Cuomo, Green And Balboni: Balboni? Who’s He?

Two familiar politicians will spend the better part of this year raising money and rallying support for an election which they hope will revive their careers.

Both Andrew Cuomo and Mark Green want to be New York’s next State Attorney General. Why? Well, because it’s there-the job, that is. With incumbent Attorney General Eliot Spitzer running for Governor, a job Mr. Cuomo so disastrously sought in 2002, there will be a vacancy as the state’s top law-enforcement official in 2006. Mr. Cuomo and Mr. Green hope to fill that vacancy.

There’s nothing wrong with ambition, and both Mr. Cuomo and Mr. Green have every right to run for whatever office suits their fancy. But haven’t we heard enough from these two men? The public certainly thinks so. That’s why both are out of office at the moment.

Actually, Mr. Cuomo has never held elective office, although he’s been around state politics for more than two decades. When he finally figured the time was right-in 2002-he was wrong. Mr. Cuomo dropped out of a Democratic primary for Governor that year rather than face electoral humiliation at the hands of the eventual nominee, H. Carl McCall.

Mr. Green served as the city’s Public Advocate in the 1990’s, but lost bids for the House of Representatives, U.S. Senate and, most recently, Mayor. And yet, Mr. Green is ready to offer himself for another office.

Apparently, some folks just don’t know when they’re not wanted.

The media no doubt will focus much of their attention on these two reminders of yesterday’s politics. That’s too bad, because there is a possible candidate for Attorney General who ought to be getting more attention. Republican State Senator Michael Balboni of Nassau County has an outstanding record on an issue that may well define the office of Attorney General in the 21st century: homeland security. And he appears to be a more authentic candidate.

Mr. Green and Mr. Cuomo lack the expertise to see the challenges that confront law enforcement in an age of global terror. They see the office as a glorified ombudsman for consumer complaints.

Should Mr. Balboni decide to run, the office surely will be transformed to account for the threats that New York faces every day. They come not from fly-by-night electronics stores, but from murderous terrorists. Mr. Balboni, who chairs the State Senate’s Committee on Veterans, Homeland Security and Military Affairs, has been in the forefront of anti-terror legislation. He knows the world has indeed changed since 9/11 and would bring that needed perspective to an office that should be more than a stepping stone or a personal bully pulpit.

Arthur Miller

When Arthur Miller died last week at the age of 89 at his home in Roxbury, Conn., the world lost a man whose plays struggled to compete for attention with the grand themes of the life he lived. Just as Death of a Salesman and The Crucible lit up the country’s charged emotional landscape, Miller’s staunch stand against the House Committee on Un-American Activities and his storied marriage to Marilyn Monroe made him more than just an acute observer of American life in the 1950’s and 1960’s, but a powerful, iconic presence who participated, as much off the stage as on it, in the shaping of how the country thought about itself during a time of profound introspection and agitation.

Despite the raves and hyperbole about Miller’s plays, his work might not really achieve literary greatness; but at the same time, it’s impossible and disturbing to imagine what America would have been like without him. He was born into a prosperous Manhattan family whose apartment overlooked Central Park. His father lost his money in the Depression, and they relocated to Flatbush. Miller scraped together money from odd jobs to attend the University of Michigan, married his college sweetheart, and went to work in the Brooklyn Navy Yard to pay the bills. In 1947, his play All My Sons won two Tony Awards and beat Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh for the New York Drama Critics’ Circle award. Two years later, when he was 33, Death of a Salesman became the first play in Broadway history to win the Tony, Pulitzer and Drama Critics’ Circle awards. And it still packs a punch: The 1999 Broadway revival starring Brian Dennehy, which won five Tony Awards, will be opening in London this spring.

Miller’s art was always entwined with his politics, and his example is bracing in an age when social conscience has become an antique. He famously refused to name names during the Communist-bating McCarthy era-an experience which he would mine for his art in The Crucible-and took strong public stands in favor of civil rights and against the Vietnam War. Up until his death, Miller was working on revivals of his plays and writing new plays, striving to make theater which would “raise the consciousness of people to their human possibilities.” He found it impossible to seal himself off from America’s fate. “The country is now being ruled by actors,” he said last year. “Behind the play is a kind of death dance taking place. Politicians have always pretended to be what they aren’t. I keep thinking of the Romans because they were conscious of the power of ritualized performance. Every culture has it, but it struck me that we’re doing it now on such a crude, open, ridiculous level.”

Politics were just one leg he stood on. Miller took a lead role in the country’s enduring romantic myths when he wed Marilyn Monroe in the 1950’s. The most famously sexy woman in Hollywood fell in love with the lanky playwright who, for a few years, seemed to give her what the rest of the world could not. They seemed truly enchanted with each other; Monroe even converted to Judaism. But the marriage crumbled after four years, and six months later Monroe was dead. America has never quite gotten over their marriage and the idea of true love between the chilly, cerebral playwright and the sultry screen siren.

Privately fascinating and publicly decent, Arthur Miller espoused a dark view of human nature, but one which was always tempered by the faith that an artist can do much to dispel that darkness.

The Gates

The praise has been a tad giddy, the prose perhaps a bit purple, but there’s no denying that The Gates are a hit. Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s self-financed $20 million saffron-hued adornment of Central Park has awoken the city from its traditional February hibernation and brought tens of thousands of tourists into town. Twenty-three miles of footpaths have been transformed by 7,500 gates bearing over 100,000 miles of fabric; the gates not only bring a splash of bright color to winter’s grays, they also illuminate Central Park’s sublime natural beauty.

The project has been in the works since 1979, but it was never inevitable: Michael Bloomberg was the first Mayor to see the potential and the profit, and had the political courage to reverse 20 years of rejection of this project. Indeed, in 1981 the city’s Parks Department submitted a 107-page report arguing against Christo’s proposal, mostly because the park had fallen into disrepair and wasn’t the sort of place the city wished to showcase. But since then, the park has been rescued from neglect by the privately funded Central Park Conservancy, and Mayor Bloomberg recognized that Christo’s worldwide fame and proven track record- wrapping the Pont Neuf in Paris in gold, the Reichstag in Berlin in silver-would reflect well on the city as an international cultural center. And he pulled it off without any municipal costs or damage to the park. The Economic Development Corporation estimates that The Gates will result in $80 million of business for hotels, restaurants and retailers, and will generate $2.5 million in city taxes. Not bad for a two-week show.

It’s also worth noting that the Bulgarian-born Christo and his French-born wife have lived in New York since the 1960’s. A reminder that the city has always been home to many of the world’s boldest visionaries, and that all New Yorkers benefit.