Cuomo’s H.U.D. Goes Thud

It’s no secret that Andrew Cuomo would very much like to

occupy the New York Governor’s mansion in Albany, preferably as soon as

possible, and follow in his father’s footsteps. To win a Democratic primary,

Mr. Cuomo would likely lean heavily on his

record for the past four years as the Secretary of Housing and Urban

Development. But while he has been very public in claiming success at H.U.D.,

there is compelling evidence in New York City that New Yorkers should think

twice before handing him the keys to their state.

As The New York Times

recently reported, H.U.D. fell victim to a scam that has resulted in a

promising block of Harlem brownstones ending up as empty, garbage-strewn hulks,

and dealt a serious blow to a rising neighborhood. The H.U.D. program, designed

to reward home ownership in poor areas, was hijacked by corrupt speculators who

set up fake nonprofit organizations and ran off with H.U.D. loans-money that

the taxpayers will now have to pay back. Four hundred and fifty buildings

around the city are currently in disarray because of the ruse. Federal and

state prosecutors have charged 16 people.

Although Mr. Cuomo has talked a great game about his

revamping of H.U.D., he was not able to keep his own agency from being

swindled. Instead of giving speeches, staging superficial photo ops and going

to cocktail parties in Washington, D.C., he might have done better if he had

stayed in his office and kept an eye on the details. Does he understand the

damage his agency has done to the residents of Harlem who must live amidst the

decaying buildings?

Of course, Mr. Cuomo is leaving H.U.D. and Washington now,

forced out by a new administration. And his eyes are on New York’s top job.

Someone with less chutzpah might run for secretary of state or lieutenant

governor. He will need something more impressive on his résumé than a housing

scandal in Harlem.

East Side Phone

Gridlock

It’s good that City Hall has a Department of Information

Technology and Telecommunications. It’s a sign that the city fathers and

mothers, not always quick to recognize and embrace change, understand the

critical role high-tech will play in the city’s economy. Unfortunately,

somebody needs to remind the department that the digital age has arrived.

The department has

approved a plan to install more than 2,000 new pay phones, about half of which

will be placed on the Upper East Side, a neighborhood where cell phones are as

ubiquitous as imported sports cars. Residents are outraged, as well they should

be. Public telephones will one day be considered as quaint and outdated as public baths. In fact, that day

has pretty much arrived on the Upper

East Side.

If the department’s plan

goes through, the new telephone kiosks will be splattered with

advertising, which suggests that this proposal may not be about public

convenience or safety, as the department insists, but about revenue-raising.

So the new phones will not only be unnecessary and outdated,

but ugly as well. How can the city justify “uglifying” a neighborhood that is

home to many of New York’s most loyal long-time citizens? Furthermore, the

phone kiosks are bound to exacerbate sidewalk crowding along the neighborhood’s

busy north-south avenues. No wonder City Councilmember Eva Moskowitz reports

that more than 50 residents have called her office to complain about the plan.

Further opposition has surfaced during community board meetings.

If the department wants to install public phones, whether

for convenience or as a means of generating advertising revenue, it should

place them in heavily commercial areas or in subway stations (where, of course,

cell phones are useless).

The Upper East Side is

in the digital age, even if the Department of Information Technology and

Telecommunications is stuck in the analog era.

Psychologists Find

Happiness

New Yorkers are famously in touch with their pain, thanks to

what is surely the world’s most sophisticated and highly paid army of

psychiatrists, psychoanalysts, psychotherapists, psychopharmacologists, social

workers and others in the mental-health field. A relatively new school of

psychology, however, is suggesting that rather than trying to “fix” what ails

them, people might prosper more if they simply turned their attention to what is

good in life.  The American Psychological Association’s Monitor on Psychology reports that “positive psychology” has

identified 20 personality characteristics which are the roots of happiness,

including “the capacity to love and be loved, altruism, spirituality, creativity, courage and wisdom.” Ed Diener, a

researcher at the University of Illinois who organized a recent

“Positive Psychology Summit,” explained the positive psychology approach this

way: “When you are laying awake at night, you are not thinking about how do I

get from minus eight to minus five, you are asking about going from feeling

plus two to plus twelve …. Psychology never told us to do that. Until now,

psychology has been all about making life less minus.”

Positive psychologists find that people tend to get the most

satisfaction from small rewards-receiving an unexpected gift or even finding a

quarter in the street. And that people do better work when they are given a

dose of positive emotion: In one study, radiologists were found to make more

accurate diagnoses if they had first been given a small present. Researchers

also found that people who saw their job as a calling, even if the work was not

particularly stimulating or interesting, enjoyed

higher life satisfaction than those who saw their job as just a career. Another

finding was that the greater the number of choices you are faced with, the more

unhappy you become. People who insist on always examining every option were

identified as “maximizers” and were found to be a fairly miserable bunch.

It remains to be seen

whether positive psychology will withstand New Yorkers’ capacity for

masochism, narcissism and cynicism. But the moral of the story is clear: Buy

your doctor a nice present before your next checkup.