As 2003 draws to a close and 2004 beckons over the horizon, how’s the city doing? Several economic indicators suggest that New York is slowly but stubbornly emerging from the recession that has blanketed the city since 9/11. Much credit is due to the policies of the Bloomberg administration, as well as to the grit and fortitude of city residents, who contrary to expectation did not flee New York in the wake of the worst terrorist attack in history, but rather refused to be intimidated and instead deepened their loyalty.
The economic resurgence can perhaps best be seen in the resumption of hiring-and substantial year-end bonuses-in the securities industry, thanks to an upsurge of profits. The financial sector is a vital part of the city’s economy, since those high incomes pay a disproportionate share of our income taxes. Revenues from business and real-estate taxes are also up, with total tax revenues for this fiscal year expected to be $575 million more than was predicted. Not only Wall Street has benefited: In September and October, the city added 11,000 jobs. Residential-housing construction permits are being issued at levels not seen since 1985. Several of the country’s top restaurateurs, such as the French Laundry’s Thomas Keller, are jostling for prime space in the city. New Yorkers can be thankful that Mayor Bloomberg, unlike his fellow Republican in the White House, stayed the course and imposed higher taxes during tough times, rather than handing out politically popular, irresponsible tax cuts.
And if you’ve tried to walk down Fifth Avenue recently, or driven cross-town during midday, you’ll have noticed that the tourists are back. Hotel occupancy is at 86 percent, compared with 71 percent in October 2001. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, according to The New York Times , had 444,013 visitors last month, 155,000 more than in November 2001. It’s important to note, however, that tourists from overseas have not returned in numbers equal to those visiting from the U.S. International tourists stay longer, and spend more than twice as much as their domestic counterparts, so it is crucial that the Bloomberg administration continues to invest in public safety and sanitation, particularly around the city’s showcase attractions.
Indeed, there may be no factor more powerful in New York’s revival than the continuing drop in crime, which directly impacts real-estate values, tourism and the quality of life for every New Yorker. Mayor Bloomberg and his outstanding police commissioner, Ray Kelly, have taken former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s anti-crime record and actually improved on it, reducing crime while also diminishing racial tensions-something unheard of in New York City, and accomplished with 4,000 fewer police officers than the city had four years ago. Just-released federal crime statistics reveal New York to be the safest large city in the nation, with crime dropping 7.4 percent in the first six months of 2003. On a per capita basis, New York is even safer than a college town like Ann Arbor, Mich.; indeed, in terms of safety, New York is in the top 3 percentile of 200 cities with populations over 100,000.
Of course, the challenge is to make certain that the short-term economic gains are converted into long-term growth. This will require a strong national economy, as well as a City Hall that is willing to make politically unpopular choices, such as taking on powerful unions and raising taxes when the need arises. Michael Bloomberg has shown that he’s willing to endure perilously low approval ratings in return for doing what’s right for the city. For that, all New Yorkers owe him a word of thanks.
Something’s Rotten in the State of Connecticut
Having lied to the public, Governor John Rowland of Connecticut now thinks that he can simply apologize for his transgressions and all will be made well again. Not a chance.
The once-promising politician is trapped by his own deceit, arrogance and dishonesty. He cannot bluster or sweet-talk his way though this crisis. And he certainly cannot continue to whine that, well, he apologized-what more do people want?
They want honest, ethical government, and it should be clear by now that Mr. Rowland cannot provide that elementary service. He can no longer function as Connecticut’s chief executive. Our neighbor to the north should step aside.
The immediate issue concerns renovations to a cottage that Mr. Rowland purchased for his own personal use in 1997. Some of the work was carried out by employees of a Connecticut-based construction firm, the Tomasso Group, which is under investigation in a federal probe of state contracts. The work was paid for, in part, by two former Rowland aides who are under investigation as part of the federal inquiry. In early December, Mr. Rowland denied that the two men had a hand in paying for the work and insisted that he paid fair-market value. But on Dec. 12, he admitted that he had lied about the renovations, and he provided a list of contractors and friends who had worked on the cottage for free.
Connecticut’s voters are angry, as they have every right to be. But they shouldn’t be surprised. Their governor and his trusted aides have a history of unseemly behavior. A few months ago, the State Ethics Commission fined Mr. Rowland because he didn’t pay market rates for his vacations at homes owned by-you guessed it-the owner of the Tomasso Group. What’s more, several Rowland administration aides have admitted to accepting gifts in exchange for wiring state contracts. One of Mr. Rowland’s aides lost $200 million in taxpayer money in a stinky deal with Enron. And just to show you how petty this kind of corruption can be, Mr. Rowland was fined $2,000 in 1997 when he accepted discounted tickets to six pop concerts from a lobbyist, among others.
Mr. Rowland’s shady behavior can be traced back a decade, when he successfully fought to keep secret a police report detailing a dispute between himself and his former wife in 1994. Deborah Rowland called police to her home, but little else is known about the incident. And Mr. Rowland made sure that voters never found out what exactly happened.
During the last few years, the Rowland administration has presided over one of the most corrupt state governments in the nation. There can be no question now that Mr. Rowland is a liar. He has failed to understand that holding public office means holding the public’s trust. John Rowland has no excuses and no apologies that warrant his remaining in office. Clearly, it is time for him to go.
A Holiday Note
In the mad bustle that heats up the city during the Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year holidays, opportunities exist for New Yorkers to reconnect with dear friends and family, to reach deeper to give to charity, to reflect on the year that has passed, and to make quiet resolutions for the year to come. And to be thankful that one lives in one of the world’s greatest cities, surrounded by the most fascinating, aggravating, endearing people on the planet-people who delight and disappoint in equal measure, but who never stop being interesting.
The Observer would like to thank our readers and advertisers, and to extend our wishes for a peaceful, joyful holiday and a very happy 2004.