Gore and Bradley: Hot Air in Harlem

Al Sharpton was given the privilege of asking the first question at the raucous Democratic Presidential debate at the Apollo Theater in Harlem on Feb. 21. So nothing that came afterward should have come as a surprise. And yet, somehow, the debate between Vice President Al Gore and former Senator Bill Bradley was surprising-for its conspicuous lack of any awareness of the current lay of the land in New York City. Has anybody told either of these candidates of the strides African-Americans have made in New York? That there is a substantial African-American middle class in Brooklyn, that the average household income of African-Americans in Queens has surpassed that of the borough’s white households?

Apparently not. The debate instead focused on racial hot-button issues like reparations for slavery and racial profiling, a phrase that grew out of tainted police procedures not in New York, but in New Jersey. Mr. Sharpton, who raised the issue of racial profiling, clearly has an interest in New Jersey matters-his family lived in Teaneck, N.J., for years while he was running for various New York offices. But the attempt to link profiling with the tragic killing of West African immigrant Amadou Diallo was inflammatory, especially at a time when a jury is considering charges against the four police officers charged with murder in that infamous case.

Incidentally, it was too bad the candidates didn’t get a chance to ask Mr. Sharpton a few questions about, say, his past association with the rabidly anti-Semitic Rev. Louis Farrakhan, or his incendiary (unfortunately, the adjective is used literally) rhetoric outside of Freddy’s Fashion Mart in Harlem, scene of a fatal fire.

All in all, the debate seemed more like an exercise in pander and counterpander, of rehearsed verbal slaps and very little in the way of vision. Harlem is, after all, part of New York City. One would have thought the candidates would use this opportunity to shed a little light on the broad range of issues that affect New Yorkers of all races, creeds and backgrounds.

Chancellor Levy Looks Good

Why should Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and New York City’s Board of Education embark on a wild goose chase for a new schools chancellor when it’s becoming clear we have a prime candidate in our own backyard? We’re speaking, of course, of the interim chancellor, Harold Levy, who in the few weeks he has held the job has shown a bracing independence from the educational bureaucrats who have long stalled New York’s public schools in Kremlin-like inefficiency. While the Mayor was initially opposed to Mr. Levy’s appointment, the interim chancellor’s refreshing opening gambits may very well prod Mr. Giuliani to admit that Mr. Levy shares his philosophy of bringing substantive change to a sorry system.

As a businessman, Mr. Levy seems to know bunk when he sees it. He has already proven that he is no patsy for the United Federation of Teachers, evidenced by his decision to make the performance records of teachers public. He has released new standards for superintendents; he busted up a corrupt school board in Queens; he has criticized the physical condition and maintenance of the Board of Ed’s headquarters at 110 Livingston Street in Brooklyn; and he has shuffled his staff and made the organization more manageable.

In short, this 47-year-old product of New York public education, the son of a hardware store owner in the Bronx, is likely better than any of the candidates to be found from the ranks of school superintendents elsewhere or in the city. Moreover, a search would be an expensive and time-consuming distraction, with accompanying media circus, from the task of educating the city’s 1.1 million public school kids. The Mayor and his allies should start making nice to Mr. Levy; he may turn out to be the best friend they didn’t know they had.

Manhattan: The New Garbage Barge

The state and the city are desperate to please that Republican outpost known as Staten Island. So the Governor and Mayor have agreed to close the notorious Fresh Kills Landfill on the borough’s western shore. The city has a deadline of Dec. 31, 2001, for closure, and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani says there’s a chance that the city may actually beat the deadline. But what’s the rush? As The New York Times reported, the urgency to close Fresh Kills means that the city has been turning to alternative means of garbage disposal. Instead of floating the junk on giant barges to Fresh Kills, we’re now using trucks to take it elsewhere.

Ironically, the result has been an environmental and traffic disaster. Hundreds upon hundreds of garbage-laden trucks are clogging Manhattan’s streets and the approaches to its Hudson River crossings. According to The Times , the extra traffic has resulted in a 16 percent increase in air pollution along Canal Street, which leads into the Holland Tunnel. It’s estimated that the trucks will log an extra 425,000 trips across the Hudson every year. Residents who live near the truck routes complain of the smell-of truck exhaust as well as of garbage. The estimated five-year cost of trucking the city’s garbage out of town has risen by $100 million in the last year alone, to $622 million.

There’s no doubt that Staten Island has borne an unfair burden for years. Since the 1980′s, Fresh Kills has been the lone receptacle for the city’s household trash. Residents for miles around have had to live with foul odors for years.

Now, however, it appears that other residents are suffering, too. That shouldn’t be. The city ought to come up with a better plan to get rid of its trash without an artificial deadline looming over the horizon.

Let’s stop the clock and figure out exactly what we’re doing. Otherwise, Staten Island’s pain will not have been eliminated. It simply will have been transferred.