Editorials

Sharpton Continues His Self-Serving Charade

The tragic police shooting of Sean Bell in Queens last month has raised important and necessary questions about the conduct, training and possible biases of the New York Police Department.

What it hasn’t done is spark the sort of civil unrest that has accompanied such shootings in the past, thanks in large part to Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s measured and empathic response to a deeply troubling event—a barrage of 50 bullets fired at an unarmed man and his friends on his wedding day—which could have easily divided and inflamed the city. As the city’s highest-ranking black elected official, Comptroller William Thompson, remarked of the Mayor’s handling of the situation, “People believe his intentions are good, and I think that goes a long way.”

Investigations into the shooting are being conducted by the NYPD and the Queens District Attorney, and the results of those investigations may yet complicate Mr. Bloomberg’s task.

There are certainly groups that would exploit the shooting: For example, City Councilman Charles Barron of Brooklyn has absurdly called for the resignation of Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly. And last week, a group calling itself the New Black Panther Party led a march through Queens dressed in military-style clothing and chanting “Off the pigs!” at the police officers who were accompanying them.

But such fringe flare-ups are the exception rather than the rule. The fact is, New York has led the nation in reducing crime and reducing the number of police shootings. The vast majority of the elected officials in southeast Queens, such as State Senator Malcolm Smith, recognize that the task now is to make sure the D.A. carries out a thorough and impartial investigation to determine whether the police officers involved deserve to be indicted by a grand jury.

Yet there are those for whom Sean Bell’s senseless death spells opportunity. The Reverend Al Sharpton has announced plans for a march in midtown Manhattan on Dec. 16. Mr. Sharpton, true to form, is determined to capitalize on the shooting and boost his own profile by a grandiose effort to close down the city at the height of the holiday shopping season. The Mayor graciously met with Mr. Sharpton in the wake of the shooting, but the reverend sees no profit to himself in measured diplomacy and rational solutions. Instead, he hopes to create a spectacle, starring Al Sharpton, which will benefit no one—not the city, nor Mr. Bell’s grieving fiancée and parents—and which will have a negative economic impact on all New Yorkers. The Reverend Jesse Jackson, who came to town to claim his own headlines on top of the shooting, could distinguish himself by counseling Mr. Sharpton to abandon his ideas for a counterproductive march in favor of something that will inspire sympathy rather than cynicism.

There is every indication that Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Kelly are taking Sean Bell’s death to be a serious matter worthy of serious investigation. New Yorkers of all races are stunned and saddened by what happened. It’s outrageous that Mr. Sharpton is determined to sensationalize this citywide tragedy for personal gain.

Will Pataki Poison Spitzer’s Well?

The State Legislature is in session. Hold onto your wallets.Actually, New Yorkers have reason to view an assortment of shenanigans in Albany with some suspicion. Lawmakers convened on Dec. 13 for a lame-duck session that, they hope, will produce a pay increase for themselves next year. Meanwhile, outgoing Governor George Pataki continues to hand out contracts, appointments and judicial nominations with uncommon energy as the curtain closes on his undistinguished tenure.

Governor-elect Eliot Spitzer, the man who will take over New York’s dysfunctional capital on Jan. 1, certainly is getting a lesson in practical politics in the waning weeks of the Pataki era.

Consider the pay increase: Legislators currently make $79,500 in base pay—there’s no shortage of bonuses for chairmanships of this or that committee—for a part-time job. While they argue that they work like dogs (they rarely specify which breed) at their lawmaking trade, the results suggest that they are inefficient at best, incompetent at worst.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is in favor of upping the lawmakers’ pay to more than $100,000. Perhaps he and his colleagues are envious of a similar raid on the treasury conducted by the City Council members, who recently raised their own salaries to six-figure levels. The current Legislature technically cannot raise its own pay; the measure would boost pay for the next legislative session. Of course, membership in the Legislature changes with the frequency of Halley’s comet, so in essence, the lawmakers are raising their own pay.

Mr. Spitzer opposes the raises as proposed, saying that any increase in compensation ought to be tied to reform of the broken legislative process. Mr. Pataki reportedly may go along with the scheme if legislators go along with some of his pet projects, like the civil confinement of sexual predators. The deal smacks of everything rotten about policymaking in Albany.

Speaking of rotten, Mr. Pataki is making himself busy for a change, considering up to 400 appointments—yes, 400—for long-term positions within state government. Mr. Spitzer isn’t pleased, but he is not Governor quite yet and is powerless to stop these abuses. One would think that Mr. Pataki would feel a certain amount of shame—then again, shamelessness has been one of his administration’s defining characteristics.

As Mr. Pataki fixes his gaze on the distant windmills of the Presidential primary season, perhaps he will think better of his last-minute scheming, which includes the appointment of a bunch of white male Republican judges from upstate to key judicial positions in the city. Republican Presidential voters may be inclined to ask Mr. Pataki about his last-minute wheeling and dealing in Albany.

Of course, that’s assuming Republican voters in the heartland actually care about Mr. Pataki’s Presidential ambitions. Here’s a question: Why in the world would they?

The Whitney Widens Its Scope

The past several years have seen the meatpacking district in lower Manhattan become a magnet for high-end boutiques, art galleries and restaurants. The renaissance of this once-desolate neighborhood continues apace with the recent announcement that one of the city’s leading cultural institutions, the Whitney Museum of American Art, will open a satellite branch—as much as 150,000 square feet of exhibition space—at Gansevoort and Washington streets. The new branch will be several times the size of the Whitney’s current 30,000 square feet of space on Madison Avenue, and will be able to better accommodate the large scale of many recent works of American art.

The museum is purchasing the site and two abandoned buildings from the city at a discount of 50 percent off the appraised value; the deal is a good one for the city, as it will further strengthen the area and raise values. The new space will be designed by the architect Renzo Piano and will be adjacent to the future elevated High Line public park. Meanwhile, the Whitney is also spending between $20 million and $40 million to update its uptown location.

By opening a downtown location, the Whitney is coming home, in a sense: The museum began in Greenwich Village in 1918. And when a major museum makes a significant investment in a vast new space, it’s an investment in New York’s ongoing status as America’s cultural capital.