Defending Henry Stern

How high a price must a great city pay for political

correctness? New Yorkers need look no

further than the current media circus enveloping Parks Commissioner Henry Stern for a grim lesson in how a highly

successful public servant, no matter how significant his

accomplishments, can be pilloried, and possibly driven from his job, because of

an unwillingness to temper his at times politically incorrect private

persona. 

How did Mr. Stern find himself in this mess? As has been

reported, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, responding to

complaints from disgruntled Parks

Department workers, found that whites held more managerial positions

than blacks and Hispanics, and were promoted at a faster rate. While that is obviously not an acceptable state of

affairs, and bears serious looking into, one would be hard pressed to

find another city agency where that was not also true-or any large corporation,

for that matter. That Henry Stern is being held accountable for the faults of a still racially imbalanced society is

ludicrous. From the recent slew of negative press, Mr. Stern’s greater

fault seems to have been a carelessness with ethnic humor in conversations

which were not always private. The glee with which The New York Times and other politically correct mouthpieces have

leapt on Mr. Stern is stunning. To get beyond this caricature of Mr. Stern, one

simply has to look at his record.

Henry Stern made New York parks popular again, and he did it

despite large cuts to his agency’s operating budget. Over the past seven years,

2,600 acres of new park land have been

acquired under his management. On his watch, the capital budget for

parks has more than doubled, to almost $200 million, because Mr. Stern was

successful in lobbying the City Council. Thanks to him, graffiti is now almost

impossible to find in city parks. He restored parks in all the boroughs: Marcus

Garvey Park in Harlem, Fort Greene Park in Brooklyn and the park land along the

Bronx River. He conducted a census of trees on city sidewalks, which led to new

resources to maintain them. Mr. Stern’s tireless and selfless work has greatly

benefited all New Yorkers who value the city’s green spaces.

Mr. Stern recruited some of his staff from Ivy League

schools, students who otherwise would have

turned to banking, law or media. He also employed welfare recipients

from the city’s “work experience program,” 2,060 of whom his agency helped find

jobs in government and the private sector. 

Yes, it is clear the 65-year-old Mr. Stern is not an adept

player at public relations and that he made some mistakes. But what he has

given the city far outweighs his flaws. New Yorkers should have the grace to

acknowledge his real legacy.

City Council, Still

Scheming

How many New Yorkers followed last fall’s post-election

fiasco in Florida with detached disdain? Certainly New York’s democracy was a

good deal more evolved than Florida’s. New York would never tolerate ham-handed

attempts to defy the people’s will. Right?

Wrong!

The City Council, that

bastion of modern democracy, is intent on saving its collective skin, and if

that means running roughshod over the voters’ expressed wishes, then so be it.

Twice in the last few years, New Yorkers have voted overwhelmingly in favor of

term limits for the Mayor, Public Advocate, Comptroller and the Council. Never

was the public’s collective wisdom so evident-the Council has long been derided

as a holding pen for hacks and time servers, a legislature singularly uninterested

in legislating. Many Council members are lawyers who practice on the side, such

is their devotion to public service. Most members live for the annual practice

of handing out taxpayer dollars to favorite community groups.

Well, the scam is over. And even still, the Council resists.

Twenty-two of the Council’s 51 members have put their names to a bill that

would overturn term limits, allowing members to run for re-election later this

year. Michael Meyers, executive director of the New York Civil Rights

Coalition, found exactly the right words for this absurd spectacle:

“Transparent, despicable, reprehensible, shameless idiocy.” Some might argue

that he was being far too diplomatic.

The City Council has been a laughingstock for decades. No,

not every member is a dim bulb, but as an institution, it requires a general

housecleaning. New members with new ideas could transform this stodgy body into

a vibrant legislature.

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani,

no fan of term limits but a man who respects the people’s will, must

veto this outrage. We can’t count on Council Speaker Peter Vallone-he won’t be

able to stop passage. Mr. Giuliani has been a force for good government since his days as a U.S. Attorney. By

vetoing the abolition of term limits, he would make yet another

contribution to better democracy in New York.

Homes for the

Homeless

Some facts are not easy to swallow, nor should they be. Such

as the fact that 10,000 children are currently sleeping in New York City

homeless shelters on an average night. 

As The New York Times recently

reported, the population of homeless in city shelters is the highest it’s been

in 20 years. The painful plight of a homeless child may be the saddest thing

one can imagine. Leading the way in trying to alleviate this suffering is Homes

for the Homeless, the nation’s largest provider for homeless families, which

was started in 1986 by Leonard Stern, chairman of the Hartz Group. Since its

founding, 18,000 homeless families and 30,000

homeless children have received emergency transitional housing. In addition

to housing, Homes for the Homeless offers

services necessary to building an independent life: education, job

training, after-school programs, emotional counseling

and child care. No city should accept thousands of its children sleeping

in shelters each night. Through the dedication and perseverance of Homes for

the Homeless, each night a few more New York children are spared such a fate.

Those interested in learning more may call 212-529-5252 or

visit the Web site, http://www.homesforthehomeless.com.