Sure, Let’s Talk Jobs and Schools

News editor Rudy Giuliani has let it be known that newspaper readers

aren’t much interested in the stories being produced in City

Hall’s Room 9 sweatshop. “People don’t care about a lot of

stuff that you write about,” the Mayor told reporters by way of

celebrating the new year. “They care about, ‘Do I have a job, do

I have better opportunities, do my kids have a good education?

As a news break, this pretty much falls into the category of dog bites

man, but let us not begrudge the Mayor his interest in helping newspapers

overcome falling readership. Every lecture delivered to the press corps is,

presumably, one less lecture directed at those annoying people who persist

in being poor. If the Mayor is busy telling correspondents what sort of

news the public wants to read, even he, the multitasking, 24-7 chief of

chief executives, will have no time left for dispensing advice to the

unemployed, the unskilled and the left behind. Last time he was heard on

the subject of the poor and jobless, he was telling Dan Barry of The New

York Times that they ought to open up lemonade stands. Ah, would that

they could! But Mr. Giuliani’s tireless revenue-collectors no doubt

would move quickly to collect their share of the profits, and thus would

more small businesses be regulated and ticketed out of business.

Mr. Giuliani’s assertion that people care more about their economic

well-being and the education of their children than they do about various

mayoral eccentricities (using homeless people and the mentally ill as pawns

in a political game, etc.) is correct. People are more interested in

their jobs and their kids’ schools than they are in the

Mayor-as-celebrity. The question, however, is this: Would Mr. Giuliani

really rather see the press write about bread and butter instead of cotton

candy? If so, then what to do about Harvey Robins?

Every year at about this time, Mr. Robins sends various opinion-makers

and power brokers a document outlining his version of the state of the

city. This is hardly an act of presumption, for Mr. Robins served as

director of operations under Mayor David Dinkins and in various capacities

under Mayor Ed Koch. He knows and understands city government; he loves and

appreciates the city. And he happens to believe that all those frustrated

newspaper readers on whose behalf the Mayor lectured the press

corps–the ones who want to know about jobs and opportunities and

schools–aren’t faring so well under Mr. Giuliani’s vaunted

leadership.

“If we are going to judge the city on how well the people who live

here are doing in terms of quality of services and how they are faring

economically, we’re failing miserably,” he said. His paper offers

a litany that newspaper readers worried about jobs, opportunities and

schools surely would find newsworthy: New York’s middle class (those

earning less than $40,000 a year) has lost $1,500 in real income over the

last 20 years; the city unemployment rate of 7.8 percent is well above the

country’s 4.6 percent; third-grade reading scores fell in 30 of the

city’s 33 school districts last year; some 17 percent of the

city’s teachers are not certified.

Mr. Robins cites 60 points which, he argues, demonstrate that the other

New York–the New York of the outer boroughs, of subway riders and

public school students and park users and library cardholders–has

suffered while the New York of Manhattan, of commuters and tourists, of Information Age opinionmakers

and Neo-Gilded Age lawyers and traders, has prospered. Those in the latter

categories, of course, have helped portray New York as America’s

comeback city. As Mr. Robins views it, the other New York has been

forgotten, underserved and overburdened. “We’re a city governed

for others–tourists and commuters–and not for people who live

here,” he said.

His solution? For a start: a 1 percent increase in the city’s top

earners; higher property taxes on one-, two- and three-family homes; a

higher minimum wage; an end to corporate welfare; productivity givebacks

from the city’s unions (ah, and you thought he was just another

soak-the-rich lefty!); an end to the not-for-profit status of private

hospitals; an increase (from 0.45 to 2 percent) in the commuter tax;

cutting back on overtime in some city agencies, and an assortment of other

revenue-enhancers.

What to do with the new revenues? Funnel them back to the people who

live in the city and use its facilities.

“What we’ve done recently is showcase Times Square and Wall

Street, but take a look at the unfurbished subways in the outer

boroughs,” Mr. Robins said. “What about the 200 underperforming

schools? What about the parks, other than Central Park?”

Perhaps this is the sort of stuff the Mayor thinks ought to be discussed

in the newspapers. After all, it’s about jobs, it’s about

opportunities, it’s about schools.

The man’s right–who cares about City Hall’s feuds,

anyway?