Usually you wouldn’t describe U.S. Senators as Washington
outsiders. Indeed, the Senate is often described as one of the world’s most
exclusive clubs, the ultimate gathering of political insiders. To be a member
of the Senate is to be a full-fledged member of the nation’s power elite.
And yet, for all their years in this incestuous world, Bill
Bradley and John McCain have retained their strong sense of honor and decency,
and have never really thought or acted like members of the club. Instead, they
have been citizen-politicians, men of intellectual independence who put the
national interest above partisan wrangling. In fact, despite their political
résumés, they indeed are outsiders: They don’t need polls to tell them what
they believe; they are not afraid to criticize their colleagues and those who
seek to influence them; and they understand that public cynicism is a
reflection of transparently cynical politics.
Mr. Bradley served 18 years in the Senate before retiring
and declaring, rightly, that our electoral system is broken. Mr. McCain has
represented Arizona for 13 years. For all that, they exude a freshness that
makes Vice President Al Gore and Gov. George W. Bush of Texas look like tired
scions of diminished political dynasties. Mr. Bradley, a Democrat, and Mr.
McCain, a Republican, are running underdog campaigns for their respective
parties’ Presidential nominations. Not for the first time, they are challenging
the collective wisdom of the unimaginative party hacks whose prosperity depends
on the status quo. In Mr. Gore’s case, the Democrats have rallied around a man
who carries Bill Clinton’s baggage-a chore that would daunt Atlas himself. In
Mr. Bush’s case, the Republican machinery has chosen the amiable son of an
amiable but ineffective President, a man whose lines in the sand rarely
withstood the power of shifting winds.
Mr. Bradley and Mr. McCain represent genuine departures.
They are the class of the field. Of course, their strengths may be their
undoing. The insiders will work overtime to insure their defeat when primary
season begins. With luck, Mr. Bradley and Mr. McCain will continue to defy
conventional wisdom. If not, though, it wouldn’t be so terrible to see either
one, or both, running for Vice President. They would instantly elevate the
office and their running mates.
Pataki Blows the
With Wall Street thriving, Manhattan co-op prices rocketing
and a new overpriced restaurant blossoming on every corner, one could be
forgiven for assuming that Gov. George Pataki must be taking advantage of the
current economic boom to shore up the state’s financial health. Instead, Mr.
Pataki’s latest budget, according to independent budget analysts, is a sorry,
gimmick-ridden effort which will likely drive New York further into debt. While
most states are using the economic expansion to get their financial houses in
order before an inevitable downturn, Mr. Pataki and the state legislators came
up with a plan that calls to mind a 16-year-old kid with his first credit card.
One of the most flagrant instances of how the new budget
plays financial footsie is its reliance on “one-shots,” deals in which the
state sells its assets to pay for
operations. Once something is sold, of course, it can’t be sold again, which
means the state will have to keep selling off assets, or come up with deep
spending cuts, to meet its obligations. Mr. Pataki also blew a chance to use a
$1.8 billion surplus to pay down the state’s debt, a debt which is already the
highest in the country. Instead, the budget contains tax cuts that will cost
the state $250 million a year.
Rather than take care of
the state’s future, Mr. Pataki and the Legislature prettied things up
for short-term benefit. “This budget was just focused on getting through this
year and next year,” Diana Fortuna, president of the non-profit Citizens Budget
Commission, told The New York Times ‘
Richard Pérez-Peña. “After that,” added Frank Mauro, director of the Fiscal
Policy Institute, “we go over the precipice.” The only way disaster can be
averted, analysts say, is if Wall Street continues its dizzying growth. That’s
an awfully narrow beam on which to balance a state budget.
It’s no secret that the Governor thinks he’s only a few fund-raisers
and speeches away from a Vice Presidential spot on a national ticket. But
before Mr. Bush plucks Mr. Pataki as a running mate, he might want to consider
that New York’s electoral votes aren’t likely to follow the man who left the
state in the dumps.
H.E.A.F. Helps in
It’s known that kids who attend prestigious schools get an
educational boost from the wide range of activities attached to the end of the
school day. Children from less
fortunate schools frequently miss out. But now the Harlem Chess Center has
opened on West 119th Street, thanks to the efforts of Maurice Ashley, a
33-year-old New Yorker who earlier this year became the first African-American
grandmaster. Over 100 children have signed up, some as young as 5 years old,
and all will receive hands-on instruction and a chance to yell “Checkmate!” at
their peers across the chessboard.
The center is funded by the Harlem Educational Activities
Fund, a nonprofit organization which has blazed new trails for public-school
students. Among its many successes, H.E.A.F. helps middle school students from
Harlem and Washington Heights prepare intensively for admissions to selective
public high schools like Stuyvesant High School and the Bronx High School of
Science. Once students are enrolled in those schools, H.E.A.F. helps them
prepare for the SATs and other pre-college rigors. Those readers interested in
helping may contact H.E.A.F. at 210-6620.
At a time when a so-called “culture war” is being fought
over an exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, it’s refreshing to see that a
true base of culture and intellect is being quietly established on 119th
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