Last-Minute Mischief

Rudolph Giuliani never made any secret about his love for baseball and the Yankees. It turns out that during his last few days in office, even as he was being hailed as an American hero, Mr. Giuliani was letting his passions dictate policy: He gave his favorite team–and their cross-borough rivals, the Mets–a sweetheart lease renegotiation, leaving Mayor Michael Bloomberg to deal with the mess.

Mr. Giuliani (whose nameplate at his new job reads “Yankee Fan-in-Chief”) secretly inserted provisions into the two teams’ stadium leases allowing them to leave the city on 60 days’ notice if they’re unhappy with the pace of new stadium construction. The escape clause for the Yankees went into effect on Jan. 1; the Mets can flee effective Dec. 31, 2004.

This business recalls Bill Clinton’s last-minute pardons for his favorite fugitives. What a shame that Mr. Giuliani chose to tarnish his own legacy by saddling his successor–and all New Yorkers–with this bit of misguided favoritism. By design, he has undercut the Bloomberg administration’s negotiating stance. If the new Mayor decides that the city simply cannot afford the new ballparks, the Mets and Yankees have no legal obligation to remain in the city. Just the opposite: They can walk, and City Hall can do nothing about it.

Mr. Giuliani is no fool; he knew exactly what he was doing. He couldn’t get new stadiums built while he was Mayor, so he decided to leave his successor with little choice in the matter. It makes you wonder if Mr. Giuliani is hoping to enlist the Yankees and Mets as clients for his new consulting group.

Mayor Bloomberg has nothing except the force of public opinion on his side. He’ll need to marshal support for a stand against the two teams–at least until the city returns to prosperity and budget surpluses. He’ll need every tool in the trade to protect the city’s finances from the ravenous Lords of Baseball. Too bad Mr. Giuliani raided the tool box.

Gifford Miller: East Side Boy Makes Good

While growing up in a well-off family on Manhattan’s Upper East Side may give one significant advantages in life, it’s not necessarily much help if one’s chosen career is to be head of the City Council. Indeed, when Gifford Miller–a polished product of the East Side and Princeton University–became an East Side Councilman in 1996, his colleagues on the Council saw him as a nice young man who would be quite comfortable working for his well-heeled constituency. That he was elected head of the City Council this month–a position second in power only to the Mayor’s–is an indication of his sharp mind, his public embrace of issues that matter to all five boroughs, and the strong alliances he’s made with politicians from Queens and the Bronx.

Mr. Miller says that he’s always loved the city. His father, Leigh Miller, is a retired executive with American Express, and his mother, Lynden Miller, is a landscape designer who created the gardens in Bryant Park. The 32-year-old Council Speaker is married to Pamela Miller, a lawyer at Arnold & Porter; they have a young son. After graduating from Princeton in 1992, he took a job as a receptionist in the Washington, D.C., office of Representative Carolyn Maloney. Soon he was running her Manhattan office.

Mr. Miller’s reputation as a workaholic will serve him well as he confronts a Council made up largely of newcomers to city government. Initial reports that the new Council is far more liberal–and perhaps more apt to spend–should prompt Mr. Miller to make it clear to the members that this is no time to be raiding the city’s coffers. He has already shown an understanding of the fiscal challenges facing the city by announcing that he will cut the stipends paid to Council members who chair various committees. And he’ll reduce his Speaker’s $39,500 stipend–which he receives on top of his $90,000 salary–by $10,000.

He’s off to a good start. The next two years of Mr. Miller’s term will give New Yorkers an opportunity to see this bright young man at work.

The Governor and the Union Boss

Even by the low standards of Albany politics, this one is a doozy: Governor George Pataki, hoping to woo the state’s most powerful union leader and the union’s 210,000 members, has cooked up a ludicrous health-care bill that serves no purpose other than to increase Mr. Pataki’s re-election chances in November. The bill, which will cost an estimated $3 billion, looks unlikely to pass muster with the White House and Congress, neither of which seem to be fooled by Mr. Pataki’s ploy, and only adds to the sense that the Governor is less than deft in his dealings with the federal government. Recall how, in pursuit of federal money to help New York in the wake of 9/11, he requested $54 billion in aid from Washington–including money for unrelated pork projects such as high-speed rail service to Schenectady. He did not enhance the dignity of his office then, and he is meeting the same firm resistance from Washington over his health-care bill.

That the Governor came up with his bill in several private meetings with Dennis Rivera, the head of the New York City hospital-workers’ union, should come as no surprise, since the bill is basically a gift to the union. Mr. Pataki is apparently hoping that Mr. Rivera will either throw his union’s support behind him, or at the very least encourage his members to stay home in November and not vote for the Democratic candidate. In return, the bill includes $1.8 billion in raises for union members over the next three years–never mind that, when you look at the fine print, Mr. Pataki has neglected to figure out a reasonable way to pay for it. Indeed, the bill rests on very shaky financial ground: Mr. Pataki first proposes using a $1.1 billion “one-shot” payment from the conversion of Empire Blue Cross and Blue Shield to a private, for-profit corporation. But after that money is gone, the plan will still cost hundreds of millions of dollars a year–money which isn’t available. By then Mr. Pataki, with the help of Mr. Rivera’s union, will have been re-elected, and can deal with the matter as he sees fit–most likely by making cuts in other areas, or raising taxes. The bill also rests on the assumption that the federal government will increase its share of New York’s Medicaid payments from 50 to 53 percent. The Bush administration has said it will not support such a change, and members of Congress are reportedly wary of Mr. Rivera’s fingerprints on the bill.

The next time Mr. Pataki goes to Washington, he might want to leave Mr. Rivera at home.