Talk about how times have changed: For his new movie about a stressed-out New York City paramedic, Bringing Out the Dead , director Martin Scorsese had to add sleazy street people and mounds of garbage to present-day New York so that it would better resemble the New York of the early 1990’s. That a movie director would have to stretch to make the city streets look mean again says a lot about how civilized New York has become in the past decade. And it’s no secret that much of New York’s current social and economic affability can be traced back to the conspicuous decline in the city’s crime rate. Which is why a recent statistic is cause for some concern: as of mid-October, New York City homicides are up 7.5 percent over last year, hardly an auspicious note on which to ring in the new millennium.
Yes, the murder rate is still down 67 percent from where it was six years ago, and, of American cities with populations over 100,000, New York still ranks as the safest. Indeed, there is no doubt that New York was the success story of urban America in the 1990’s. (Even the embattled President’s embattled wife wants to piggyback on New York’s success to begin her next life.) But memories are short, and all it takes is a small hike in crime to strike a blow against the public perceptions of the city. A few grisly tabloid headlines, a few rats in the subways and New Yorkers may find that the good will of the rest of the world is only skin deep. And while good will may be intangible, the economic downside of a higher crime rate is very real. Corporations, tourists and would-be residents would quickly find other cities in which to invest their money.
New York is not yet in any danger of slipping back into David Dinkins-era dysfunction, when murder was high and morale was low. But even a modest bump in homicide demands an immediate response. While Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s imminent run for the United States Senate might carry the downside of distracting him from local matters, his candidacy is also the ultimate insurance. For Mr. Giuliani cannot let his sterling record on crime become blemished just in time for the race of his life.
Moskowitz for City Council
With so many members of the City Council vying for the “Political Hack of the Century” award, it is heartening to see that two smart, assertive women are battling for the Upper East Side’s seat in the election to be held on Tuesday, Nov. 2. The Democrat, Eva Moskowitz, 35 and personable, almost won the seat two years ago, losing to the incumbent Republican Andrew Eristoff. Her opponent this time is Reba White Williams, a feisty 63-year-old Republican who works for a mutual fund company of which her husband, David, happens to be chairman. They are vying for the Fourth Council District, a long, snaking territory that includes the so-called Silk Stocking District, i.e., the Upper East Side from Fifth Avenue over to Second Avenue.
Each woman has made a decent case as to why she should be elected to finish out the term of Mr. Eristoff, who left to become Mr. Giuliani’s Commissioner of Finance. The New York Times reports that Ms. Moskowitz, a former City University of New York professor, has taken progressive stands such as supporting charter schools, opposing tenure for public school principals and being open to privatizing homeless shelters. She also worked with Prep for Prep, which prepares minority students for elite private schools. Ms. Williams, meanwhile, a former member of the city’s Arts Commission, has shown moxie in hooking corporations up with public schools. She also has money on her side: she will spend $900,000 to Ms. Moskowitz’s $250,000.
In a tough race, The Observer endorses Ms. Moskowitz for City Council because of her ability to connect with New Yorkers, her passion for education, and what certainly appears to be an air of forthright common sense that reflects the best of the district she hopes to represent.
John Cardinal O’Connor: Get Well Soon
After a three-week absence, John Cardinal O’Connor returned to the pulpit in St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Oct. 24. There was no disguising the gravity of his recent illness–characteristically, His Eminence made light of it–but his very presence in the cathedral inspired hope. As spiritual leader of the New York Archdiocese’s 2.3 million Catholics, as a voice for social justice and as a tireless worker for Catholic-Jewish relations, Cardinal O’Connor is one of the city’s great figures at the turn of the century.
In his 15 years as one of the nation’s foremost clerics of any denomination, the Cardinal has been controversial and colorful. His opinions are not always greeted with approval. But there can be little doubt that this son of working-class Philadelphia has been a tremendous force for good. Several weeks ago, as Jewish New Yorkers celebrated the High Holy Days, the Cardinal wrote a letter to prominent Jewish leaders that contained an eloquent and heartfelt apology for wrongs visited upon Judaism in the name of Christianity. Jewish leaders like Elie Wiesel published it in a full-page advertisement in The New York Times .
And it has been during the Cardinal’s tenure that New York discovered one of its hidden treasures–the sprawling network of Catholic schools that has been a godsend for thousands of poor, non-Catholic children in some of the city’s toughest neighborhoods. Once considered parochial in the pejorative sense of the word, New York’s Catholic schools under the Cardinal’s leadership have emerged as models for quality education.
There is talk that the Cardinal may retire next year after he celebrates his 80th birthday. Until then, it is a source of comfort to know that he indeed will be back. Again and again, we hope.