The Democratic primary for Mayor of New York is just a month away, but none of the four candidates running for the job has spelled out his or her vision for the city, or fully explained how they would improve upon the job done by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. While each of the Democratic hopefuls—Freddy Ferrer, Gifford Miller, Virginia Fields and Anthony Weiner—has tried to chip away at Mr. Bloomberg’s record with various specific complaints, they have yet to offer a bold, personal vision of how their New York would look and feel different from Mike Bloomberg’s New York. Unless they do so, it’s hard to see how they will inspire voters to invest their hopes in a new Mayor when the current one has won the trust, if not the affection, of a large portion of the city. So far the biggest issue of the sleepy primary campaign has been direct mail—overspending taxpayer money and doctoring photos. That’s no way to run for Mayor of New York.
For starters, it’s time for the candidates to tell us how they would handle the threat of terrorism. With the memory of the deadly London attacks still fresh, New Yorkers have the right to know how a prospective Mayor would protect them. Would they adopt the controversial Bloomberg policy of checking bags at the entrance to subways? Would they pledge to do all they can to keep Police Commissioner Ray Kelly on the job? Mr. Kelly has won high praise from federal and local officials for his department’s skill in combating terrorism—in fact, the F.B.I. follows his lead. Not to mention that he has brought crime in the city down to levels not seen since the early 1960’s. To replace him would be sheer folly.
Secondly, Mayor Bloomberg has repeatedly said he wants voters to hold him accountable for progress, or lack thereof, in public schools. How do the candidates feel about his ban on social promotion? Would they continue that policy, which seems to have resulted in higher test scores, or would they choose to return to the days when every student got automatically promoted?
Gifford Miller’s idea of nirvana is small class size—but where are the school buildings or teachers to support that? At the moment, the only classrooms that are empty are in the parochial schools. And he’s relying on funds that the state has yet to allocate to pay for teachers who haven’t yet been hired. Mr. Weiner, meanwhile, is running an outer-borough campaign—so much so that one wouldn’t be surprised if he proposed moving City Hall to the Rockaways. Indeed, he may be the first Mayor to provoke a secession movement by residents of Manhattan. And while Mr. Ferrer has shown an admirable grasp of how important it is to find ways to build new housing, he needs to explain how he can do so without raising taxes so much that no one will be able to afford that housing. And yes, it’s compelling to imagine our first female Mayor, but Ms. Fields hasn’t revealed what she would do as that Mayor. We are also eager to know what each candidate’s economic-development initiatives and priorities are, and what should be done with the Hudson yards.
Most of all, what type of people would they attract to city government, and where would they recruit them? From Democratic clubhouses? Would they rehire people who had been term-limited out of office or kicked out of office, or candidates who had failed running for office? There is actually a rich and quite talented menu of defeated and displaced Democratic politicians from which to choose.
Mike Bloomberg is not a shoo-in. But no one’s yet explained why he should be replaced.
Sleazy Scientology Scam
Perhaps it’s refreshing that it’s still possible to be surprised at the sheer idiocy of local politicians. Councilwoman Margarita Lopez’s willingness to funnel hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to a Scientology-based group disqualifies her from any office, elected or appointed. Her current campaign for the office of Borough President of Manhattan is going down in flames as a result of her own priorities and decisions.
Ms. Lopez has always been known as a spirited left-wing politician who fought hard for her community on the Lower East Side. But as the New York Post reported, Ms. Lopez steered $630,000 of public funds to the New York Rescue Workers Detoxification Project—a Scientology-based group co-founded by Tom Cruise that had set itself up to treat 9/11 emergency workers. It also turns out that 84 people with ties to Scientologists—several from out of state—have donated $115,000 to Ms. Lopez’s campaign. Beyond the obvious outrage of an elected official directing money to a loony cult which is utterly unqualified to treat anyone suffering any sort of illness, the implicit quid pro quo in Ms. Lopez’s conduct should be investigated by Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau. Meanwhile, in an unrelated move, the city’s Campaign Finance Board has suspended almost a half-million dollars in public matching funds that were going to Ms. Lopez, partly because she hasn’t returned unspent money from her 2001 City Council race.
As Ms. Lopez contemplates the mess she’s made, perhaps she’ll realize that Scientology doesn’t sell in New York.
Peter Jennings, who died in Manhattan at age 67, was one of the greatest in the succession from Murrow to Cronkite to Brinkley, in the age of network news anchors who could focus and guide a viewing nation by their experience and intrinsic humanity. But of all the great broadcast journalists, he was the one who led with his intelligence; he was cool where his colleagues were hot, analytic where they were impulsive.
He came to America and became the youngest anchor in broadcast history at ABC at 26, did it for nearly three years before deciding to give himself an education and see the world, teaching himself one nation at a time, then became one of the most notable foreign correspondents in TV history before Roone Arledge brought him back to co-anchor ABC World News Tonight. This time, it stuck.
He learned American politics the same way, finally writing two distinguished volumes of history. By the time he became a citizen in 2003, he knew the American system better than the journalists who surrounded him: He gave a toast that celebrated his citizenship, calling America “this brash and noble container of dreams, this muse to artists and inventors and entrepreneurs, this beacon of optimism, this dynamo of energy, this trumpet blare of liberty.”
Jennings’ finest hour was, of course, his 60-hour sleepless stretch on 9/11, when he kept much of shocked and horrified America informed. He made viewers feel that order can come from information, that the futility that comes from terrible destruction and war can be dispelled by decency. He repaid America for whatever it gave him by keeping it rational, focused and particularly alert—the paradigm of a broadcast journalist on the spot during crisis.
He embraced this city: He was a New Yorker who loved the Upper West Side, played in Central Park and even found his way to the Hamptons. The American airwaves are emptier now without Peter Jennings, who informed the society he adopted and loved. We will all miss his style of sophisticated intelligence.