For the Bush White House, New York City is useful for two things: a source of money, and an emotional touchstone in its effort to exploit the 9/11 attacks to partisan advantage. Oh, how the President’s eyes well up when he talks about his visit to Ground Zero three days after the attacks! Oh, how he pays tribute to the New Yorkers who died there, and the New Yorkers who immediately began rebuilding.
But when it comes to something more than pathos, the President and the Republicans who run Congress revert to form. They are unwilling to help the city rebuild, unwilling to help in the effort to reshape downtown Manhattan for the 21st century.
Washington recently rejected a plan to allow the city to spend $2 billion in federal reconstruction money to help pay for a rail link connecting lower Manhattan with John F. Kennedy International Airport. New York’s political leaders—from Republicans like George Pataki and Michael Bloomberg, to Democrats like Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer—had been given reason to believe that the money would be delivered. As Republicans were preparing for their convention in midtown, Mr. Pataki announced that the President himself supported the long-discussed plan.
George W. Bush sure has a funny way of showing his appreciation of New York’s sacrifices, and its plans to make the city even better than it was before the attacks.
True, the measure went down to defeat in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, not in the White House. But freshman political-science students will tell you, rightly, that if the President really wants something and his party controls Congress, it’s a pretty good bet that it will happen.
But it didn’t happen. As a result, the $6 billion project, which links the Manhattan business district with Kennedy airport, is now in limbo—this at a time when the city’s major global competitors all have lines between their business districts and their airports. New York is and will be handicapped by this lack of easy access.
By all accounts, now is the time to get this expensive but worthwhile project done. But it will remain just a dream if the Bush White House refuses to make the rail link a priority. If New York cannot get funds already designated for the city, how can we expect funding for projects that are still on the drawing board? If Mr. Bush really wishes to see the city rebuild and prosper, all he has to do is pick up the phone and tell House leaders that he wants their vote and he’s not interested in a debate. (That appears to be the President’s style.)
Until then, we can draw our own conclusions about the President’s attitude toward his fellow Americans who happen to live in New York.
New York’s Job Boom
Back in 2000, before 9/11 sent the city’s economy reeling, the total number of jobs in New York was 3.72 million. After the terrorist attacks, of course, Wall Street lost thousands of high-paying jobs, and the city’s core businesses of tourism and retail saw severe losses. But New York’s recovery has been stunning: The city will be adding 50,000 jobs this year, the first annual increase since 2000, and 70,000 more jobs are forecast for next year. Which means New York is approaching its 2000 job levels, with 3.65 million jobs expected for 2005. The unemployment rate for August was 6.7 percent, down from 8.4 percent in August 2003. Despite having been the site of the worst terrorist attack in history, New York is now adding jobs at a rate faster than the rest of the nation.
Many of those new jobs are in the retail and tourism industries, both increasingly important to the city’s economy. For example, new immigrants can start working in hotels, where they find numerous opportunities to gain skills and take on increasing responsibilities, with higher pay. Hotels were at record staffing levels last summer, as world travelers continued to come to New York, thanks in no small measure to the New York Police Department’s remarkable success in keeping the city streets safe. And Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s work on behalf of making it possible for the Republican National Convention to be held here—while it may have rankled the city’s strongly Democratic voting base—clearly paid off in sending the signal to the rest of the country that New York is tourist-friendly. Visitors aren’t the only ones enchanted by New York these days: Ikea, Target and Home Depot—megastores which previously required a car and an EZ Pass—are opening inside the city. Which means the millions of dollars in sales tax which previously went to New Jersey and Connecticut will be put back into the city’s coffers.
Combined with the recent cultivation and gentrification of the city’s far-flung neighborhoods, the surges in retail and tourism are further evidence that the city is on the track to prosperity.
Private Money Boosts City Schools
When he was elected, Mayor Bloomberg announced that he would make transforming public education his No. 1 priority. It’s hard to imagine a more difficult and thankless task, and impossible to imagine a more important one. Some of that hard work is paying off in a very concrete way: In the past two years, private contributors have given $175 million to New York City public schools. Most years, that number has been about $2 million, with the occasional $10 million year. But recent gifts have shattered expectations: They include $57.5 million from Bill Gates, $20 million from Hartford money manager George Weiss and $1 million each from talk-show host Rosie O’Donnell, rap producer Sean Combs and rock musician Dave Matthews.
By unshackling the city’s public schools from the bureaucrats and patronage hacks at the Board of Education and making himself directly accountable, Mayor Bloomberg has made it easier for wealthy individuals and groups to give money to the school system—since they now know they can call the Mayor himself if they’re not pleased with how their money is being spent. The Mayor and his schools chancellor, Joel Klein, have made a strenuous effort to solicit private donations, most notably by appointing Caroline Kennedy in 2002 as chief fund-raiser for city schools. Having raised tens of millions of dollars and established an excellent track record, Ms. Kennedy recently announced that she is stepping down, but will remain as vice chairwoman of the Fund for Public Schools and thus continue to raise money for the school system.
By voting with their wallets, donors are demonstrating that they believe the school system is not a lost cause. Which is cause for celebration.