Editorials

Trash Talk

New York politicians have been talking about the city’s garbage crisis since the Koch administration. Many fine-sounding solutions have been put forward over the years, but the long-term problem hasn’t changed much. In fact, if anything, the crisis has gotten worse.

New York has lots of garbage and no place to put it, at least not since the Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island was abruptly shut down during the Giuliani era.

Now, however, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the City Council have agreed on an ambitious plan that will change the way every New Yorker deals with residential trash. That’s because the plan aggressively pushes a concept that New Yorkers haven’t entirely embraced: recycling.

New York produces 12,000 tons of noncommercial waste every day. Getting rid of all that junk isn’t exactly the sexiest of urban issues, but try living in a place that neglects basic sanitation issues.

Ever since Fresh Kills closed, New York has been exporting its residential garbage by rail, by truck and by barge. But now, under the Mayor’s plan and with the Council’s approval, New York will cut down on this dubious export by reducing the amount of stuff New Yorkers simply throw away.

By next year, city officials hope that New Yorkers will be recycling a quarter of their trash. At the moment, New York recycles only about 16 percent of its trash, a pretty paltry sum. If all of this sounds familiar, it should. New York has been talking about recycling for years.

This time, however, the city is serious. Soon, subway stations and parks will have containers for trash that can be recycled. Old and broken computers and other electronic equipment will no longer be picked up as regular trash. They will also be subject to more stringent recycling regulations.

Recycling hasn’t caught on in New York the way that it has in other cities because New Yorkers are, well, New Yorkers. They’re understandably dubious about earnest, do-good policies that seem to work best in places where everybody listens to NPR, grinds their own coffee beans and takes a light-rail train to work.

New Yorkers are a bit more gritty than that. Using biodegradable bags for yard waste, making sure an aluminum can doesn’t wind up with the clear glass bottles—well, it all sounds just a little too clean, a little too earnest, a little too suburban.

But then again, who ever thought that New Yorkers would agree to clean up after their dogs?

New York produces a lot of garbage. It’s time we produced a little less of it.

The Mayor’s plan will make that happen. And it’s about time.

Power Struggle

It’s hard to know who’s more unpopular in New York right now: Yankee third baseman Alex Rodriguez or Con Ed chairman Kevin Burke. Mr. Rodriguez finished last week with more errors (five) than hits (four), doing little to help the Bronx Bombers in their desperate attempt to chase the Boston Red Sox out of first place.

Mr. Burke, for his part, presides over a public utility that left tens of thousands of Queens residents without power—for cooking, for cooling, for just plain living—for more than a week. While electricity may not mean much to the average Yankees fanatic, it has become somewhat important in the daily lives of most 21st-century New Yorkers.

So Mr. Burke probably is the bigger civic goat at the moment. His utility has been charged with a monumental error in its handling of the Queens blackout. Even as most Queens residents finally get their juice back, local politicians are calling for Mr. Burke’s head. Several elected officials announced that Con Ed’s conduct during the power outage was somehow worse than the Enron scandal.

If nothing else, this kind of absurd outrage ought to make Mr. Rodriguez—who used to play in Enron’s home state of Texas—feel a little bit better. Sure, Yankee fans boo him unmercifully. But at least nobody has compared him unfavorably to baseball’s equivalent of Enron, Barry Bonds.

Con Edison surely has some questions to answer about why and how the blackout occurred, and why it lasted so long. And yes, the buck stops on Mr. Burke’s desk.

But even Mr. Burke’s most demagogic critics must realize that power outages are a fact of life. Sometimes entire cities, entire regions, are left without power because of a storm.

Could Con Ed have been better prepared? Could it have been more responsive? Perhaps. But, in fact, until an investigation is finished, nobody knows what happened. And nobody really knows—at least not yet—who deserves an old-fashioned Bronx cheer.

Alex Rodriguez should be so lucky.

Thomas Manton

Thomas Manton, chairman of the Queens Democratic Party, was an old-fashioned clubhouse politician schooled in the art of getting things done.

His death on July 23 deprived New York of an effective and energetic political leader who loved his profession and his city.

Mr. Manton was the son of immigrants who achieved power the old-fashioned way, through hard work, ambition and a little luck. He was elected to the City Council, and then to Congress, at a time when his home borough was being transformed by a new generation of immigrants and their children. Mr. Manton was one of their staunchest advocates.

Although he retired from Congress several years ago, he continued to be a powerful behind-the-scenes player in city politics. His support for Christine Quinn helped her become City Council Speaker earlier this year. Her tenure in that job speaks volumes about Mr. Manton’s wisdom and judgment.

The Observer offers its condolences to Mr. Manton’s family.