Manhattan Murder Mystery

There’s a good chance that this first year of the 21st century will end with yet another amazing crime statistic: fewer than 100 murders in Manhattan. That hasn’t happened since the Police Department began keeping such records-in 1937.

As the New York Daily News notes, as of July 9 there had been 46 homicides in Manhattan. If the trend continues, the borough will record about 90 murders this year-compared to 575 in 1977, the last year of the Beame administration. Just ten years ago, as Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau pointed out, a single Manhattan precinct, the 34th in Washington Heights, had 119 homicide cases.

This news, of course, is more than welcome. Manhattan is the city’s economic engine, media center and prime tourist attraction. As people from around the country and the world realize that Manhattan has never been safer, they are more likely to visit here, to move here, to bring their businesses here. And those benefits radiate beyond Manhattan’s zip codes. Without a safe, vibrant Manhattan, the city cannot function.

Who is behind the crime drop? Surely Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has had a lot to do with it, along with police commissioner Howard Safir and his predecessor, William Bratton. Bad guys now realize that they will very likely get caught and sent to jail for committing crimes. Meanwhile, the waning of the crack epidemic argues for a sociological shift away from lawbreaking. And a strong economy has made streets safer, as new restaurants and residences increase nighttime sidewalk traffic. Victory has a thousand fathers. What is beyond debate is that New York is one of the world’s safest big cities, and its financial and cultural core, Manhattan, is as safe as it was 63 years ago, the year Colin Powell was born here and another native New Yorker, Edith Wharton, passed away.

Smarter Teachers

For far too long, many of New York City’s 1.1 million public school children have been saddled with some teachers whose main qualification is an ability to have endured the stultifying boredom of attending a school of education. Such training prepares teachers to become co-conspirators in the bureaucratic inertia that permeates the city’s schools and its Board of Education. Yes, there are islands of excellence, teachers who are doing superb work, but hardly enough to cope with the staggering need.

But a new wave of inspired and knowledgeable teachers may be about to enter the picture, thanks to a decision by the state’s Board of Regents to allow people from other professions-as long as they graduated college with a 3.0 grade-point average and majored in the subject they wish to teach-to plunge into the classroom without slogging through the more traditional route. New York’s private, independent schools have done well without requiring their instructors to hold a formal education degree. Now the public schools can benefit from some of the best and brightest.

The so-called “alternative certification” program will not simply toss raw recruits into the classroom-letting a former white-shoe lawyer loose on a bunch of students is, after all, probably not advisable. Rather, the new teachers will be monitored by a college or university, where they will be required to pick up the equivalent of an education degree by taking classes on evenings, weekends or during the summer months.

Who will answer the call? College seniors who say they want to “give something back,” but are going into investment banking because there is too much red tape involved in becoming a teacher, have just lost an excuse. As have those many professionals who, after a glass of wine on Saturday night, start rhapsodizing what they would do if they could just “chuck it all” and do something “meaningful, like teach.” Fortunately, New York has more than a few such worthy dreamers: The New York Times reports that the fledgling New York City Teaching Fellows program, which plans to place 250 new teachers-many of whom are currently in other careers-in the city’s worst schools this September, has had 1,700 applicants.

New York students will welcome a new crop of teachers interested in being more than baby-sitters and bureaucrats.

Rudy and the Rat Patrol

Some New Yorkers believe former Mayor Ed Koch’s greatest legacy was forcing the city’s dog owners to clean up after their pets. No small matter, as those who attempted to stroll New York’s sidewalks in the pre-Koch era can attest. Now the current resident of Gracie Mansion has before him an equally heroic challenge: ridding the city of rats. Can’t be done? Well, that’s what they said about squeegee men, subway graffiti bandits and drug dealers on every corner. If Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has proven equal to the Herculean task of banishing those pests from his city precincts, it may now be time for him to take on a far more stubborn and wily outlaw. After the Mayor recently saw yet another rat waddling across his front lawn, he said he would appoint a task force to deal with the rodents, using tactics, such as concentrating resources on trouble spots, which proved successful in battling crooks. At the top of his agenda should be more frequent garbage collection; rats feast on the piles of refuse bags that blight city streets.

Some say there are well over 8 million rats in New York, mostly of the Norway rat ( rattus norvegicus ) variety. Beyond the obvious health hazards, the recent, increased visibility of the city’s rat population, flushed out of its hiding places by new construction and renovation, lowers New Yorkers’ sense of pride and tourists’ sense of comfort. Rats make for terrible headlines and photo ops. And those thousands of city parents who have in the last decade chosen to stay put, rather than opt for the suburbs, do not want their kids dodging rats on the way to school.

Just as we cannot let up in our fight against crime, we need a zero-tolerance approach to the furry fiends. Mr. Giuliani will not be able to trap every last rat. But something tells us he’s just the man for the job.