Comptroller Candidates Can’t Count

Unlike the ceremonial positions of Borough President or

Public Advocate, the person who holds the title of City Comptroller has an

important assignment. As the city’s chief financial officer, he or she is

charged with overseeing the municipal treasury and making sure that the Mayor

and City Council aren’t spending and borrowing their way to disaster. The

Comptroller is an ombudsman for New York’s

taxpayers, a financial watchdog.

That being the case, voters have good reason to fear for the

safety and security of the municipal treasury. The leading candidates for City

Comptroller, Herb Berman and William

Thompson, were asleep on the job while the School Construction Authority

piled up $1.9 billion in cost overruns. Mr. Thompson was president of the Board

of Education while the costs escalated, and Mr. Berman, as chairman of the City

Council’s Finance Committee, had oversight responsibility for the authority’s

budget. Neither man blew the whistle-or even raised a peep. And these are the

guys who want to oversee the city’s finances?

Both Mr. Thompson and Mr. Berman had access to the School

Construction Authority’s numbers and should have spotted this disaster long

before it got out of control. The history of school construction is filled with

tales of corruption and gross inefficiency. The School Construction Authority

was founded in the hopes that New

York could finally get schools built without

appalling waste and scandals. But it became clear long ago that the authority

was not unlike its predecessor agencies. Mr. Berman himself has criticized its

spending habits-all the more reason for a would-be fiscal watchdog to be

vigilant. Both men had the power to

carefully monitor the Board of Education’s much-ballyhooed $7 billion

capital-spending plan. History and common sense suggested nothing less.

Instead, costs skyrocketed out of control while those in

authority said and did nothing. Mr. Thompson and Mr. Berman have shown that

they are perfectly suited for the role of

financial lapdog. As for a watchdog, a halfway-decent accountant would

do better.

Sunlight Gets an A

Along with teachers, principals and parents, it turns out

that architects play a significant role in

your child’s education. New studies by environmental psychologists are showing

that a school’s design has a startling impact on academic performance,

resulting in faster learning and higher test scores. 

Those who have studied Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.)

know that a lack of sunlight can lead to depression in adults. A recent California

study of 21,000 school kids indicates that students also suffer when there

isn’t enough light. As reported by The New York Times, the researchers

found that students in classrooms with the most light showed a 20

percent faster rate of improvement on math tests, and a 26 percent faster rate

of improvement on reading tests, than students toiling in classrooms with the

least light. In a Seattle school

district, the amount of daylight in a classroom was a better predictor of

academic performance than gender, class size or whether the student came from a

single-parent household. And students in classrooms with ample natural light

scored as much as 18 percent higher on tests than those whose classrooms had no

windows.

Not only did windows make a difference; if they opened,

there were further benefits. In the California

study, students in classrooms with windows that could open advanced 8 percent

faster over one year than those in classrooms without open windows, which

researchers attributed to the flow of natural air.

Academic status is also

influenced by how close one sits to the teacher-within 12 feet is recommended.

The nation’s largest school-design firm now gives teachers desks with casters

to enable them to move around the room. Other innovations in school design

include placing students at a large table rather than individual desks; eliminating lockers and having students share walk-in

closets; and using round, rather than rectangular, tables in lunchrooms. Public

School 69 in the Bronx, set to open in January, will feature a small

foyer with sitting area outside each classroom.

Many of New York’s

schools resemble 19th-century factories. The next Mayor should insist that

blueprints for new buildings incorporate the latest research. The city should

set the example for the nation and rebuild schools suited for 21st-century

children. 

Jack Maple

Relatively few New Yorkers know who Jack Maple was, but

there isn’t a resident of the city who did not personally benefit from his

brilliant career. Maple, who died last week at the age

of 48, helped orchestrate New York City’s

revolutionary drop in crime, which began in the mid-1990′s and continues to

this day. While he worked behind the scenes, leaving the public role to his

friend and boss, former Police Commissioner William Bratton, he was hardly a

stranger to the detectives, police officers and prosecutors who saw firsthand

how one man’s vision-backed up by charisma and common sense-brought a sea change

to the world’s largest urban police department. Mr. Bratton called him “the

smartest man I’ve ever met on crime.”

Raised in Queens, with a high-school

degree from night school, Maple was a young

star as a detective with the Transit Police. Later installed under Mr. Bratton

as deputy commissioner, Maple’s great invention was the Compstat program, in

which local commanders are held to rigorous standards at weekly meetings, based

on crime statistics from their precincts that are tracked by computer.

Maple’s legacy will be how he changed the way New Yorkers

see themselves in their city. Working with Mr. Bratton and Mayor Rudolph

Giuliani, Maple helped reduce crime to levels not seen since the 1960′s,

bringing a renewed sense of safety to the streets and subways. New York’s

revitalization as a place to live and raise a family, its strong pull on

tourists, its status as the world’s most magnetic business and cultural

center-none of this would have been possible without a baseline standard of

lower crime.

Maple’s style was one of his other grand achievements:

Impeccably turned out in a double-breasted suit, homburg hat, bow tie and

two-tone spectator shoes, sipping champagne and smoking cigars as he regaled

friends at Elaine’s, Maple refused to play the part of solemn city employee or

cynical crime-fighter. His embrace of a brash wardrobe and love of a good yarn

made him a timeless New York

character.

For all his tough-guy

tales and colorful antics, Jack Maple was a deeply civilized man, and New

York is a far more civilized city because of him.