federal employees just to try and push a no-win conservative agenda item.(To read more about this see my post “Let the Public Art Administrator Eat Cake!”.)

Park on top of the Library Lot

Then at the March 17, 2014 council meeting, CM Eaton sponsors a resolution asking council to designate a 12000 sq ft park on the library lot.  Later at the same council meeting CM Kunselman sponsors a resolution for the council to list the Library Lot for sale with a broker.  Eaton says that the sale of the Library Lot will require 8 votes, and unless he gets a park on the site then he guarantees that there will not be 8 votes.  What he really means is that unless he gets the SIZE park he wants, then he will not vote for the site to be listed for sale.  Now remember it has been established years ago that there would be a public park/plaza there on the site, but it is smaller than he would like.  A portion of the parking structure cannot hold a tall building and therefore a park or plaza must go there. Now council has even agreed to make the park/plaza larger but he is still not happy, he wants it even larger than that.  It is his way or no way. If he does not get his size park then there can be no sale of the property and no development.  He refuses to compromise on the size of the park/plaza.  Should Eaton be able to hold the site hostage until he gets exactly what he wants?  1,2

At the April, 7, 2013 council meeting, CM Kunselman flat out said that unless there is a sale of the property there will be no money to invest in any size park on the library lot.  The most likely scenario is that the library lot will remain a surface parking lot for years and years.  There is no funding that can come from the general fund and PAC’s budget is strapped.  Kunselman was warning Eaton that if he insisted on linking the two items together that it would be lose-lose.  The city would lose millions of dollars in the sale of the development rights along with all the future tax revenue.  The negative impact financially for the city is of no concern for Eaton.


Now here is where the self-righteousness comes in. Eaton insists that the Parks Advisory Commission (PAC) resolution has said that a park should go on this site and that he wants to send this back to PAC for their input on what is the appropriate use of the space   I am not sure exactly what resolution he is referring to, but what he is saying is not true.

First listen to CM Eaton in his own words:

Now this is what the Parks Advisory Commission (PAC) Downtown Parks Subcommittee Report actually says:

Open Space Opportunities:

The Library Lot is large in size and has a central location that was ranked highest by survey and public meeting participants alike for potential park space. Community-based groups such as the Library Green Conservancy have consistently advocated for the conversion of this space into a “Central Park”. The Library Lot was designed to create additional flexible space through temporary closures of Library Lane. This feature could facilitate synergistic programming opportunities with the AADL, nearby businesses, and festivals/community gatherings.

The Library Lot was designed to support development. A development that incorporated open public or green space into its design provides an opportunity for activation and eyes on the park. Ideally any development could have street level businesses that spill out into the open space, similar to how piazzas and squares function. An opportunity for public/private partnership exists at this space.

Barriers to Open Space:

Conversion of the entire Library Lot into open space, in particular green space, would require significant and costly structural modifications. Funding such a project would require multiple millions of dollars for both capital and maintenance, as well as the lost investment in existing infrastructure.

Placemaking principles raise a number of concerns regarding the Library Lot site. Currently, the space is poorly activated, facing the backs of buildings on Liberty, William and Division Streets, Fifth Street traffic, and the windowless side of the Library. This lack of eyes on the space raises a number of concerns regarding safety and the promotion of positive behavior. A sizeable park space in this location would require significant financial investment for enhanced security, daily maintenance, and staff dedicated to year-round programming.

Apparently, PAC thinks that a LARGE park on the library lot is not such a good idea and that an opportunity for a public/private partnership exists.  I don’t know where Eaton is getting his information from, obviously not the Parks Advisory Commission (PAC) Downtown Parks Subcommittee Report.  I don’t believe that Eaton is  trying to find out what PAC would recommend, after all they have already done that.  He is trying to have them change their recommendation to fit his personal view.

Eaton is being so self-righteous that he thinks his viewpoint should override all other opinions. Even after the Park’s Advisory commission has given input, he is blind to it, pretends it does not exist, even goes as far as misrepresenting their written words.  He wants a park so there could be no way or no justifiable reason for anyone to be against it.  Any negative consequence is just collateral damage for his cause.

Now mind you, he is being self-righteous, not righteous.  He might think that he is doing this on behalf of the residents and PAC, but as I showed above that is not true.  He is using these extortion-like tactics on behalf of himself and Library Green Conservancy group which he was a member of before he was a councilmember.

Eaton may believe that his new tactic of insisting ‘his way or no way’ is a form of compromise but it is no better then the congressional Teapublicans  insisting on the defunding of Obamacare in order for them to pass a budget and to keep the federal government open.  He is forcing a choice instead of negotiating a compromise.  He could accept the compromise on the size of the park, which council has actually done, but that is not good enough for Eaton…he wants the exact size park he wants.

So I propose the question to you…”In these cases, is forcing a fellow councilmember to chose something they definitely don’t want in order to pass something they do want horsetrading or extortion-like?’

For me it depends on the negative consequence of the choice.  If there is a huge consequence for the city, then it is more extortion-like. Whether the financial loss of millions of dollars is a large negative consequence to classify his actions as more Teapublican and extortion-like, I will leave to you to decide.  However, we are a small local community, so on our scale maybe it is???  Who knows?

Now, I realize that the Library Lot remaining a surface parking lot is not all that dire a consequence when considered without the negative financial implications.. I would prefer to see it remain a parking lot rather then be made in to a park. Yes it would be a large financial loss, but is that a dire consequence? Locally, is the large financial loss on par with the Teapublicans almost causing a world wide depression?  Probably not, but it is still a major negative consequence caused by a an inappropriate choice backed by threats.

The point I am making here in this post is that Eaton has done this twice now with some success.  His self-righteousness is flagrant.  It took Obama awhile to stand up to the Teapublicans and call their bluff.  Then after he did, they (the Teapublicans) lost much of their power.  My hope is that the rest of council stands up to Eaton and his tactics.3   Our council will never get anything accomplished if these tactics continue.

 contra principia negantem non est disputandum



1 Ryan Stanton,  “Ann Arbor putting downtown property known as Library Lot up for sale.” Ann Arbor News, March 18, 2014

2 Ryan Stanton,  “Future park on Ann Arbor’s downtown Library Lot could be 12K square feet“. Ann Arbor News, January 26, 2014

2 I realize that Cm Eaton is not alone in this, but he was the only one I heard make the claims out loud at the council table.  In order for Eaton to guarantee that there will not be 8 votes he must get three other people go along with him.  Obviously, those would be the other sponsors of his resolution, Kailasapathy, Anglin and Lumm.

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