Five Years Later
On Monday, as New Yorkers tossed flowers into the reflecting pools that mark the site of the two towers of the World Trade Center, the reflection gave back not just the faces of the mourners, but also the image of a city that has arisen with dignity and strength from the ashes of 9/11.
New York’s recovery—and prosperity—after enduring the worst terrorist attacks in world history are a testament to the passion and loyalty that New Yorkers feel for their city, and to the leadership and policies of three men: Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein. Conspicuously absent from that list is President George W. Bush, a man who by all rights should be banned from ever setting foot at Ground Zero, given the truly shameful way his administration has treated New York in the wake of 9/11.
Mayor Bloomberg’s landslide re-election last year makes it easy to forget that, in 2002 and 2003, he made a number of politically perilous moves, such as raising property taxes and closing firehouses, to keep the city on a sound financial footing. His poll numbers sagged as he was derided for being an out-of-touch billionaire without a feel for the needs of the average New Yorker. But the painful medicine he prescribed worked, and prevented the city from tumbling into an economic trough. Indeed, the city reported a $5.4 billion budget surplus for the most recent fiscal year. But the Mayor is wisely cautioning prudence and restraint; he is well aware that pension costs, insurance premiums and retiree benefits for city employees are ballooning at rates that outpace revenues. His budget director, Mark Page, warns that the city may face annual budget deficits of more than $3 billion beginning in the second half of 2007. The Mayor deserves praise for not blowing a momentary surplus on popular tax cuts and spending programs.
Five years ago, few New Yorkers would predict that the city would be safe from subsequent attacks. But thanks largely to Ray Kelly, that is the case. The commissioner has assembled the best set of anti-terrorism experts in the region, if not the world. Meanwhile, he’s managed to keep crime at levels not seen since the 1960’s, while deploying hundreds of extra police officers daily around the city on anti-terrorism squads. Moreover, he’s had to contend with Governor George Pataki’s miserable stewardship of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which has resulted in our subways, commuter trains and buses being left vulnerable. In 2005, for example, New Yorkers learned that of the $600 million which the M.T.A. had committed toward upgrading security since 2002, only $30 million had been spent. Mr. Kelly has also had to put up with the sick spectacle of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney gutting the city’s anti-terror funding by 40 percent, while hauling out 9/11 every chance they get to justify their disastrous war in Iraq. With no help from the state or Washington, D.C., Ray Kelly has made New Yorkers safer, which has a direct impact on the city’s fiscal well-being.
While education may not seem at first to have much to do with terrorism, it has a lot to do with the daily lives of New York’s 1.1 million public-school students and the city’s sense of pride and faith in the future. Last year, the city’s high schools showed the highest on-time graduation rate in over two decades. The rate was a result of Schools Chancellor Joel Klein’s policy of creating smaller schools to provide more personalized attention. The chancellor has also encouraged the growth of charter schools, especially in poorly served Harlem. Impressed with the way the city is tackling public education, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has invested over $100 million in our schools.
Along with his predecessor Rudy Giuliani, Mike Bloomberg has shown that it really does matter who holds the office of Mayor, and that a competent Mayor can make a genuine and profound difference in the city’s streets, the city’s schools and the city’s places of business. Five years after 9/11, New Yorkers are doing just fine. And that’s saying something.
George Pataki: A Lazy, Incompetent Legacy
During George Pataki’s dozen years in office, he’s often had the loving support of many public-employee unions. No wonder.
Mr. Pataki has been providing unions with gifts that keep on giving—sweet pension deals that cost New York City taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars every year. These pension enhancements have been opposed by responsible public officials. But good old George, who never met a fight he couldn’t duck, just kept smiling and signing bills made to order by union lobbyists.
Taxpayers are only now learning how much they’ll have to pay for Mr. Pataki’s quid pro quo deals with various unions. A recent New York Times series noted that Mr. Pataki has been giving away taxpayer money in the form of new pension benefits and bonuses since taking office in 1995.
And he’s been doing it despite opposition from the city. For example, The Times noted that the city’s Correction Department union lobbied City Hall for a special Christmas bonus for retirees. The city recognized this as hogwash. Ah, but that wasn’t the end of the story. The union went to work in Albany, and in short order Mr. Pataki granted the bonus.
The union did an end run around City Hall, and the Governor allowed it. It’s important to keep in mind that Mr. Pataki’s generosity hasn’t been motivated by generosity or even ideology. He’s not some crazy pinko who’s been experimenting in income redistribution; he’s just another hack politician who knows that unions deliver votes, so it was in his best interest (although not the state’s) to give the unions whatever they wanted. Christmas bonuses for retired correction officers? Sure, why not? In gratitude, the correction union endorsed him for re-election. What a surprise.
The benefit is expected to cost the city $100 million a year. Some of those bonus checks amount to $12,000—yes, that’s in addition to the retired worker’s annual pension.
It’s too late to punish Mr. Pataki for his pandering. But it surely is time to rein in the city’s public-employee unions. As it stands, if the unions fail to win a concession from the city during contract talks, they turn to Albany. That’s simply idiotic public policy. One hopes Mr. Pataki’s eventual successor is paying attention. Mr. Pataki surely wasn’t.
Optimists in Love
Sunny optimists have never been particularly at home in hard-nosed New York, where a tough hide and a dark wit tend to rate higher than a Pollyanna-like personality. But a new study reveals that when it comes to romantic relationships, a large dose of optimism may be the key that unlocks happiness and satisfaction.
The study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, found that couples with at least one optimist reported longer and more gratifying relationships, and a greater instance of being able to resolve conflicts within those relationships.
Not that both partners have to be happy-go-lucky types. It seems that even if only one member of a couple walks on the sunny side of the street and sees the proverbial glass as half-full, while the other is a glum customer, both partners will benefit.
The researchers suggest that it may all come down to perception: Optimists seem to perceive their partners as being supportive and capable, even when they are not, and thus have less reason to complain about the relationship.
The moral of the story? Yes, optimists may go through life living in a fool’s paradise. But it may be only in such a paradise that a relationship can bloom.