Pope John Paul II was a citizen of the world, but it is entirely fair to call him a citizen of New York as well. From the very beginning of his long and memorable pontificate, John Paul formed a special bond with New York-not just with the city’s Catholics, but with New Yorkers of all faiths, and those of none.
John Paul’s first visit to this city came in the fall of 1979, a time New Yorkers will recall with little affection. The city was only beginning to recover from its brush with bankruptcy; crime was rampant, entire neighborhoods were burning, and the streets were strewn with garbage. Even with the ebullient Ed Koch doing his best to restore the city’s morale, New York in 1979 was a depressing, and depressed, place.
Then to our city came this impressive global leader, who, in our time of need, proclaimed New York to be “the capital of the world.” It’s a phrase we have heard many times since, especially in the renaissance that began in the mid-1990′s. But it was John Paul who popularized it, and he did so at a time when many might have disagreed.
John Paul was no mere celebrity who saw only the best of New York. He visited neighborhoods like Harlem-not an especially Catholic neighborhood-and the South Bronx, and pleaded with us to remember the poor who lived there. His appearances at Yankee Stadium, Shea Stadium and Madison Square Garden surely were celebrations of faith, but they also bore witness to this city’s eternal spirit.
He returned again in 1995, no longer the physically vital pontiff of the 1980′s. Parkinson’s disease and other ailments had begun to take their toll, and John Paul’s long decline was about to begin. Still, his Mass in Central Park was a spectacular event, confirming that the revived New York was, as he had said 16 years earlier, truly the capital of the world.
John Paul’s relationship with the city extended, of course, with the late Cardinal Archbishop of New York, John O’Connor. It was the Pope who chose this memorable priest to preside over one of Catholicism’s most important, and certainly most visible, archdioceses. John Paul and John O’Connor were not always popular, even within their churches, but they left little doubt where they stood on any issue.
Let us not forget, too, that John Paul reached out to the Jewish community like no other Pope. He visited a synagogue in Rome. He prayed at the Western Wall. He asked forgiveness for Christian anti-Semitism. He held a concert in the Vatican in memory of the six million murdered in the Holocaust.
John Paul will be a difficult man to replace. But the new Pope, whoever he may be, should know that the capital of the world eagerly awaits him.
Spitzer Vs. Rudy in 2006?
What could be a better antidote to the past several years of George Pataki snoozing away in the Governor’s mansion than an epic battle for his seat in 2006? Already, State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer has generated a great deal of excitement with his announced intention to run, and few doubt that, with his high national profile and impeccable record, he could soundly defeat Mr. Pataki should the Governor choose to seek a fourth term. Indeed, Mr. Spitzer already has the look of a winner.
But what if this white knight of corporate corruption found himself facing off against the hero of Sept. 11 and the man who turned New York City around? How would America’s Attorney General fare against America’s Mayor, Rudolph Giuliani?
They are two of the most famous politicians in the nation. Both first made their names by torturing Wall Street, though Mr. Giuliani was more given to grandstanding, marching traders out of their offices in handcuffs. Indeed, Mr. Spitzer showed that it’s possible to crack down on corporate malfeasance without showboating. But charges of being too publicity-hungry won’t stick to Mr. Giuliani: He almost always brought results, whether he was disbanding New York’s organized-crime families, bringing street crime down to undreamt-of levels, or becoming the face of calm as the city was under deadly attack on Sept. 11. Mr. Giuliani hasn’t made his intentions known, and his aides suggest that he doesn’t have his eye on Albany. But it’s hard to see where else he could go; no other public role would position him so perfectly for an eventual run for the White House.
Meanwhile, Mr. Spitzer’s crusades against Wall Street’s frauds and fakers have earned him national renown and the good will of angry investors. Rarely does a state official have such an impact throughout the country; Mr. Spitzer had a vision for the sleepy post of State Attorney General, and he has executed that vision flawlessly.
Both Rudolph Giuliani and Eliot Spitzer have built unique and inspiring legacies that would make for a terrific campaign. And when the votes were counted, New Yorkers would win either way. Both are smart, seasoned and dedicated public servants; either one would make a remarkable Governor and clean up the mess that George Pataki seems committed to leaving as his legacy.
City Council Lets Garbage Pile Up
Michael Bloomberg’s plan to deal with the city’s residential-garbage problem has run into a roadblock in the City Council. That’s unfortunate, because the Mayor’s proposal is an example of pragmatism, sound public policy and environmental awareness.
Mr. Bloomberg wants to send New York’s 50,000 tons of daily garbage to incinerators and disposal sites via barges and rail lines. The city would renovate four marine-transfer stations along the waterfront. This would greatly reduce the number of trucks that currently haul our garbage across the Hudson. That’s good for the environment and good for traffic. City Council Speaker Gifford Miller and several City Council members have said they will not approve the plan. They claim it’s too expensive and that reactivating a transfer station on the Upper East Side would disrupt residents. Ironically, despite his reputation as a Manhattan billionaire out of touch with the common folk, Mr. Bloomberg is arguing that Manhattan shouldn’t get a pass when it comes to disposing of its own trash.
Yes, the Mayor’s plan costs more: $107 per ton versus the current $75. But the closing of the Fresh Kills landfill in the 1990′s sent the city careening toward a trash crisis. Mr. Bloomberg has presented an ambitious agenda to solve a problem that other city officials have chosen to ignore. Mr. Miller and the City Council should recognize that citywide values require leadership, not political pandering.