Schools Chancellor Harold Levy is on the ropes. He has
enemies on the Board of Education and at City Hall, and the Mayoral hopefuls
have sneered at him. There’s talk he may leave before his term expires in June.
Why all the fuss? Because Mr. Levy is the first chancellor to come along with
the courage to shake things up, and stand up to the political and financial
nightmare that is the New York City
school system. Those who oppose him, such as board president Ninfa Segarra, are
deeply attached to the status quo, and want Mr. Levy out so they can install a
political hack in his place. If they succeed, the education of the city’s 1.1
million schoolchildren will likely again be in the
hands of do-nothing bureaucrats.
Mr. Levy isn’t slowing, or backing, down. He’s unveiling a
plan to cut the school system’s cumbersome administration down to a reasonable
size, and recent news of the out-of-control school-construction budget has led
him to propose that the Board of Education get out of the business of building
schools. Under his plan, the School Construction Authority, an independent
agency, would assume control over all construction and repairs. This is a
necessary step in sorting out the Board of Education’s scandalous inability to
build and fix schools. It’s uncertain if Mr. Levy’s plan requires approval from
Albany. If it does, the Assembly
and Senate should act quickly, and the Board of Education ought to get behind
the proposal. Thus far, Ms. Segarra has had nothing good to say about it,
complaining that Mr. Levy “Lone Ranger-ed this proposal.” Given the Board’s
reputation for efficiency, it’s hardly a
wonder that Mr. Levy might be going his own way, relying not on Ms.
Segarra for support, but on the force of outraged public opinion.
If the Board of Ed and the Mayoral candidates truly want
what is best for the city’s students, they’ll stand behind Mr. Levy and let him
get the job done.
Race in the Race
Few would disagree that there’s something offensive about
appeals to voters that are based on race.
The moral tone of a campaign is lowered, and the intelligence of the voters is insulted. Yet several elected New York City officials, led by Congressman Charles
Rangel, are doing just that as they attempt to put together a black-Latino
coalition to vote for Fernando Ferrer in the Sept. 11 Democratic primary. Mr.
Rangel has assembled a group that includes Manhattan Borough President C.
Virginia Fields, City Councilman William Perkins, State Senator David Paterson
and-in order to gain the maximum amount of publicity-Al Sharpton. The coalition is hardly even making a pretense of
examining the records or capabilities of Mark Green, Alan Hevesi, Peter
Vallone, Herman Badillo or Michael Bloomberg; the fact that Mr. Ferrer is of
Puerto Rican descent is apparently the only significant factor.
One of the assumptions
made by Mr. Ferrer, Mr. Rangel and their fledgling voting bloc is that having a
Mayor who’s Latino or black will automatically be good
for those communities. While an elected official’s ethnicity may indeed instill
pride in his or her constituency, it does not necessarily result in real
improvements in those voters’ lives. If one compares the crime rates in
predominantly black and Latino neighborhoods
under David Dinkins versus Rudolph Giuliani, there’s no question that Mr.
Giuliani-despite his glaring faults in community relations-brought about a
stunning decline in murders, muggings and burglaries, and returned the streets
to those who live there. And the boom in the city’s economy brought a rise in
living standards for all New Yorkers. In contrast to Mr. Rangel and his group,
other black leaders have refused to limit their vision: The Reverend Calvin
Butts has endorsed Mr. Green, and the Reverend Floyd Flake is backing Mr.
One senses that Mr. Ferrer knows he’ll have trouble winning
on the issues, having already placed himself far to the left of most New
York voters. So all that’s left to him is an appeal to race. The fact that he went to see Mr. Sharpton, a noted
bigot and anti-Semite, to ask for his support indicates that Mr. Ferrer’s
campaign has departed from common sense and is willing to broker deals with
Of course, the real subtext is about power. Mr. Rangel’s Harlem
political machine has been losing clout to Brooklyn and
Queens as more black New Yorkers choose to live in those areas. A third of
black New Yorkers are now foreign-born, and thus less likely to be swayed by
the old guard of political leaders. By announcing he’s forming a coalition, Mr.
Rangel creates the appearance of influence.
Even if Mr. Ferrer succeeds in assembling a viable
coalition, in so doing he’ll have divided the city. Most New Yorkers regard
racial coalitions as a thing of the past, and not worthy of a great city.
The human instinct for survival has probably already pushed
last week’s inferno-like heat wave back into the unconscious minds of most New
Yorkers, to lie dormant like a yet-to-be-recovered memory until the next blast
of heat and humidity levels the city. Who, after all, would choose to remember
what those five days felt like?
But in case you’d like to relive-for a brief instant-those
nasty and brutish days, note that on Aug. 8, the temperature was 99 degrees,
breaking a record set in 1980. If that wasn’t enough, the following day saw the
mercury climb to 103 degrees, smashing the 1949 record. With the added
humidity, meteorologists concluded that if you were out in the sun, it would
feel like 130 degrees. If you stood under a tree, it was a chilly 110.
Logic dictates that the real trouble starts when the outside
temperature rises above 98.6 degrees, the human body’s temperature. Below that,
we seem to do just fine-sure, it’s hot, but
we can function and even thrive. But when the temperature edges above
98.6, the human condition becomes a bit unreal, and one suddenly finds oneself
standing in the middle of Death Valley-even if you’re
just crossing 33rd Street.
Our pets have it a little easier, because they have a higher body temperature;
a cat’s is 101.5 degrees, a dog’s is 102. Lucky them-if they’re not in Texas