New York’s Top Jock Neglects High Schools

As we were saying last week, when the man’s right, he’s right–the man in question being, of course, our Mayor of all Mayors, Rudolph Giuliani. He wants to disband the Port Authority because he claims it favors New Jersey. Well, now, if you were in the bistate infrastructure-building business, you might favor New Jersey, too. After all, the folks across the Hudson River apparently enjoy building things that move people around as efficiently as possible. But on these shores, we’re a little slow in the building department, what with striped bass to save and all that. The Port Authority exists to build, so if it seems to favor New Jersey–a dubious but convenient argument–it may be for good reason.

But, yes, let’s disband the Port Authority anyway, because it is an organization that lies. It lies and it continues to lie even when the truth is screaming back at it. As these words careen across a computer screen, on a morning when commuters would be advised to use a luge to get to work, the Port Authority is lying. Its flacks are telling radio reporters and traffic monitors that there are no problems at the airports. No problems, none at all, the reporters quote them as saying. And yet, as of this moment, all flights out of Newark and LaGuardia airports have been canceled, and no flights are landing.

The radio reporters and traffic monitors can’t believe they are being lied to when the truth is so plain. But that is the Port Authority’s way. If this is not a reason to kill the agency, let’s hope Mr. Giuliani will demand the names of those who lied to WINS and Shadow Traffic. They should be fired and then sent to work in Washington, where their talents would be appreciated and, indeed, celebrated.

Mr. Giuliani delivered his jihad against the Port Authority during his remarkable State of the City speech on Jan. 14. It is startling these days to see a politician speaking without a script as the Mayor did, in the main because so many of them don’t really know what they think, what they should say, what they believe. The Mayor of all Mayors, however, suffers from no such malady, so his State of the City address was a pleasure to watch. It was a demonstration of why we give our elected officials the big perks. They’re supposed to have ideas and core beliefs, and they should be able to communicate them without the assistance of some speechwriter’s poll-tested blather.

Too bad, though, that so many of the Mayor’s ideas and beliefs seem focused on the supposed benefits of professional sports. The Mayor is considering building or rebuilding six sports arenas at a cost of billions of dollars so that we–or at least some of us–can watch professional athletes go about their business. Meanwhile, as The New York Times noted in a terrific three-part series, the city’s high-school sports program is being starved for dollars, so much so that schools in poor districts, where parents can’t afford to pitch in for equipment, are abandoning or reducing their programs. The Times visited East New York’s Thomas Jefferson High School, once the home of a legendary football program, and found players practicing on what amounted to a vacant lot and wearing last year’s uniforms. The Public School Athletic League–like the public schools themselves–used to be a first-class operation. Now, the league and the very idea of interscholastic sports are regarded as an expensive frill, and high school teams essentially are left to their own devices.

The Mayor, however, said he can’t wait to spend his retirement watching kids not much older than high-school age play baseball in his proposed minor league stadiums on Staten Island and in Coney Island. If the Mayor’s plan is carried out, those minor leaguers will be playing in taxpayer-supported facilities not very far from the wastelands that our high school athletic fields have become. Well, at least the Mayor will be entertained in his old age.

Mr. Giuliani concluded his speech by proposing that the West Side Highway be renamed to honor Joe DiMaggio. Thus will a Yankee from the great era of New York baseball be immortalized in concrete and asphalt, just as we already have immortalized the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Jackie Robinson. For the sake of balance and historical accuracy, it would behoove us to immortalize a New York Giant–perhaps we can name the F.D.R. Drive the Willie Mays Highway, to honor the man who patrolled center field in the old Polo Grounds.

Mr. DiMaggio is indeed a great hero of the city, a man whose grace and elegance symbolize what we consider the best of New York. Of course, a city that wished to be graceful and elegant wouldn’t go around poaching minor-league teams from small, struggling cities, but then again, Joltin’ Joe has left and gone away, hasn’t he?