Spitzer’s Running Start

The next gubernatorial election is nearly two years away, but one thing seems clear: Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, a Democrat and a declared candidate for Governor, has the look of a winner.

By contrast, incumbent Governor George Pataki looks tired and uninterested, a man whose time has come and gone.

Mr. Spitzer has generated so much excitement, and with that a palpable sense of inevitability, that even a staunch Republican like former U.S. Senator Alfonse D’Amato is saying good things about him. Mr. D’Amato is a high-powered lobbyist these days, which means he needs to be on the good side of whoever is our next Governor. Obviously, this shrewd politician sees Mr. Spitzer as a man to watch, and to flatter.

Mr. Spitzer’s crusades against Wall Street’s frauds and fakers has earned him national publicity and the good will of ripped-off investors. Rarely does a state official have such an impact throughout the country. But Mr. Spitzer had a vision for the sleepy post of State Attorney General, and he has executed that vision flawlessly. Of course, he was given considerable assistance by the targets of his investigations and lawsuits. Without crooked executives, he’d have had a much harder time winning fame and good will.

In a measure of the lethargy that has enveloped the second floor of the State Capitol, where the Governor has his offices, Mr. Pataki recently criticized Mr. Spitzer for doing his job. He told a television interviewer that unnamed “business leaders” have complained to him about Mr. Spitzer and supposedly said, “Why should we be in New York?”

One hopes that Mr. Pataki was not at a loss for an answer. Surely there are hundreds of reasons for law-abiding executives to do business in New York. Mr. Pataki might have even mentioned a few things he has done to make the state more business-friendly-if he can remember them. It has been so long, you see, since anybody except Mr. Spitzer displayed a pulse in Albany.

Mr. Pataki complained that business leaders were having a hard time with “state over-regulation.” This was taken as a shot at Mr. Spitzer. But let’s remember what Mr. Spitzer has done: He has gone after crooks. His office doesn’t unilaterally promulgate regulations. It goes after people who have broken the law.

If Mr. Pataki really has a problem with that, he surely has stayed on far too long to do anybody any good. He has also shown a propensity for attracting undistinguished colleagues and for tolerating incompetents. If he dares to run for a fourth term next year, Mr. Spitzer will beat him, soundly and deservedly.

Anthony Weiner: Attitude Over Aptitude

All politicians are ambitious, of course, but each politician is ambitious in his or her own way. As Democrats cultivate a field of Mayoral candidates, hoping that one of them will emerge from the primaries strong enough to defeat Michael Bloomberg this fall, Queens Congressman Anthony Weiner is emerging as an ambitious candidate who seems to believe that he’ll sway voters with his willingness to insult the Mayor and his Democratic rivals. While it’s true that New Yorkers like politicians who talk a tough game, they also want a candidate who trades in ideas rather than insults.

Last week, Mr. Weiner let fly with an attack on the Mayor, in which he accused Mr. Bloomberg of having a “profoundly uncreative vision” for the city’s economy and accused the Mayor of not being smart enough for the job. “At the end of the day,” Mr. Weiner said, “the Mayor is not very good at doing these kinds of things. He essentially made a series of mistakes that a more experienced, smarter person with a better sense of these issues would not have made.” The fact is, Mr. Bloomberg’s economic policies-including making the unpopular decision to raise taxes-helped the city avoid a crisis in the aftermath of 9/11. One wonders just what Mr. Weiner’s own “creative vision” for the economy would entail.

The smug Congressman then made a reference to one of his likely rivals for the Democratic nomination, City Council Speaker Gifford Miller, saying: “Perhaps when I talk about out-of-touch Upper East Side rich guys, maybe he thinks I’m talking about him for some reason.” Mr. Weiner seems to be having a ball with his wisecracks, but it’s doubtful he’ll magnetize voters with such an approach, and he runs the risk of debasing the Democratic contest.

Mr. Weiner has been around long enough to know better. In 1991, when he was 27, he was the youngest person ever elected to the City Council, having worked previously as an aide to then-Congressman Chuck Schumer. When Mr. Schumer was elected to the Senate, Mr. Weiner successfully ran for his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. While Mr. Weiner has Mr. Schumer’s knack for attracting publicity, he lacks his mentor’s intellect and sense of proportion. He comes across as a striving wannabe who is abrasive without substance and edgy without a core.

The Congressman has plenty of time to refine his approach and start telling voters what he’d do to improve their lives. There’s no question the Democrats are going to have a difficult time making a compelling case against Mr. Bloomberg’s re-election. Crime is down to levels not seen since the early 1960′s, co-op and condo prices are at record highs, and employment is growing in the city’s retail and tourism industries.

But that doesn’t mean the Democrats can’t field a strong candidate who can bring eloquence and ideas to the election. If Anthony Weiner wishes to be that candidate, he should take a crash course in both of those topics.

The High Cost Of New York

New York is expensive, as everyone knows. But a new report contains unsettling news of just how hard it is to stretch a buck in this town. According to the nonprofit Women’s Center for Education and Career Advancement, almost half of city households are not earning enough to cover their basic living expenses, which include housing, food, child care and medical insurance. A single parent with two children living in the Bronx would need to earn $49,874 to survive without government assistance, and that doesn’t include any money for dining out, retirement savings or school supplies. The figures for Brooklyn and Queens are even higher: $51,567 and $54,961. For Manhattan below 96th Street, the number rises to $77,957.

The report’s authors hope that the statistics will help policy-makers understand just how wide the financial gap is from living with government aid and living independently in a city like New York, and that a rise in minimum wage and more support for education and child care would help ease the situation.

Where does that $50,000 salary go? The largest portion-34 percent-goes toward child care. Twenty-two percent goes toward rent, 15 percent to taxes and 14 percent for food. This assumes that health insurance is provided by one’s employer, in which case medical co-payments soak up just 6 percent.

Fortunately, many of the families whose earning power falls below the above figures are receiving government or private assistance. And City Hall is trying to improve matters by rezoning land from industrial use to residential, to encourage the construction of affordable housing. Amanda Burden, the chair of the City Planning Commission, is overseeing such a process in several parts of the city, such as Greenpoint-Williamsburg and the far West Side of Manhattan. The hope is that, by adding to the supply of housing, the soaring citywide rents will be moderated.

On a more individual level, when New Yorkers of means realize how hard their fellow citizens are working just to cover basic costs, they might consider digging a bit deeper to help fund the city’s many nonprofit and private organizations, which do so much for those who are getting by on so little.