Editorials

The Disoriented Democrats

In the wake of Michael Bloomberg’s smashing re-election victory, disoriented Democrats find themselves trying to figure out where it all went wrong. How could it be that in this city where Democrats outnumber Republicans by five to one, the Republicans have won the last four straight Mayoral elections?

With any luck, Democrats are choosing to answer that question with a question of their own: Could we really be that bad? Because the answer to that question is: Absolutely, positively yes. And that explains the G.O.P.’s unprecedented hold in City Hall.

True to their party’s symbol—a donkey—the city’s Democrats have stubbornly fielded candidates who have nothing new to say and precious little to contribute to a city that has changed dramatically over the last 20 years. And, as long as we’re dealing with four-legged political symbols, let it be noted that the elephants clearly have not forgotten how bad things were in 1990. Republicans responded with a message emphasizing competence and results, and have been rewarded with the voters’ faith and trust.

The Democrats have been made to look like, well, braying jackasses.

Speaking of which, the Democrats who rule the City Council with a near-monopoly show little sign that they appreciate the sea change in New York’s voting habits. That undistinguished body continues to play the old politics of racial and ethnic grievance, hoping to persuade voters that tribal loyalty is more important than competence.

A recent poll conducted by The New York Times offered a glimpse into the new politics of 21st-century New York. The poll asked if it made any difference who was Mayor. Seventy-five percent of respondents said it did.

Of course it does. What’s odd is that this comes as news to some Democrats, who seem to regard the office of Mayor as little more than a symbolic office, to be rotated among various worthies of various racial, ethnic or religious groups.

Republicans in the era of Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg have shown that it really does matter who holds the office of Mayor, and that a competent Mayor can make a genuine difference in the city’s streets, the city’s schools and the city’s places of business.

Regrettably, however, the Republican Party as an institution hasn’t been able to capitalize on the new politics, aside from winning City Hall. The party didn’t bother to nominate candidates to oppose Comptroller William Thompson, who surely will run for Mayor in 2009, or Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum. The G.O.P.’s Council delegation consists of three members, in a 51-member legislature.

In short, the Republican monopoly on City Hall hasn’t translated into party-building by the G.O.P.

That is worth keeping in mind for the next Mayoral election. Without a farm team or a wealthy patron, the Republican Party may not be able to take advantage of the Giuliani-Bloomberg legacy. That would make things far too easy for the Democrats, who might convince themselves that nothing really has changed.

So it’s up to Republicans, and a new generation of Democrats, to make sure that New York continues to move forward, and to bury forever the discredited politics of 20th-century New York.

Vive La France? We’ll Take New York

This week, French President Jacques Chirac asked his Parliament to extend that country’s state of emergency until February, in the wake of rioting that has exposed the deep fault lines underlying French society. Civil unrest has struck over 250 towns and cities; curfews have been imposed in places like Marseille, Toulouse, Cannes and Nice; immediate deportations have been instigated of all foreigners found guilty of rioting, whether they are in the country legally or not. Meanwhile, much of the world has been stunned to learn that the nightly burning of cars—as many as 1,400 in a single evening—didn’t immediately catch the government’s attention because, on an average night in France, over 80 cars are torched as a matter of course.

France is paying the price for its own insufferable arrogance in the face of its disenfranchised population. Many of the young men happen to be Muslim, but the roots of the current violence are to be found not in Islamist fundamentalism, but in the failure of France to provide adequate support to its lower-middle-class population. The country’s poorly trained and racially insensitive police force has only inflamed matters.

For a contrast, one has to look no further than New York City. Last week, the city and the state announced an unprecedented plan to spend $1 billion to build permanently subsidized housing for those most at risk of becoming homeless, complete with on-site mental-health and drug counseling. The size and scope of the project, which will build or renovate 9,000 apartments in the city, is nothing short of revolutionary. “There has never been this huge an agreement,” said Carla Javits, chief executive of the nonprofit Corporation for Supportive Housing in Oakland, Calif. “This really leads the nation, and we hope it will inspire others.”

This is the third time the city and state have collaborated on supportive housing, which aims to keep mentally ill, drug-addicted, disabled and other disadvantaged citizens—such as kids who have become too old for foster care—from ending up on the streets. Previous deals have created 5,300 such apartments, with the private sector adding 15,000 to that total.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has made reducing homelessness a core value of his second term. Not only will the new agreement ease the living conditions of those without resources, it will also increase the quality of life for all New Yorkers, since those without such support often turn to crime and other destructive behaviors, as witnessed all too clearly in France.

Smart Kids Live Longer

Having a long life may have less to do with diet and exercise, and more to do with how smart you were as a kid.

New research by the Harvard School of Public Health, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, shows that the higher a child’s I.Q. is, the longer he or she is likely to live.

The study looked at elderly men and women who had recorded childhood I.Q.’s of 135 or higher, and found that the participants’ risk of dying during a given period decreased as their I.Q. increased. Thus, those with a childhood I.Q. of 150 were 44 percent less likely to die than those who had childhood I.Q.’s of 135.

Previous studies had already linked childhood I.Q. to longevity. A few years ago, researchers from Aberdeen University in England looked at I.Q. tests from children in 1932, and found that those still alive at the age of 76 had had an average I.Q. of 102 at age 11; those who hadn’t survived until 76 had averaged a 97.7 I.Q. Those whose I.Q.’s were 15 points lower had their chances of turning 76 drop by 20 percent; knock off 30 points, and your chances fall 37 percent. The new study, which took things up a notch by looking at I.Q.’s in the upper ranges, shows even more graphically a direct correlation between I.Q. and long life.

The researchers speculate that the kids with high I.Q.’s, in addition to getting better jobs which provide a comfortable lifestyle, may also be less likely to smoke and more able to get their health needs met. In the meantime, make sure to pat Junior on the head the next time he brings home an A: It might mean he’ll be around to take care of you into your old age.