A Bad Deal on Term Limits

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani is talking about a deal with the City Council: He’ll approve a Council bill overturning the city’s term-limits law, if the Council agrees to water down the city’s system of public campaign finance. Veteran Council members are desperate to hold onto their part-time jobs rather than face unemployment at the end of the year. The Mayor despises a provision in the campaign-finance law that allows candidates to get $4 in public funds for every $1 they raise in private contributions, up to a specified ceiling. You can see, then, the possibilities for old-fashioned political horse trading.

Of course, not everybody makes out like a bandit in this little deal. The voters approved term limits for citywide officials and Council members twice in the 1990’s. The voters also approved creation of the city’s system of voluntary public campaign finance more than a decade ago. While they didn’t approve the specific $4 to $1 match, their desire to create a model system of public campaign finance was self-evident. If the Mayor and the Council go forward with their bargain, they will foil the expressed will of the city’s electorate. The politicians will win; the voters will lose.

There’s a time for political wheeling and dealing-the budget process comes to mind-and there’s a time to heed the basic tenets of popular democracy. Mr. Giuliani and the City Council must put aside their personal opinions and abide by the people’s will. The term-limit and campaign-finance laws shouldn’t be treated as mere political commodities, to be traded or discarded to suit the needs and preferences of elected officials. They are laws, made in the name of the people of New York.

If the Mayor believes that term limits are bad, and that the Council should be allowed to thwart the public’s will on this issue, then he should just say so and sign the Council’s bill on its merits. (We happen to think that term limits are good, and will bring new blood and experience to city government.) If the Mayor believes that term limits are good, or that this bill is an improper and perhaps even illegal remedy, then he should issue a veto. That’s the position we favor.

By suggesting a quid pro quo with the Council, the Mayor sends the wrong message to the electorate. Voters have plenty of anecdotal evidence to conclude that their wishes mean nothing when politicians gather in a back room. If the Mayor and the Council go forward with this deal, New Yorkers will conclude that Election Day in this city is just another holiday, when nothing of consequence is decided.

A Stark Decision at Bronx Science

It seemed as though everybody thought William J. Stark would be a terrific choice as the next principal of Bronx High School of Science. Parents, colleagues, alumni and a search committee believed that Mr. Stark, who had spent his entire 33-year teaching career at the school, was the ideal candidate, somebody who loved the school and understood the system.

But Mr. Stark has never won a Nobel Prize, and so a decision that should have taken, oh, about an hour became a four-month slog through New York’s infamous education bureaucracy. According to news accounts, Schools Chancellor Harold O. Levy was hoping to find not simply an outstanding teacher and administrator, but a prominent name, perhaps even a Nobel Prize winner.

Understandably, Mr. Stark grew weary as the months passed and he remained in limbo, serving dutifully as acting principal while Mr. Levy and his associates searched for their prominent name. Finally, in early February, Mr. Stark submitted his resignation and agreed to become principal at Manhasset High School on Long Island.

It’s hard to imagine a worse scenario: Bronx Science is one of the city’s great schools, a place that keeps parents from moving to places like, say, Manhasset. And now, because of bureaucratic dawdling, the school and the city have lost Mr. Stark to the suburbs.

Outstanding teachers are among the most valuable assets in a civil, educated society, and should be rewarded. Instead, we lose them. And for no good reason.

Your Eminences

This city’s contribution to American Catholicism was never more evident than on Feb. 21, when two New Yorkers and one former neighbor received the red hat of a Cardinal from Pope John Paul II in a solemn ceremony in Vatican City.

The elevation of Cardinal John O’Connor’s successor, Archbishop Edward Egan, was not surprising, but it was satisfying all the same. Cardinal Egan has not had the public profile of his outspoken predecessor, but he will be making decisions-about schools, hospitals and social services-that will have a tremendous influence over 21st-century New York.

More unexpected were the red hats given to the Reverend Avery Dulles, a Jesuit theologian at Fordham University, and to Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, formerly of Newark and now of Washington, D.C. Cardinal Dulles is the 82-year-old son of that bastion of the old WASP elite, John Foster Dulles. Of his conversion to Catholicism while a student at Harvard University, Cardinal Dulles said he chose to reject the relativism and skepticism of the age.

Cardinal McCarrick led the Archdiocese of Newark for nearly two decades, during which he became a frequent visitor to Manhattan. His influence was spent not in the pursuit of ambition but in the service of social justice, of advocacy for the poor, for immigrants, for those left behind. His scholarship program for inner-city children of all faiths helped countless families in the wounded city of Newark.

New Yorkers celebrate the elevation of these distinguished priests, and we wish them well.