A Conflict of Interest at Community Board 2

They may not realize it yet, but New Yorkers who live or

work in Greenwich Village, Soho or Little Italy have just given up a degree of

independence when it comes to their community board. Community Board 2 has

announced that its new chairwoman will be Aubrey Lees. Ms. Lees also happens to

be a local district leader of the Democratic Party, a conflict of interest that

immediately calls into question her ability to steer the board without a

partisan agenda.

While community boards have limited power, they can have

great influence in the court of public opinion. Community boards are meant to

be an alternative, nonpartisan way for

citizens to have a say in local decisions-not a vehicle to reinforce the

existing political power structure. But that is exactly what is happening

with Board 2. Ms. Lees’ refusal to give up her Democratic Party role does not

bode well for those who want the board to operate in an impartial manner. “Her

unwillingness to step down as district leader worries me,” Board 2’s vice

chairwoman, Ann Warner Arlen, told The

New York Times . “One wonders if we are going to see something that looks

more like patronage.”

Every decision Ms. Lees

makes will be seen through a partisan lens, paralyzing the board when it

most needs to be an effective voice for those who live within its boundaries. What will happen when groups with

interests at odds with the local Democratic

machine come before the board? Ms. Lees’ unusual position will also have

a chilling effect on local Democratic politics: Who can say that she will not

pressure up-and-coming Democratic politicians to abide by community-board

decisions? They know that, as their local

party leader, she can make it easy-or difficult-for them when primary season

rolls around. How many will have the courage to oppose the community board

knowing that their political future may be at stake?

Small-Town New York

New Yorkers often say that, after living here for several

years, the city takes on the feel of a small town made up of one’s

neighborhood, one’s daily route to work, one’s favorite restaurants, parks and

museums. But when it comes to how the city

is governed, our elected leaders rarely address problems on such an intimate

scale. The five boroughs are treated as if

each contained a homogeneous population, led by a borough president who has the absurd task of being responsive

to millions of highly diverse residents. The result: little gets done,

at great cost to taxpayers. Two State University of New York professors have a

solution: Why not eliminate the five borough governments and their presidents

and break up the city into 80 towns, each with a population of 100,000? This

proposal deserves consideration by any Mayoral candidate who understands, as

Rudolph Giuliani did when he won City Hall,

that New York thrives when its leaders challenge conventional wisdom.

If the city was split up into 80 communities, New Yorkers

would regain a sense of local pride, which

is crucial for such issues as education, public safety and sanitation.

The SUNY professors, Richard Nathan and Gerald Benjamin, suggest that each town

would have its own school board. Indeed, the Board of Education has proven that providing services for a large population

from a central bureaucracy does not work and probably never will.

Problem-solving could be accelerated. All too often, the

Mayor must take time to deal with geographically isolated issues, such as

traffic in Staten Island or immigration battles in Queens or real-estate

disputes in Manhattan. With the city divided into 80 towns, the Mayor would be

free to handle larger issues such as crime,

taxes, quality of life and tourism. There is a nearby precedent for decentralization:

In 1955, Connecticut abolished its county governments and put 169 towns in

their place, with great success.

The New York Times’ Joyce Purnick suggests

that a charter commission could  explore

this idea. Such a move would make a nice bookend to the 1989 City Charter

revision, which gave the Mayor much-needed powers but did not provide an

opportunity for local values to become articulated in public policy.

Road Rage, Air Rage

and Now, Desk Rage

When Lizzie Grubman backed her father’s Mercedes-Benz over

16 people at the Conscience Point nightclub in Southampton recently, one could

not really call it “road rage”-although she was in a car, there were no other

drivers in sight. But what about “desk

rage,” a term coined by psychologists who are coming up with new ways to

keep tabs on anger and violence in the workplace? Ms. Grubman, after all, could

be said to have been on the job that night: She was employed by Conscience

Point as a publicist. Did her job push her over the edge? Or was it an

accident, as she is claiming?

In any case, even if most employees don’t have recourse to a

Mercedes S.U.V. with which to vent their

feelings, recent studies reported in the American Psychological

Association’s Monitor on Psychology indicate

that stress does lead to physical violence

in 10 percent of all workplaces. “Desk rage” does not usually go that

far; hostility and rudeness are most often the outcome. But even that can be

tremendously costly to employers. More than half the workers in one survey said they had lost time at work worrying

about a colleague’s rude behavior. One-third reported that they had

reduced their commitment to their work because of such rudeness. In another

large survey, 25 percent said they had been driven to tears at the office

because of stress.

Psychologists suggest

more flexible hours, anger workshops and, most importantly, carefully

screening job applicants for signs of aggression or rudeness before

hiring them. If a hothead is already on staff, it may help to keep an eye on e-mail: A former Central Intelligence

Agency psychologist named Eric Shaw told the Monitor he is developing software that can detect anger and mood

changes in employee e-mail. “Language becomes more simplified when we are angry

or stressed,” said Mr. Shaw. “Angry people use words that denote judgment, good

or bad, and they refer to individuals more frequently and are more emotional, more evaluative and more personal.” And if that

doesn’t work, Mr. Shaw’s software will also be on the lookout for the

words, “kill,” “fire” and “bomb.”