Let’s Make New York A Primary Player

It has been years since New York voters made a difference in the selection of the nation’s Presidential nominees. The state’s primary historically takes place in March, which used to be quite early in the process. Now, however, a March primary might as well be in June for all the influence it has.

For that reason, New York officials are talking about moving the state’s primary next year to Feb. 5. That would be a smart and long-overdue move.

Frankly, it’s more than a little absurd that citizens in places like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina have been allowed to exercise so much power over the Presidential nominating process. Sure, the voters in those states, particularly in New Hampshire, take their obligations very seriously. But they are hardly representative of the nation at large.

More to the point, voters in the earliest caucuses and primaries do not represent urban areas. As a result, the national campaign’s most decisive and crucial weeks are spent in earnest discussion of dairy policy and farm prices—important issues, no doubt, but hardly the main concerns of most 21st-century American voters.

Moving New York’s primary to early February would force Presidential candidates to pay attention to cities—not just New York City, but also the state’s struggling upstate urban areas. Buffalo, Syracuse and Rochester, to name just three hard-hit cities, deserve to be part of the national dialogue, just as New York City does. And with an earlier primary, we’d be able to force the candidates to address issues such as those ludicrous Homeland Security priorities that shortchange at-risk cities in favor of remote towns and villages.

For decades now, New York City has served the national campaigns as a convenient A.T.M. Candidates swoop in not to check out local conditions or interact with voters, but to collect lots of money as quickly as possible. They don’t have to linger, they don’t feel any need to connect with voters, because by the time the state’s primary rolls around, the national battle is basically over.

New York actually is a little late in the primary-rescheduling game. California and New Jersey, states that wallowed in their irrelevance for years by insisting on primaries in June, have already begun the process of moving their primaries to early February. New York has no choice but to follow suit. Do we want our friends across the Hudson River to have a greater claim on the candidates’ time than we do?

Ironically, there’s no guarantee that New York will capture the passionate attention of the 2008 Presidential primary candidates, even if the primary date is changed. That’s because two New Yorkers are in the field. If Rudolph Giuliani and Hillary Clinton remain in the race, their opponents will likely concede New York and fight winnable battles elsewhere. But the odd calculus of 2008 shouldn’t matter in this decision. Yes, it’s possible that moving the date could prove meaningless if Republicans and Democrats surrender the state to Mr. Giuliani and Mrs. Clinton. Still, the specter of an early primary in New York ought to become a constant in the national Presidential campaign.

The time to start is now. Let’s move the date and become a permanent player in choosing our national leaders.

Spitzer Scapegoats Hospital C.E.O.’s

When New Yorkers elected Eliot Spitzer by a landslide last November, it did indeed represent a mandate for sweeping change. Twelve years of George Pataki’s mind-boggling incompetence had left citizens of this state eager for a Governor who would bring intelligence, ethics and passion to the job—three qualities that Mr. Spitzer has in abundance. A mandate, however, is not a blank check, and Mr. Spitzer still seems overly prone to come at a problem with a prosecutor’s cudgel rather than a statesman’s shrewdness.

In a recent interview with WNBC’s Gabe Pressman, Mr. Spitzer took aim at the salaries of top executives at one of New York City’s teaching hospitals, saying, “The top three executives at that hospital alone are paid $12 million … and that is most of what we’re seeking to eliminate. This is public money. So what we’re doing is reasoned, smart, thoughtful and methodical.”

Actually it’s everything but reasoned or smart. New York City’s teaching hospitals produce a large share of the country’s best doctors and researchers, helping keep America at the cutting edge of health care. We are blessed to have capable talent at the head of these hospitals. They should not be treated like disposable equipment that can be easily replaced. The Governor should recognize that health-care institutions must compete fiercely for talent—and pay for it—if they are to thrive in today’s world.

For example, compare that $12 million, split among three hospital executives, with what investment-banking C.E.O.’s are taking home these days. Goldman Sachs’ two co-presidents received bonuses of about $52.5 million—each—for fiscal 2006, while Morgan Stanley’s chief executive received a $41.1 million bonus and Merrill Lynch’s chief executive pocketed $47.3 million.

Moreover, Mr. Spitzer is mistaken if he truly believes that the well-deserved salaries at New York City’s hospitals are the cause of the growing heath-care expenses that have saddled the state with debt. That blame lies with deals made by former Governors and legislators. The Governor should focus on the underlying sources, not target a handful of hard-working leaders.

To treat hospital executives as if they were Wall Street robber barons might make good headlines, but it’s not good policy.