You couldn’t make this stuff up. The lead Republican contender to become governor of California, should the effort to recall Democratic Governor Gray Davis succeed, is a muscle-bound movie star with a spurious education, flimsy command of English and no political experience whatsoever. But first he’ll have to fight off challenges from pornographer Larry Flynt, former child actor Gary Coleman and an assortment of loony contenders that is growing by the day. Could anyone blame California’s party leaders if they decided to make a few bucks by televising the first debate on pay-per-view cable?
The political zoo surrounding Arnold Schwarzenegger masks some troubling issues, however. To recall a sitting governor is a tremendously destabilizing act. True, under extreme circumstances, a politician may be recalled or impeached. But in this case, it would be a terrible miscalculation. Because of some rumblings of discontent, Californians have decided to casually yank their governor out of office. A new election will cost the state $100 million-why not take that money and spend it on the homeless? If Californians vote to recall Governor Davis on Oct. 7, they will be throwing the state’s economy -currently running a $38 billion budget deficit-into even greater turmoil. The fact is that, since he was re-elected less than a year ago, Governor Davis has continued to bear the brunt of profligate spending by every California governor since the clown of them all, Jerry Brown. To expect him to have solved the state’s fiscal problems in such a relatively short period of time indicates that Californians have been watching too many movies.
California cannot afford to become the Hollywood stage set for Mr. Schwarzenegger’s raw ambition. The state is a major center of biomedical research, the global hub of the high-tech and computer-software industries, and the world’s premier producer of film and television entertainment. California has a $100 billion statewide budget and, in addition, is the fifth-largest economy in the world. To think that Mr. Schwarzenegger can come in and fix it with a few one-liners is absurd. If the recall does succeed, the only viable candidate to replace Governor Davis would be Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante, who appears to have the experience and seriousness of purpose equal to the job. Indeed, it’s a fair bet that, if there is a recall, it will clear the way for the Democrats to hold onto the governor’s seat, as the public starts to pay real attention to the Republicans’ unstable cast of characters.
It’s easy to understand why Californians have so dreamily embraced Mr. Schwarzenegger’s candidacy. Any public spectacle that smells of Hollywood they’ll climb right on, without worrying about the consequences, or the fact that they have confirmed the world’s suspicions about their state. Governor Davis isn’t the victim of his own policies; he’s the victim of an
electorate that prefers illusion to reality. There’s no chance he would be facing a recall if his name were Red Buttons instead of Gray Davis.
Bloomberg and Pataki: Time for Quiet Bonding
With both the city and the state in the midst of daunting fiscal crises, you’d expect-or at least hope-that the Mayor and the Governor would be working together rather than sniping at one another. Neither one can resolve his problems on his own; they depend on each other, like it or not.
So it’s distressing to find Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Governor George Pataki at odds publicly over a debt-refinancing plan which could save the city a half-billion dollars a year. The Mayor supports the plan, which would restructure the debts the city incurred during its brush with bankruptcy in the 1970′s. The Governor opposes the plan, which the State Legislature passed over Mr. Pataki’s veto earlier this year. Under the new scheme, the state would pick up the cost of the remaining debts, but repayment would be spread over 30 years. The old plan would have retired the debt in 2008, but called for the city to spend $500 million in annual debt service until that year.
The Mayor is looking for debt relief; the Governor doesn’t wish to add to the state’s budget woes. It’s a classic city vs. state issue, the kind that has set Mayor against Governor many times in the past. Now, however, is not the time for a public battle between the two chief executives. The city is still recovering from the catastrophe of Sept. 11, not to mention the bleak economic climate that predated the terrorist attack. The state, not coincidentally, is in equally dismal shape-although, unlike the city, Albany is only now coming to terms with its fiscal crisis. While the Mayor was cutting services and raising taxes last year, the Governor and the Legislature played election-year politics with their budget, spending their way into the hole in which they now find themselves.
Both sides in this dispute have powerful arguments. But these sorts of disputes ought to be handled quietly and discreetly. The Mayor, the Governor and their staffs ought to be talking to each other in person and not through newspaper headlines. To the Mayor’s credit, he has tried mightily to keep the dispute at a policy level. Some Democrats, however, have been unable to stop themselves from launching personal attacks at the Governor.
While Mr. Pataki may, in fact, be looking out for the state’s best interest in opposing the refinancing plan, he must realize that he has done little to protect himself against the charge that he favors upstate and the suburbs over the city. His opposition to a revived commuter tax suggests that he is unwilling to fight on the city’s behalf.
Nevertheless, it is up to the Mayor and the Governor to put aside their differences and work together on a compromise. There should be no more headlines until the job is finished.
Museum of Arts and Design Misses the Target
The curators of the current exhibit at the new Museum of Arts and Design on West 53rd Street have introduced a new level of crassness and market-driven cynicism to the museum world. The exhibit, USDesign 1975-2000 , has two main sponsors: Target Stores and J.P. Morgan. It just so happens that the work of architect Michael Graves is featured prominently in the show. In case you didn’t know, Mr. Graves happens to design housewares for … Target Stores.
The show was curated by Craig Miller, the museum’s curator of architecture, design and graphics, and the Denver Art Museum. It is stunning that neither Mr. Miller nor Holly Hotchner, the museum’s director, were sensitive to this outrageous conflict of interest. By featuring Mr. Graves in a show sponsored by Target, the exhibit forfeits any claim to being an objective survey of American design over the past 30 years. Quite simply, the museum has let its sponsor run away with the show, turning it into a schlocky marketing device to sell Target products.
This is hardly an auspicious beginning for the museum, which was formerly the American Craft Museum and which is planning a highly publicized move into a 54,000-square-foot space at 2 Columbus Circle. One would like to think that the new space will be used to display art, and not to sell more of Mr. Graves’ tea kettles.