New Yorkers Warm Up To Bloomberg

Are New Yorkers finally starting to catch on to the fact that Mayor Michael Bloomberg is doing an outstanding job? A new New York Times poll reports that 38 percent of city residents approve of the Mayor’s handling of his duties, up from 24 percent just a year ago. The dramatic increase indicates that for all the griping over the Mayor’s anti-smoking law and supposedly imperious manner, New Yorkers are quietly admitting to themselves that the man occupying City Hall may have their best interests at heart. Indeed, most respondents gave a thumbs-up to the anti-smoking measures and to the Mayor’s plan to hold third graders back if they fail to pass math and reading tests. The poll also found that 45 percent of New Yorkers think the city’s economy is “good,” compared with just 24 percent who thought so last summer. That sharp rise can be largely attributed to the tough fiscal decisions Mr. Bloomberg made in his first two years, such as raising taxes, imposing controversial budget cuts and closing a handful of fire houses.

But the Mayor still isn’t winning any popularity contests. While more New Yorkers approve of Mr. Bloomberg’s performance, only 28 percent view him favorably, and 64 percent said they don’t want him to be re-elected. He fares worst in households with incomes under $30,000 a year: 67 percent said the Mayor doesn’t care about them, while only 36 percent of households with incomes over $100,000 felt that way. It’s a shame that many New Yorkers are still choosing to view the Mayor through the distorted lens of personality rather than judge him by his accomplishments. In fact, the poll raises the question of whether some New Yorkers are even aware of Mr. Bloomberg’s policies: 53 percent said the Mayor is paying too little attention to the public schools, an odd assertion given Mr. Bloomberg’s successful battle for control of the public-school system and dismantling of the Board of Education bureaucracy. Even a cursory glance at the daily papers or evening news makes clear that the Mayor has made improving public education the centerpiece of his administration.

Because the Mayor is not Mr. Personality, because he is not prone to temperamental outbursts or abusive confrontations, there’s a risk that New Yorkers may be taking him for granted. Few seem to give him credit for the fact that our streets are the safest they’ve been in 40 years, or that the city budget is balanced-which is more than we can expect from Albany or Washington. And just last week, the Mayor reached a groundbreaking deal with the city’s largest municipal union, District Council 37, in which the union agreed to significant labor savings which previous Mayors had been unable to achieve.

The new poll suggests a growing admiration for Mr. Bloomberg and a growing optimism about the city’s future. The Mayor should continue to resist the temptation to do what is politically popular, particularly given the $1.3 billion surplus in the new budget, and trust that New Yorkers are slowly but surely coming around.

Yankees and Knicks: Too Rich to Win?

It was a lousy weekend for New York’s biggest spenders. The New York Knicks, with the biggest payroll in the National Basketball Association ($84.5 million this year), were swept in the opening round of the league playoffs by their neighbors to the west, the New Jersey Nets. The Nets’ payroll is about $63 million.

Meanwhile in the Bronx, the New York Yankees, with their gargantuan payroll of $184 million, lost three straight games to the team with the second-highest payroll in baseball, the hated Boston Red Sox. The Sox, with their $127 million payroll, have beaten the Yankees in five out of six meetings so far this year.

What’s going on here?

True, it’s a little too early in the season to decide that the Yankees’ star-studded lineup is a failure. Nevertheless, it is disturbing to note that the best team money can buy has lost more games than it has won in 2004. Worse, the Yanks have looked miserable against the Red Sox, a team that would dearly love to put an end to New York’s regularly scheduled appearances in the World Series.

As for the Knicks, well, their season is over, so it is safe to say that their spending spree has gotten them exactly nothing. They had a losing record during the regular season and barely made the playoffs, even though five team members earn more than $13 million a year. In mid-season, they tried to buy respectability if not a championship by adding Penny Hardaway and Stephon Marbury, both of whom make $13.5 million a year. Many fans saw these expensive additions as a cure-all for the team’s weaknesses. The results speak for themselves: With a median salary of $5.3 million, the Knicks couldn’t manage a single victory in their playoff series with the Nets.

You have to wonder if the multimillionaires who play in New York have lost some of their desire. After all, their salaries are just a part of their income. These fat cats on New York teams earn millions more in endorsement deals, thanks to their high profiles. They relax in palatial mansions, fly on private jets, and can expect an invitation to chat with David Letterman or make a guest appearance on Saturday Night Live .

Does all of this get in the way of winning? Do fame and fortune make an athlete too comfortable to make the extra effort needed to win championships? Obviously not, otherwise the Yankees wouldn’t be the dynasty they are. Nevertheless, it’s worth remembering that it takes a lot more than mere money to win in professional sports. Just ask hockey’s New York Rangers. With a payroll of $76.4 million, second in the National Hockey League, the Rangers missed the playoffs this season for the seventh year in a row. How’s that for money well spent?

Edward R. Murrow: The Chess Champions

Chess is the thinking person’s game, the sport of cerebral athletes. And what could be more appropriate than that a team of public-school kids from Brooklyn, from Edward R. Murrow High School, have won the national high-school chess championship? Beating 1,200 students from 350 schools across the country, including hometown competitors from Stuyvesant, the Bronx High School of Science and the Trinity School, the Murrow players brought the trophy back to Brooklyn, and not for the first time: Murrow previously won the championship in 1992, 1993 and 1994, and came in second in 2000 and 2001.

The school is a role model of public education. Despite having 3,800 students, Murrow provides a learning environment that has resulted in an 86 percent graduation rate, with graduates going on to attend Yale, Princeton, Harvard, M.I.T., New York University, Columbia and the rest of the country’s top universities. A Murrow student won the nation’s most prestigious high-school science competition, the Intel Science Talent Search, in 1995, and Murrow students have been Intel finalists or semi-finalists in nine of the past 10 years. The student body is ethnically diverse and artistically inclined, taking advantage of strong theater, art and music departments. All students meet with a guidance counselor four times a year and are given a large amount of freedom to design their own education program.

So congratulations to the Edward R. Murrow chess team, who have proven that with the right guidance, a public-school education can produce champions.