Bloomberg, Bush and Manhattan Island, Too

We must be missing something. Polls show that the rest of the country is wild about George W. Bush, with a staggering 74 percent approving of the way he’s doing his job. Yet we think he may be the worst President in 100 years, a President whose decisions have placed the nation’s economic and environmental health in jeopardy. And then there’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg: A New York 1 poll shows that just 33 percent of New Yorkers approve of his stewardship of the city, with a stunning 59 percent disapproving -one of the worst ratings any Mayor has ever received. Yet we think he’s doing a great job in difficult times.

What’s wrong with us? The gist of it is that Manhattan is out of step with the rest of the country and with the city’s other boroughs. Indeed, when the New York 1 poll broke out the numbers for Manhattan residents, 47 percent approved of the job Mr. Bloomberg is doing.

Manhattanites must have a different sensibility than those who inhabit the heartland of America, who don’t think like we do. This comes into sharp relief when major issues such as war or the economy preoccupy the mind-set of the nation. While some may find this comforting, the disparity between Manhattan and America-and between Manhattan and the neighboring boroughs-does not necessarily work to the city’s advantage. For example, the President of the United States and the Governor of New York have both effectively written off Manhattan politically. Like Washington, Albany has never given the city its fair share, despite the fact that President Bush, Governor Pataki and Mayor Bloomberg are all Republicans.

Then there’s the drubbing Mayor Bloomberg received locally in the polls. The numbers suggest that if an election were held today, the Mayor would likely be defeated. Yet what is he being punished for? He is not an arrogant man, and in the face of an economy that we’ve never seen before, he’s been refreshingly honest and candid with New Yorkers about what’s needed to keep the city afloat, without blaming his predecessors or attacking political adversaries. He hasn’t bloated the deficit or come up with off-the-balance-sheet gimmicks, which would come back to haunt the city in five years. Yet in the poll, 70 percent of those surveyed said that there were better ways to resolve the city’s economic crisis. That point of view is naïve-and troubling-because it indicates that New Yorkers are punishing the Mayor for telling the truth. Mr. Bloomberg’s low poll numbers could leave the impression that if you elect someone decent, someone who does what is right and appropriate, he or she will get clobbered.

Indeed, those who disapprove of the Mayor are apparently unmoved by the fact that he has kept the city safe, maintaining the low crime levels established by Rudolph Giuliani. And are they unaware that he has taken unprecedented steps toward repairing the city’s troubled public-school system?

The Mayor has been providing real leadership, and yet the majority of the city is giving him a thumbs-down. President Bush is leading the country into economic meltdown, yet the majority of the country sings his praises. Manhattan has never felt so much like an island.

The Death Penalty: A Barbaric Solution

For reasons that defy logic, evidence and decency, many Americans remain convinced that the death penalty is a perfectly acceptable means of applying justice. They believe that the death penalty works as a deterrent, and that it is administered without regard to race or class. But that is a lie.

The death penalty ought to be abolished. Every other Western country has done away with it, but we hang on to this barbaric practice, along with the likes of Cuba and the Islamic theocracies. Journalists like Bob Herbert in The New York Times have written about innocent people who have been sentenced to death, and reported that minority suspects convicted of

murder are far more likely than white suspects to be sent to death row. Yet even liberal politicians such as Senator Hillary Clinton have come out in favor of the death penalty.

New York is not exempt from this descent into state-supported violence. For many years, Governors Hugh Carey and Mario Cuomo regularly vetoed legislation that would have given New York a death penalty. George Pataki campaigned in 1994 on the promise that he would restore the death sentence, and he has lived up to that promise, although New York has yet to execute a capital criminal since the statute passed. New York at least distinguishes itself from Texas, where executions are so commonplace that they no longer make news.

Many of us are repulsed by the seemingly medieval practices of nations in the Middle East and elsewhere, but Americans can hardly claim to be on the side of enlightenment while we almost gleefully execute prisoners, some of whom are innocent, others who were given a shoddy defense. America’s enthusiasm for state executions puts us in some mighty awful

company, and that fact alone ought to make us reconsider. The death penalty is grotesque, inhuman and unjust. It is a blight on our image as a defender of human rights. It’s time to kill it.

New Yorkers Live Longer

It’s now a scientific fact: New York is good for you. According to the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the life expectancy of New York City residents has increased by more than five years since 1991. Gothamites now live an average of 77.6 years, six months longer than the national average. Apparently, living in a stress-filled, overpriced, overcrowded environment has unseen health benefits. Who knew?

Why are New Yorkers living longer than we did a decade ago? One reason is surely the drop in crime, with the accompanying increase in overall well-being. And why are New Yorkers outliving other Americans? There are many likely reasons, including good public transportation, meaning one has less chance of getting into a car accident; living in proximity to others, thus lessening social isolation; and, most importantly, the city’s web of hospitals, physicians and clinics, providing some of the world’s best health care.

Of course, it may be that New York attracts the most resilient people from all parts of the nation and the world. Everyone moves fast, talks fast and thinks that they come first. Perhaps the city is the ultimate test of Darwin’s natural selection: Those who live here are capable of overcoming challenges rarely found elsewhere, and they develop and refine the skills necessary for long life.

Or maybe it’s just that New Yorkers don’t like saying goodbye.