Keep the City’s Water Safe

It’s hard to imagine a resource more critical to New York than water. Indeed, it wasn’t until the city had a safe, reliable source of drinking water that it could begin the expansion that led to New York becoming what it is today-one of the world’s great cities.

So it is disheartening to realize that the city’s Department of Environmental Protection has not been on the job in its mission to protect the water supply. For the last six years, the D.E.P. has failed to report complete results from its testing of city water for lead, a dangerous contaminant. It turns out, now that the full results have been compiled, that lead in city drinking water was slightly above allowable levels from 2000 to 2001.

While officials are at pains to point out that there is no danger to the public, and even environmental advocates don’t see any intentional or criminal misconduct, the revelation is disturbing. At a time when terrorists would be happy to poison our water supply, it is imperative that we have confidence in D.E.P.’s ability to spot potential contamination. When contamination is found, D.E.P. has to respond swiftly and be candid with the public.

State officials have stepped in, properly, and demanded that D.E.P. devise a plan to deal with lead leakage into the water supply. They also want D.E.P. to tell the public how much lead is in its drinking water.

These are important steps, but the larger issues remain. We live at a time when we can no longer take so many things for granted-including the safety of our water supply. The public must be reassured that D.E.P. is on a footing equal to that of the Fire Department, Police Department and other first responders.

D.E.P., like it or not, is on the front lines in the battle against terror at home. Its oversight of the city’s watershed, aqueducts and water tunnels means that it is responsible for some of the city’s most important infrastructure.

The public must be reassured that D.E.P. is doing its job, now more than ever.

Bernard Kerik: The Right Stuff For Homeland Security

“He’s really an unknown factor in Washington.” So said a senior official in the Department of Homeland Security, speaking of the nervousness which spread through the department when the appointment of Bernard Kerik as Secretary of Homeland Security was announced last week. When bureaucrats tremble, you know you’re on the right track.

Mr. Kerik is hardly an unknown factor in New York, and his appointment immediately makes the city and its citizens much safer than we were under departing Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge. Caving to pressure from Congress, Mr. Ridge was turning the department into another government entitlement program, with little acknowledgment that high-profile terrorist targets such as New York should receive a proportionate share of federal anti-terror funding. Mr. Ridge was in over his head, and his departure was overdue.

As a former police commissioner of New York, Mr. Kerik has firsthand experience of the threat that continues to shadow our nation. On Sept. 11, he was standing a block from the World Trade Center when the second jet hit. In the weeks and months that followed, he worked around the clock to return a sense of order and safety to the city. He retains a keen sense of the ongoing danger. “You can’t put it behind us,” he said recently, “and you can’t forget about it. Because if and when you do, they’re going to come back.”

A high-school dropout and the son of a prostitute from the streets of Newark, Mr. Kerik rose to become a highly decorated undercover narcotics detective. Prior to Sept. 11, he had already established himself as a strong, tough-talking leader who didn’t suffer fools and who had learned his trade as a street cop. Such in-the-trenches familiarity with the ways and means of criminals is essential in the war on terror. And unlike many of the hacks who warm chairs in Washington, he is results-oriented: When he served as commissioner of the city’s Correction Department from 1998 to 2000, inmate slashings and stabbings declined by 90 percent. During the last year of his term as police commissioner, crime dropped by more than 12 percent while violent crime rates in other cities were rising. He also improved the department’s ties with the city’s minority communities by visiting church leaders.

After the Iraq invasion, President Bush sent Mr. Kerik to Iraq to establish a police force. During his four months there, he recruited thousands of police officers and formed teams to go after kidnappers, but has said that he wasn’t given adequate funding to train a sufficient number of officers.

At the Department of Homeland Security, Mr. Kerik will be overseeing a cumbersome bureaucracy that resulted from the combining of 22 separate agencies, with a budget nearly the size of that of the city of New York. To some, it seems like an impossible task. Then again, that’s what they used to say about fighting crime in New York.

Divorce Made Simple

In some ways, New York City is a great place to get divorced: plenty of therapists to help pick up the pieces, and lots of other divorced, eligible singles to meet once the dust has settled. But when it comes to divorce law, New York is still in the Middle Ages. Unlike our neighboring states of New Jersey and Connecticut, or even heavily Catholic nations like Chile, New York State doesn’t allow one spouse to unilaterally end a marriage-a so-called no-fault divorce. In fact, we make it almost impossible for people who want a divorce to get one; even if both partners agree that they have irreconcilable differences and that the marriage is over, one partner must take the blame. Which puts some couples in the absurd and humiliating position of agreeing to lie and say that one of them has suffered “cruel and inhuman treatment.”

As a result of New York’s obsolete divorce law, families suffer, children are permanently scarred, and abusive marriages are encouraged. Indeed, one study has shown that in states with no-fault divorce, suicide among women and domestic violence both decline, since the woman is empowered to end a marriage without her husband’s consent.

Fortunately, the city and state bar associations are backing legislation in Albany to change to a no-fault model. While New York State legislators are mostly known for what they do not do-get a state budget passed, control Medicaid costs, work across party lines-now they have an opportunity to agree on helping couples disagree, and divorce, with dignity.