Editorials

Doing a Pirro-ette

Jeanine Pirro has been around New York politics for a couple of decades. So it’s hard to figure out exactly why she decided to take on U.S. Democratic Senator Hillary Clinton in next year’s election. Were Ms. Pirro a relative newcomer, her decision could be ascribed to naïveté. But Jeanine Pirro, after all that she has been through, is anything but naïve.

And so the question: What gives? Why did the longtime Westchester District Attorney decide to take on Mrs. Clinton, one of the nation’s most astute politicians, rather than take the obvious step of running for State Attorney General?

Political insiders no doubt have their own theories, but for voters, all of this seems mystifying. And recent events have made Ms. Pirro’s very public candidacy all the more inexplicable. Only a few months after declaring, she is now being advised to stand down and instead run for the office she should have declared for in the first place: Attorney General.

What an unseemly spectacle. Where, one wonders, is the party’s leadership? Governor George Pataki, the titular head of the bedraggled state G.O.P., immediately endorsed Ms. Pirro when she announced her Senate campaign. Mr. Pataki’s endorsement led another would-be candidate, Edward Cox (best known as Richard Nixon’s son-in-law), to withdraw his own potential Senate candidacy.

So the field was cleared for Ms. Pirro, and now, months later, the Republican leadership apparently wants a do-over. That sound you hear is Edward Cox as he starts to warm up in the scandalously thin Republican bullpen.

The recent calls for Ms. Pirro to step aside have weakened an already quixotic candidacy. If she does heed the advice of other Republicans and drops out of the Senate race in favor of a campaign for Attorney General, what are we to make of her political instincts and her judgment? By the same token, we could ask the same question if she stays in the race.

In either case, the once-promising career of Jeanine Pirro appears headed for the political dustbin. At 53, she ought to have been prepared for this moment. Instead, she has come off as something of a political amateur, a veteran who makes rookie mistakes.

A seasoned professional would have known to avoid a hopeless candidacy, which is what the Senate race figures to be. It would be worth knowing whether Ms. Pirro was pushed into the race, only to be left adrift by her putative friends, or if she pursued the Senate nomination of her own accord.

Whatever the case, the result has been a disaster—for the candidate, for the party and for voters.

The Mob and Ground Zero

Even as the world watched in horror as the World Trade Center ceased to exist on Sept. 11, 2001, a reputed mobster on Staten Island was making telephone calls to “associates.” Where most human beings saw a horrifying tragedy underway, this wise guy saw a business opportunity.

According to a superb investigation by the Daily News, the reputed mobster, Allen Monchik of Staten Island, started calling friends in the contracting business at 11:34 on that awful morning. He knew that somebody would have to clean up the tragic remains of the Twin Towers. He wanted to make sure that mob-connected companies got a piece of the action.

No doubt he considered himself a pretty smart fellow. Who else, after all, was thinking so far ahead? Little did he know that his phone was being tapped by Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau as part of an unrelated investigation.

According to the Daily News story, those phone calls on Sept. 11 put in motion a series of events which allowed the mob and crooked subcontractors to reap what the newspaper called a “windfall” in the aftermath of the attacks. The Lucchese, Colombo and Gambino crime families conspired to get pieces of the $21.4 billion recovery effort at Ground Zero. The paper said the crime families divided up the work “the way the mob carved up Las Vegas in the old days.”

This is an unspeakable outrage. U.S. Representative Peter King, a Long Island Republican who heads the House Homeland Security Committee, has called for a federal investigation not only of the mob presence at Ground Zero, but of the entire recovery effort. “In the months after Sept. 11,” the Congressman said, “the intention was to get the job done and worry about the details later. Now we should look to see how well the job was done and see if money was given to those who didn’t need it or weren’t entitled to it.”

The articles have also revealed disturbing instances of fraud and wasteful spending in the recovery work. These findings merit the full weight of a federal investigation.

City Kids Lead Nation in Closing Racial Gap

When New Yorkers first elected Mike Bloomberg to City Hall, he pledged to be the education Mayor, the man who would reverse the seemingly irreversible tide of neglect, failure and frustration that had defined the city’s public schools. To do so, he set about dismantling the moribund Board of Education and began talking about things like higher standards and accountability. He ended the social promotion of third graders and stressed the importance of studying—gasp—literature. All this was too much for the education bureaucrats, who claimed that his policies were too hard on the kids, that he was asking too much, too soon, that students from disadvantaged backgrounds couldn’t be asked to tackle the classics.

But guess what? It turns out the kids were smarter than their so-called advocates: Last year, the city showed impressive gains in reading and math tests. And newly released federal statistics report that the performance gap between white students and their black and Hispanic peers in New York City has narrowed significantly, and more so than in the country’s other large urban school systems. As he enters his second term, Mr. Bloomberg’s no-nonsense approach to education is paying off.

The new report, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, paints a picture of steady advancement by the city’s poorest students. For example, New York came out on top nationwide in reading levels for fourth and eighth graders who are eligible for free or reduced price lunches. And the racial divide is narrowing: Among the city’s fourth graders, the gap between the reading scores of black and white students narrowed by 10 points, while the gap between Hispanic and white students shrank seven points. Of the country’s largest cities, New York showed the greatest gains in fourth-grade reading scores, with 57 percent of students testing at the basic level, up 10 percent since 2002. Likewise, in fourth-grade math, the number of students achieving the basic level was 73 percent, up six percentage points from 2003.

There is, of course, much hard and thankless work that needs to be done. But Mayor Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein have New York’s 1.1 million public schoolchildren pointed in the right direction.

Editorials