Kofi and Kojo

Sometimes what doesn’t make the newspapers and television news programs is news all by itself. Take, for example, the almost total lack of media coverage of the recently disclosed fact that U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan’s son, Kojo Annan, once worked for, and was later a consultant to, the Swiss-based firm Cotecna, which the U.N. hired to monitor Iraq’s oil-for-food program. The fact that the U.N. gave a contract to a company which employed the secretary general’s son-and which itself had been implicated in previous bribery scandals-is suspicious on its own. And now the world is learning that the oil-for-food program, which was put into place to ease the suffering of the Iraqi people during the years of sanctions, may have been a multibillion-dollar scam, allegedly involving kickbacks, political payoffs and other unpleasantness that reportedly put over $2 billion into the pockets of Saddam Hussein and favored European, Arab, Russian and Chinese companies-money that should have gone to feed Iraqi children.

While there’s been no proof yet that the secretary general knew of the corruption, or that his son was directly involved in the kickback schemes, there are certainly more than enough red flags to justify front-page headlines in the nation’s major newspapers. And yet apart from Claudia Rosett in the National Review , The New York Times’ Op-Ed columnist William Safire and The Washington Post ‘s editorial page, there has been no substantial coverage of Kojo Annan’s employment by a firm that monitored what General Tommy Franks has called an “oil-for-palace program.”

Kofi Annan has always positioned himself as being above the fray, an incorruptible mediator in world affairs. He opposed George W. Bush’s march toward war in Iraq in the name of consensus-building and further debate. Europeans, Arabs and many Americans looked to Mr. Annan as a wise and moderating influence. The suggestion that he may have directed U.N. money to a firm which his son was connected with, or that he may have known about the oil-for-food swindle-after all, his right-hand man, Benon Sevan, was director of the program-doesn’t square with his public image. And indeed, it may turn out that Mr. Annan and his son are aboveboard, with no dots to connect them to the scandal. But journalists do themselves, and their readers, no service by turning the other way on the question of Kofi and Kojo.

Gifford Miller’s Moment: Has It Passed?

Like a quarter horse entered in the grueling Belmont Stakes, City Council Speaker Gifford Miller is showing signs of fatigue after a fast start as the city’s second-most-powerful elected official. He has backed down in the face of demagogues and appears to be running a three-ring circus rather than a disciplined and serious governmental institution. He needs to show leadership, especially as budget talks between the Council and Mayor Bloomberg commence in earnest.

The 34-year-old Mr. Miller is a young man in a hurry, in part because he is ambitious, and in part because the city’s term-limits law means that he needs to find another job by the end of next year. Not surprisingly, then, he has his eyes on the Mayor’s office.

As soon as he won the Speaker’s job in 2002, replacing the veteran Peter Vallone, Mr. Miller was tagged as a politician to watch. His quiet campaign to win Mr. Vallone’s old job was a masterpiece of alliance-building and horse-trading, worthy of the savviest politician. A Democrat, he quickly established himself as an intelligent and powerful counterweight to Republican Mayor Bloomberg, a man the Mayor simply couldn’t ignore.

Lately, however, Mr. Miller has stumbled a bit. He reversed himself on legislation dealing with lead paint, at first siding with landlords who condemned the bill as unfair and too expensive. But when the city’s racial arsonists dragged out the R-word-accusing Mr. Miller of being a racist because minority children live in apartments most likely to have lead-paint issues-the Speaker backed down. Regrettably, Mr. Miller’s reversal left the impression that he will not stand up to intense political pressure, and more particularly will not defend himself when deplorable people play the race card to make political points. He should have treated the accusation with the contempt it deserves. Instead, he caved.

In the meantime, the inexperienced City Council seems to be off pursuing individual agendas rather than acting as a cohesive, serious legislature. The Council continues to waste valuable time debating resolutions about foreign affairs and national issues over which it has absolutely no control. The city surely has enough problems; do we really need to know what members think of, say, the Middle East?

Mr. Miller has less than a year to make an impression on voters before the Mayoral campaign of 2005 begins in earnest. He needs to develop stamina and strength.

Otherwise, he may not make it to the finishing line.

The Smoking Ban: Good for Business

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s smoking ban, enacted one year ago, was going to devastate the bar and restaurant industry, according to opponents of the measure. Not only was the Mayor a puritan who was going to ruin all the fun, his anti-smoking stance was going to deal a fatal blow to the bar and restaurant owners whose establishments are an essential part of the city’s social and economic fabric.

Now that it’s been a year, what’s actually happened? According to a new study, conducted primarily by the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and New York City Economic Development Corporation, bars and restaurants are doing even better business than before the ban. They’re hiring more people, applying for more liquor licenses and paying more in business taxes. The study found that in 2003, more people were working in the industry than at any time in the previous 10 years. While surely some bars and restaurants which leaned heavily on a smoking population have suffered, far more have benefited from increased traffic from people who used to shun going out because they didn’t like to inhale toxic secondhand smoke and come home with their clothes smelling of tobacco. Going out to a bar is no longer a health risk. And young New Yorkers are more willing now to work waiting tables or tending bar because they can do so without putting their health in jeopardy.

Smoking is an addiction that most people no longer engage in. Those who believe New York has lost some of its glamour without smoke-filled bars and restaurants might want to pay a visit to the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.