The Boy Belongs With His Father

Remove the word “Cuban” from any discussion of the Elián Gonzalez case and you begin to understand how far removed today’s debate is from anything resembling “family values.” A child who has watched his mother drown winds up on American shores. The child’s father lives in another country. There is no evidence that the father was ever abusive or less than devoted to his son. What to do? Easy. Return the child to Dad.

That’s exactly how it should be. But thanks to some egregious political posturing in an election year, the child and the father have yet to be reunited. Cheap politicians in both major parties have decided to play with this child’s life, and the resulting spectacle is as revolting as any political game played in recent years. To think it’s the voters, not the politicians, who are so often chastised for being cynical.

Vice President Al Gore, hoping to win voter-rich Florida-a state governed by his opponent’s brother, Jeb Bush-has sided with the panderers and against President Clinton. But Mr. Gore’s superficial position is hardly the most offensive. That label must be affixed to the Mayor of Miami-Dade County, Alex Penelas, who has said that his police will do nothing to assist Federal agents in bringing the boy back to his father. The Mayor ought to be arrested for obstruction of justice, except that his city’s anti-Castro Cubans would make a martyr out of him.

The exiles in South Florida, and the panderers on Capitol Hill, wish to use this 6-year-old as a way of taunting Fidel Castro. All they’re doing, of course, is making their supposed enemy look good. By returning Elián to his father, we are hardly kowtowing to a dictator. We would not be offering aid and comfort to Mr. Castro and his repugnant system. We simply would be reuniting a father and son. And that’s exactly what we ought to do.

A Fare Solution for the M.T.A.

The train is coming into the station, but Governor Pataki is asleep at the switch, setting the stage for a fiscal disaster, according to a recent New York Times report on the drawbacks of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s five year, $16.5 billion capital improvement plan. Indeed, every budget analyst with a pencil and some scratch paper has come out with dire warnings about the M.T.A.’s proposal. From the nonprofit Regional Plan Association and the New York City Independent Budget Office to the New York City Partnership, private and public officials are aghast at the M.T.A.’s intention to finance its projects-which include the Second Avenue subway line, as well as maintenance of the entire system-with heavy borrowing, requiring the sale of $20 billion in municipal bonds. The analysts say New York will be burdened with a huge amount of debt that may prove difficult to repay. They want the state to dip into its coffers to help. How serious are the naysayers? Even Democrats and Republicans serving in the State Legislature are pressing the Governor to spend public money to offset the chances of a debacle. No wonder. Elected officials are terrified that the plan will result in those two words that make for lousy headlines: “fare increase.” Mr. Pataki, who likes to brag that he is a fiscal reformer, and his sidekick, M.T.A. chairman Virgil Conway, are emerging as the architects of the most fiscally irresponsible plan ever proposed for New Yorkers in modern times.

Of course there is cause for concern. Subways, buses and commuter rail systems are vital to the economic health of the New York region. But there may be a better solution than using state money to fill the gaps. Currently, 11 cents of every fare dollar goes toward financing bonds sold to pay for M.T.A. projects. In the M.T.A.’s provision, that amount would rise to 23 cents in 2004. Well, why not be honest and forthright and devote 23 cents out of every dollar to bond financing now? And institute a fare increase immediately. If the M.T.A. raised the rider’s fare from $1.50 to $1.70, that would pay for it. Fares on commuter lines could also be raised. Sure, the politicians will moan, but a lot less in today’s strong economy.

The M.T.A. has witnessed a remarkable recovery, starting with Gov. Hugh Carey’s capital plan and continued by the able stewardship of Gov. Mario Cuomo. Mr. Pataki should take action now, unless he wants history to record him as the man who drove the train off the tracks.

A Jewish Center for Columbia

While Columbia University has long been home to a significant Jewish undergraduate and graduate population, it was also the only Ivy League school to be without an adequate Jewish center for its students. What historically passed for such was located in a 500-square-foot basement room, hardly an inspiring or practical environment for those in search of information about everything from visiting lecturers to religious services.

But thanks to Robert Kraft, a Columbia alumnus and owner of the New England Patriots football team, Jewish students are finally getting an appropriate venue. Mr. Kraft gave $3 million toward the completion of the newly opened $11.5 million Robert K. Kraft Family Center for Jewish Student Life, a striking six-story building with a facade made from stone brought over from Israel. Inside are a library, meeting rooms, lounges, classrooms and a sanctuary. It is a particularly welcome gift, given the fact that Columbia is located in the city which is home to the largest Jewish community outside Israel.

Columbia students, graduates and parents, along with New Yorkers who cherish the contributions of the city’s rich and ongoing tradition of Jewish thinkers, owe a debt of thanks to Mr. Kraft for his magnanimous gesture.