Spitzer, Schumer, Clinton And Rangel: Time to Deliver for New York
New Yorkers have plenty of reasons to cheer the results of last week’s elections. The election of Eliot Spitzer as Governor and the Democratic takeover of Congress promise nothing but good news for the city and the state.
With Mr. Spitzer at the helm in Albany, city residents figure to have a voice they haven’t had during the 12 dreary years of George Pataki. The outgoing Governor could hardly be described as a friend of the city, given the tenacious battle he has fought against equitable school funding and the blithering incompetence he has demonstrated in the non-reconstruction of Ground Zero.
Mr. Pataki, a suburban legislator before becoming Governor, should be remembered as the man who signed a bill (supported, don’t forget, by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver) that abolished the city’s commuter tax. With a stroke of his pen, the Governor eliminated an annual revenue stream of about $450 million. The measure no doubt pleased Mr. Pataki’s suburban constituency, but as Rudolph Giuliani pointed out at the time, it had an awful impact on the city’s finances. The city has had to scramble ever since to make up for the loss. Mr. Spitzer, a Manhattan resident, figures to be a good deal more sympathetic to city issues.
On the national front, New York’s two U.S. Senators are now political powerhouses. And that’s not just because they’re in the majority now. Charles Schumer was one of the Democratic Party’s heroes on Election Day, having led the party’s hugely successful Senate campaign. It was he who recruited candidates like Robert Casey Jr. in Pennsylvania and James Webb in Virginia, despite some opposition from the party’s ideologues. Mr. Schumer helped bring the party to the center, and then brought in tons of money to run aggressive campaigns against entrenched incumbents.
Hillary Clinton’s huge re-election victory ratified her position as a national star and—in case you haven’t heard—a potential Presidential candidate. No Democratic Senator from New York has run for President since Robert F. Kennedy in 1968. Mrs. Clinton is now in a position to change that, and that’s good for New York’s political influence.
On the House side, the dean of the state’s Congressional delegation, Charles Rangel, will become chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee in January. Not since the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan was chairman of the Senate Finance Committee in the early 1990’s has a New York Democrat been in such an enviable position. Mr. Rangel’s new role will allow him to steer federal dollars and projects to New York. As Moynihan often pointed out, New York sends far more dollars to Washington than it gets in return. Now, at last, Mr. Rangel may be able to reverse that flow of funding.
New York was once the epicenter of national politics, the state with the largest Congressional delegation and the home of Presidential candidates like Al Smith, Thomas E. Dewey and the Roosevelts. But over the last 40 years, the state’s clout, like its delegation, has shrunk. The South and the West have dominated the national scene since the 1970’s.
No election will change the nation’s population trends. But this year’s returns figure to restore New York to its rightful place as a seat of power and influence. All too often, elections do little but confirm the status quo. This time, however, the returns produced real change. And that change will, one hopes, benefit New York.
Change Trains at the M.T.A.
It’s no secret that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is in trouble. The state agency, which runs the subways and buses, as well as Metro-North and the Long Island Rail Road, is strapped for cash—with a projected deficit of $1 billion in 2008—and has failed to act quickly to beef up security in the post 9/11 world.
New York’s incoming Governor, Eliot Spitzer, naturally isn’t happy about this state of affairs, and he has indicated that he would like the M.T.A.’s chairman, Peter Kalikow, to step down and make way for a chairman of Mr. Spitzer’s choosing. Mr. Kalikow, who was reappointed to another six-year term by Governor Pataki in June, has responded that he has no intention of resigning just yet. He says he wants to make sure that federal financing for projects such as the Second Avenue subway is in place before he departs. But if Mr. Kalikow wants to serve the best interests of New Yorkers, now is the time to go.
New York voters gave Eliot Spitzer a mandate for change. A new team is assembling in Albany, filled with energy and fresh ideas. It’s true that Mr. Kalikow managed to transcend the Pataki era gridlock, becoming a determined friend of this city’s commuters, as demonstrated by his able stewardship during last year’s transit strike. But he’s had his chance and performed admirably, and now it’s time for him to pass the torch and allow Mr. Spitzer to put his own man in place and his own stamp on the M.T.A. One contender, rumored to be the Governor-elect’s top choice, is Elliot Sander, a former city transportation commissioner who is director of the Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management at New York University.
Mr. Kalikow came into the M.T.A. as a patronage appointee with no experience in transportation, and he emerged a respected public servant. As such, stepping aside is the right and respectful thing to do.
When Ed Bradley died last week in Manhattan at the all-too-early age of 65, New York lost a broadcast legend: a razor-sharp reporter who imbued his broadcasts with integrity, wry humor and uncommon decency.
The first black anchor on CBS—of the Sunday Night News—Ed Bradley was an original. There was nothing prepackaged or homogenized about him. When he joined 60 Minutes in 1981, the show’s heat came from scorching reporters like Morley Safer and Mike Wallace. Bradley injected the cool of jazz—his greatest passion—into the program. Like the best jazz riffs, Bradley’s on-air persona was boldly unpredictable, seemingly dispassionate and yet all heart.
When it came to music, Bradley was no dilettante. When he was just out of college—Cheyney State in Pennsylvania—he worked nights as a disc jockey, hosting a jazz program, while during the day he taught elementary school to pay the bills. WCBS Radio in New York took note and hired him. He made the switch to television as a stringer for CBS in Paris, a brief stop before he relocated to the Saigon bureau. He covered Cambodia and came home with a George Polk Award and a battle wound. His next assignment: the White House, until Don Hewitt wisely signed him up for 60 Minutes. Meanwhile, he funneled his passion for jazz into acclaimed radio programs for National Public Radio and Jazz at Lincoln Center. At the news magazine, he was broadcasting stories up until the last two weeks of his life, when the leukemia he’d kept from his friends for years finally claimed him.
As his colleague Mike Wallace said last week, Ed Bradley was “a kind, gentle, strong man. A first-rate reporter and a first-rate human being …. He was just an absolutely delightful man.”