Editorials

It’s a bad sign for a candidate when his campaign gaffes are better known than his agenda. Rather than build on the momentum gained when he emerged as the winner of the Democratic Mayoral primary in September, Freddy Ferrer has instead deflated his candidacy with alarming efficiency, compiling a series of blunders and blatant falsehoods which only serve to highlight what a mess a Ferrer administration would be.

Last week he again made headlines for all the wrong reasons, this time for making the false claim that 40 percent of the city’s black men, and 33 percent of its Hispanic men, are unemployed. Those numbers are widely—and recklessly—off the mark. For the first eight months of 2005, 8.7 percent of New York City’s black men, and 6.4 percent of Hispanic men, were unemployed, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Where did Mr. Ferrer get his numbers? From a study issued last February by the nonpartisan Community Service Society. The only problem is, neither Mr. Ferrer nor his staff read the fine print, or thought to check the numbers with the society itself. If they had, they would have been told that the statistics included students, retirees, stay-at-home fathers and the disabled. As the study’s author, Mark Levitan, commented last week after Mr. Ferrer starting flinging numbers around, “My report definitely does not say the unemployment rate among blacks is 40 percent.”

It’s hardly reassuring to learn that a candidate for Mayor apparently has no one on staff who can read an unemployment report, and that he himself, after decades in public service, would make a speech filled with flagrantly bad information on such an important topic. Just because his poll numbers are down doesn’t give Mr. Ferrer license to abandon the truth.

Then again, why should a few facts get in the way of the Ferrer campaign? Three weeks ago, Mr. Ferrer posted an entry on his campaign Web site claiming that he had attended “public schools for most of my education.” Voters like hearing things like that; too bad it’s not true. Mr. Ferrer’s formative years were spent at Catholic schools, such as Cardinal Spellman High School in the Bronx. From there he went on to New York University, which is a private institution. The campaign blamed an aide for getting it wrong.

Before the dust had settled, Mr. Ferrer slipped up again, by speaking at a public school within 60 days of an election, in violation of Education Department rules, opening himself to charges of exploiting the schools and students for political gain. Wouldn’t you know it, neither the candidate nor his aides knew about the Education Department rule.

If Mr. Ferrer’s rapidly accumulating lapses really are to blame on his staff, voters have a right to know why he hasn’t fired those responsible. Why does he surround himself with incompetents? And are they destined for plum City Hall jobs in a Ferrer administration?

The Ferrer campaign is in a dizzying downward spiral. Mr. Ferrer says he’s expecting a splashy endorsement from Bill Clinton any day now. He’d better hurry.

Mayor Bloomberg And the Teachers’ Union: A Good Deal for Students

After more than a little acrimony, the Bloomberg administration and the United Federation of Teachers have agreed on a new contract that accomplishes two things, both of them positive: The teachers will get a decent raise of 15 percent over the four-plus years of the deal, while management won productivity concessions and a reform of some work rules.

The teachers had been working without a contract since May 31, 2003, so this one was a long time coming. With the Mayoral election just a couple of weeks away, Mayor Michael Bloomberg scored a major political victory by settling with the union before the impasse blew up into a major campaign issue. The U.F.T.’s well-organized phone bank and voter-outreach operation are legendary in city politics, and very likely would have been mobilized against the Mayor if a deal wasn’t reached.

The raise means that starting salaries will rise from $39,000 a year to $42,512. As U.F.T. President Randi Weingarten noted, the higher salary will help attract new teachers—so necessary in a system where many are reaching retirement age. The highest-paid will see their incomes grow from $81,232 a year to $93,416. The new contract will lead to a combined 33 percent pay raise for teachers since Mr. Bloomberg took office.

In return for these pay hikes, the union agreed to rules changes that will have teachers doing what they do best—instructing the city’s 1.1 million public-school children—an additional 50 minutes a week. They’ll also be in school before Labor Day to prepare for the new academic year. And, in a victory for common sense, teachers who are convicted of sexual conduct with a student will be fired on the spot.

The U.F.T. walked away happy not only because of the raise, but because teachers will no longer be subject to disciplinary action because of the format of their bulletin boards or the manner in which they arrange classroom furniture. That’s common sense, too.

The deal also included some innovative thinking, which is not always a hallmark of these negotiations. City Hall and the union agreed on a new program in which top, experienced teachers will be paid a $10,000-a-year bonus if they agree to serve as mentors to their colleagues in poor-performing schools.

The Mayor and the union have put together a deal that’s good for the children, and good for the city. Good for them.

Schumer Goes After Roche

So far, the avian flu has killed under 100 people worldwide, and all of those infected caught the virus from contact with infected domestic birds in Asia and Eastern Europe. But several health experts predict that if the virus mutates and begins to spread from human to human, a global pandemic would result, which might kill more than the 20 million people who succumbed to flu toward the end of World War I. International travel hubs such as New York City would be particularly at risk.

So far, one drug, Tamiflu, has proven effective against the avian-flu virus. Which ought to be good news, except that the Swiss pharmaceutical company Roche is refusing to release the patent it holds on Tamiflu. New York Senator Charles Schumer has come out strongly calling for the company to temporarily suspend its patent, allowing generic drug makers to mass-produce the medicine, so that countries would have a stockpile supply ready to distribute should the worst happen.

Outrageously, Roche is refusing to comply, spouting nonsense such as: We told governments long ago; they should have placed big orders with us for Tamiflu. Roche’s actions verge on the criminal. Since there’s no way the company could produce enough of the drug to counter a pandemic, Roche’s greed and stubbornness may result in millions of deaths. As the Senator said last week, “Roche is putting its profits ahead of world safety, and I think that is disgraceful. When there is a potential worldwide pandemic, no company can put itself above the safety of the entire world.”

If Roche continues to horde its patent, Mr. Schumer says he will propose a law to give the U.S. government power over drug companies in a world-health emergency. That’s a drastic step, but one well worth taking if the direst predictions of health experts come true.