Hillary’s War

What does Hillary Clinton really believe?

It’s been a question that has dogged her ever since her Senate race in 2000, when doubts about Mrs. Clinton’s sudden embrace of New York as an electoral playing field were further inflamed by her tendency to say or do things which appeared to be motivated solely by political expediency. The memory of those bizarre blunders has dimmed—remember when this Illinois native claimed to be a lifelong Yankees fan? Or when she suddenly remembered that her maternal grandmother’s second husband was Jewish? Or when she told a military audience that, at age 27, she had wanted to enlist in the Marines—a startling statement from a woman who had worked on Eugene McCarthy’s anti-war campaign and had organized anti–Vietnam War teach-ins at Wellesley College?

Mrs. Clinton’s impressive Senate record has, of course, redeemed those earlier missteps. And with an all-but-certain 2008 Presidential bid on her horizon, and over $20 million already in her campaign coffers, she is no longer the knee-jerk punch line of G.O.P jokes.

But the real danger to Mrs. Clinton comes not from Republicans; it comes from her own party. As the country splits ever deeper over the Iraq war, the Senator finds herself straddling an ever-increasing gulf between the Democrats’ outrage over the war and her own refusal to repudiate her 2002 vote in favor of the war. Instead, she is crafting a subtle, and rather slippery, position: She stands behind her vote in favor of the war, while attacking the Bush administration for the way it has prosecuted the war, and yet avoiding any mention of how she thinks the U.S. should proceed in Iraq. Mrs. Clinton’s attempt to score points with Democrats last week by loudly attacking Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and demanding his resignation only backfired: Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security advisor to President Jimmy Carter, told The New York Times that Mrs. Clinton’s highly nuanced Iraq position is “not really the exercise of leadership.” And as prominent a Democratic voice as Times columnist Bob Herbert labeled her “Slick Hilly.”

While her good work as Senator from New York will likely secure Mrs. Clinton a comfortable re-election this fall, her climb to a 2008 Presidential race seems to be getting steeper. And this time, the issues aren’t which sports team she rooted for as a youngster. The war is a defining moment for Mrs. Clinton. She is at serious risk of losing a large portion of her base support. The Senator perhaps needs to spend some time alone, finding out who she is and what she believes. Voters prefer someone who is true to herself and who is honest with them.

Yes, Mrs. Clinton is a genuinely skilled politician: She can drive on both sides of the road at the same time. That’s impressive, but it doesn’t necessarily get you to your destination.

Bloomberg Rides the Heat Wave

Mayors are often tested by the whims of nature. New Yorkers are not shy about blaming City Hall if a snowstorm paralyzes the city. Mayor Michael Bloomberg emerged from last week’s brutal heat wave in fine form, as his deft management of the crisis prevented what could have been larger blackouts.

In fact, the reason the heat wave of July 2006 passed without severe disruption was thanks to the blackout in the summer of 2003. At that time, Mayor Bloomberg created a task force to look into the city’s response and strategy. And so, when the heat hit last week, the city was ready: Large power consumers such as jails were put on back-up generators; city agencies set their thermostats to a less-than-comfortable 78 degrees; firefighters went door to door, asking buildings to reduce power; private corporations were urged to conserve energy; and the Mayor canceled a trip to Ireland, declared a heat emergency and gave daily briefings, asking New Yorkers to do all they could to ease the strain on Con Ed. The city also mobilized its remarkable Community Assistance Unit and Office of Emergency Management to assist those communities and neighborhoods without power by providing extra police, cooling centers and even air-conditioned buses to help those without housing.

And it worked: While residents in Queens did suffer significant blackouts, the city as a whole avoided widespread power failure. The fact that New York did not experience a surge in crime, a breakdown in public order or even a borough-wide blackout is a tribute to the team of professionals who work under this Mayor.

Suburbs Tested by Taxes

There’s a tax revolution brewing in the New York area—a property-tax revolution. Homeowners in New Jersey, Connecticut and Westchester are getting fed up with high taxes that increase every year, sometimes by double-digit margins, far outpacing the rise in incomes.

Taxpayers in Connecticut and New Jersey have it especially bad. Those two states depend on property taxes more than any other state in the nation. Five-figure property taxes on relatively modest homes are not uncommon in Fairfield County in southern Connecticut, or in Essex and Bergen counties in northern New Jersey.

New York City residents, whose property taxes are a bargain compared to their neighbors, have a vested interest in the tax battles underway to the east, west and north. As property-tax reform goes, so goes the region’s economy. If suburban lawmakers don’t have the courage to cut spending—and then cut property taxes—the entire New York area will suffer. The region will be considered absurdly expensive, and people with talent will look elsewhere to live.

The fact is, New York City’s economy depends on the thousands of people who commute into Manhattan every day. Many of them, in fact, are former Manhattan residents who moved to the suburbs once children arrived. For many people, the lure of a backyard and suburban public schools is irresistible.

New York City may not be able to hold on to all of its talented people, but it does need to keep those people in the regional economy. And the city needs to remain a magnet for good jobs, even if the people who hold them don’t necessarily live in the five boroughs.

For all of this to work, it’s essential that lawmakers in Trenton, Hartford and Albany come to grips with the property-tax crisis. It’s a simple fact of the global marketplace that many of those affluent suburbanites could live elsewhere, at less cost. They’ll move, and others will avoid New York, if property taxes make homes in the region absolutely unaffordable.

Ironically, skyrocketing property taxes could wind up lowering the value of property, leading to a spiral that neither the city nor the suburbs can afford.

Presumably, the lawmakers in all three states understand this. Let’s see if they have the courage to do something about this threat.