Janet Reno Fumbles Again

With the pre-dawn Miami raid now etched in the minds of citizens around the world, U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno is on the defensive. Some say that by sending in a pack of armed Federal agents, she crossed American lines of decency and traumatized six-year-old Elián González forever. Others argue that she was left with no choice-a father was being kept from his son; Elián’s Miami relatives had said they would never turn the boy over; and the Mayor of Miami had made it clear that he saw himself as being above the law of the U.S. government. Politicians of all stripes are now doing the expected and exploiting the raid and its shocking photos.

But behind the smoke, two things are clear. First, that Janet Reno is a well-intentioned person who comes up with a wise decision most of the time. And, second, that she is profoundly artless and clumsy, a Keystone cop in a world of high-pressure situations. When a surgical scalpel is called for, she reaches for her blunt hammer, and she makes a bad situation even worse. The ensuing mess takes years to clean up, tying up the courts and eroding Americans’ confidence in the White House’s ability to handle the dilemmas that come with a democracy.

In the Elián González situation, Ms. Reno’s first blunder was not to step in last November and return Elián to his father. Instead, she let things build to a boil, showing remarkable ignorance of how both Fidel Castro and the expatriate Cuban community would keep pouring fuel on the fire. And then, even if she was right to proceed with law-enforcement tactics in the Miami home, she showed herself to be ludicrously unaware of how a photo of the raid would affect the public. By ordering the blitz and at the same time allowing a photographer to enter the house, Ms. Reno derailed the purpose of the mission, which was to return Elián to his father without inflaming the situation further. One would think that an Attorney General would know that pre-dawn ambushes by heavily armed law-enforcement specialists don’t make for happy snapshots, no matter how virtuous the cause. But not Ms. Reno. All nuance and subtlety are lost on her. Then, in a further example of tactlessness and gross insensitivity, when Elián’s Miami relatives, concerned about the young boy’s well-being, flew to Washington D.C. to see him, she prevented them from doing so, even though a private, secure visit could easily have been arranged. Meanwhile her boss, Bill Clinton, true to form, has subtly managed to wiggle out of any responsibility.

One can be grateful that Elián González is back with his father, and that unlike Waco, the attorney general’s clumsiness did not cost 80 lives. But Ms. Reno has now proven beyond any doubt that she is unqualified for a job that requires more than a good heart and a heavy hammer

The Buildings Are Falling Down

New Yorkers don’t like to think about it, and elected officials never breathe a word about it, but the entire infrastructure of New York-the schools, roads, bridges, tunnels, police stations, fire houses, subway system, water tunnels-is in dreadful shape, and in the next 25 to 50 years, it’s only going to get worse, with many of these buildings and systems becoming unusable. No mayor has ever shown the resolve to deal with this looming catastrophe; instead, the city simply sticks a finger in the dam each time it springs a leak, deferring the maintenance until some unspecified future time. Without a master plan of long-term renovation, laying out the exact cost and how it will be financed, New York will face untold billions of dollars in future costs. And the children of those currently enjoying the Wall Street boom may face a city that makes the debt crisis of the 1970’s look like a walk in the park.

The most recent captives of crumbling infrastructure are New York City police officers. According to The New York Times , six of the city’s 76 precinct houses are more than a century old. The Times found stations in which 50 women officers share one toilet, where a fuel spill in a locker room sickened officers and went untended for three years, and where a dozen detectives are forced to share four desks. Officers of the 50th Precinct in the Bronx, the one with the leaky boiler, have a high incidence of asthma, cancer and miscarriages.

The city ought to rebuild the six worst precinct houses, for starters, and address conditions in the rest. It’s a costly project, but only a hint of what awaits New Yorkers if the infrastructure crisis continues to be treated as “the next guy’s problem.”

A Waterfront Guggenheim

There’s something about great ideas that almost requires them to face big obstacles. The Guggenheim Museum’s proposal to build a stunning new museum along the water near Wall Street is one such idea. Back in the 1950’s, when the drawing for Frank Lloyd Wright’s circular Fifth Avenue Guggenheim was released, it generated a lot of controversy. But it got built, and Manhattan architecture further broke out of its boxy ways. The plan for the new Guggenheim, designed by Frank O. Gehry, is equally revolutionary, and very similar in its free-form, curvilinear shape to Mr. Gehry’s gorgeous, world-famous Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.

The museum has estimated the cost at $900 million, a third of which has reportedly been pledged. The city, which is kicking in $65 million to the Museum of Modern Art’s $650 million expansion, ought to contribute 10 percent, or $90 million, toward the new Guggenheim. At the moment, Guggenheim officials are waiting for approval from the New York City Economic Development Corporation. One hopes the E.D.C. and the Lower East Side community will have the vision to embrace a cultural and architectural gem, one which would attract millions of tourists, stimulate new uses of the shoreline, and give New Yorkers more space in which to view some of the world’s best art.