New York’s streets may be the safest they’ve been in 30 years, thanks to proactive policing under Rudolph Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg, but this success against crime stands in sharp contrast to the city’s profound failure to figure out what to do with its garbage. The city’s elected leaders have stood by as New York’s garbage problem has exploded into a crisis-one that threatens the economic health of the city and the physical and psychological well-being of its residents.
What, exactly, is the current state of New York’s garbage? For starters, city residents are paying hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes to truck the garbage through city streets and out of town. The city then gives more of these taxpayer dollars to communities willing to take our garbage (and our money). One doesn’t need to be an environmental engineer to conclude that trucking vast mounds of garbage through city neighborhoods is an environmentally dodgy thing to do. But as The New York Times ‘ Joyce Purnick recently pointed out, first Mr. Giuliani and now Mr. Bloomberg have been squeamish about making the politically risky moves necessary to clean up this costly and dangerous mess-one result being that the Sanitation Department currently has a budget of almost $1 billion and precious little to show for it.
Politics were a big reason behind Mr. Giuliani’s decision one year ago to close the Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island, where Republicans pull the levers on Election Day. It would have been more responsible for Mr. Giuliani to phase out Fresh Kills slowly, over time. Instead, he came up with a plan to ship the city’s trash on barges to Linden, N.J., where it could be sealed in closed containers and sent by train to points distant. Not a terrible idea, and it’s generally much better to move garbage around on barges than through city streets. But as Ms. Purnick reports, the Linden plan appears to have collapsed in an unseemly tangle of local New Jersey politics.
Which brings us back to New York politics. There’s a good argument to be made for building a modern facility on Staten Island that could take the city’s raw garbage, seal it in containers and load it onto rail cars. Staten Island residents would be outraged-but Mr. Bloomberg needs to take that risk for the good of the city.
In addition to a new facility on Staten Island, the Bloomberg administration should aggressively investigate modern methods of incineration, which are already being used in towns around the U.S. and in Western Europe. City neighborhoods will do all they can to keep incinerators out, but if the Mayor speaks plainly and forcefully about the garbage crisis, he can perhaps summon a sense of sacrifice and civic spirit. If not, he still must act. And who better than a self-described non-politician to solve this political problem?
The title is intriguing but sounds almost naïve: “The Blueprint to End Homelessness in New York City.” End homelessness in New York? Sure, it might work as a campaign slogan, but as a realistic goal?
But thinking unrealistic thoughts is a hallmark of innovative leadership, and with the city spending almost $1 billion a year on the homeless, it’s time to think big. The number of people in city shelters now is at the highest level since the 80′s, and the number of homeless families increased an astonishing 22 percent in the current budget year. In other words, yet another generation of children is growing up homeless and in despair. The above “blueprint” is a compelling 10-year plan written by a group of nonprofit and social-service agencies, and would need to be approved by Mayor Bloomberg and Governor George Pataki. Some of the blueprint’s suggestions have already had an impact on the Bloomberg administration, as evidenced by the Mayor’s announcement this week that the city would significantly increase government subsidies for apartments for the homeless, and would crack down on people who use the shelter system without also looking for permanent housing.
Indeed, the blueprint’s guiding principle is that the government should spend less on managing shelters and more on creating low-income housing. In addition, the plan would link housing and social services under one deputy mayor, and require social-service agencies to take responsibility for making sure their clients find housing. At the core of the plan is the belief that if people are able to live in a decent apartment of their own, they will naturally be more motivated to create viable lives and careers. But with the city’s severe lack of affordable housing, hope runs out fast.
There is no easy solution to homelessness, partly because different approaches are needed for the single homeless man who is a violent drug addict and the single mother with kids who simply cannot afford an apartment. But Mr. Bloomberg’s intention to shrink the shelters and expand affordable housing has common sense and compassion on its side.
The Roman Catholic bishops of America have decided that sexual molestation is not necessarily grounds for stripping a priest of his collar and escorting him to the local police station house. In some circumstances, molesters may simply check in with their local monks, get fitted for a sackcloth, and spend the rest of their lives in undeserved serenity.
How’s that for justice?
In the midst of a scandal that has angered millions of Catholics around the country, the bishops didn’t call for the defrocking of any priest, of any age, who violated children in the recent or distant past. Instead, some of the accused, whose crimes were committed many years ago (and who can’t be prosecuted because the statute of limitations has expired), will simply be withdrawn from public ministries and sent to a monastery.
The bishops continue to act like members of an exclusive club instead of pastors. Apparently, they’d rather not humiliate aging predator priests and fellow club members by defrocking them. By sparing the old predators, however, the bishops are denying justice to the predators’ victims. As one victim said, priests who violate children should be denied the prestige (what’s left of it) that comes with their collar.
No matter what their age, no matter when their crimes, predator priests deserve the harshest possible treatment. That should include defrocking and ostracism. The bishops should understand that these priests are no better-and perhaps a good deal worse-than some of our prison system’s inhabitants. But those prisoners didn’t have the option of, say, house arrest. Justice demanded their incarceration.
Old predator priests may be beyond the clutches of the law. But no law restricts the bishops. They can, and should, toss them out of the club without hesitation.
But the bishops can’t bring themselves to do it. And as a result, they’ve lost all their authority.
Where is the moral outrage?
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