Welfare reform, minor league baseball on Staten Island, casinos on Governors Island: Those were among the 150 proposed initiatives on Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s desk as he prepared to deliver his annual State of the City address on Jan. 14, sources have told The Observer .
While final details were being hammered out late into the Mayor’s famously long evenings-and while Mr. Giuliani reserves the right to talk off the top of his head- The Observer is willing to bet you’ll see, among other things:
· Crime and drugs, drugs and crime . During his re-election campaign, the Mayor spoke endlessly (though vaguely) about his plan to wage war on drugs during his second term. Now, he’ll give us more details. In particular, he’ll emphasize tougher sentencing, including but not limited to the curtailing of parole.
· A call for nonpartisan city elections . The administration already has floated this idea, and it offers the Mayor a chance to don his somewhat moth-bitten reformer’s robes. Nonpartisan municipal elections are commonplace elsewhere, especially outside the old Snow Belt cities once ruled by machine politics. New York has experimented with the idea by holding nonpartisan elections to replace City Council members who leave before their terms expire. Currently, though, most municipal elections are decided in Democratic primaries, by registered Democrats only. Mr. Giuliani, a Republican, obviously believes nonpartisan elections are preferable to the current state of affairs. The Democrats who continue to dominate non-mayoral politics probably do not share the Mayor’s enthusiasm.
· A roll of the dice for Governors Island . The Mayor will continue his campaign on behalf of casino-hotel-resort-type development on the historic island. The Mayor, however, will not preclude the idea of an educational-cultural use as well, and may suggest the two uses are compatible.
· Act 2 on welfare reform . This may be wishful thinking, but the Mayor may call for considerable muscle to be put behind his oft-stated goal of moving welfare recipients toward work, and private-sector work at that. Jason Turner, recently imported from the workfare mecca also known as Wisconsin to head the Human Resources Administration, will be charged with fleshing out a plan, but “there’s going to be significant money spent on this,” a City Hall source told The Observer . “Where this goes is serious training, day care, serious stuff.”
· School choice . “The Mayor is responsible for all of the city’s children,” Mr. Giuliani proclaimed in the bright, cruel cold of his inauguration day. “We have more than 265,000 nonpublic school students citywide.” Though some observers took this to be, for good or ill, a capital-R Republican-sounding hint that the Mayor was soon to spell out his support for private-school vouchers, the current line seems to be that Mr. Giuliani will confine his concept of choice to schools within the public system-at least for now.
That may be subject to change, however, if movement is not made toward a phasing-out of principal (and possibly teacher) tenure, and if the Mayor’s “big push” for police involvement in school security (to be piloted in 200 to 300 schools) falls short. Not that Schools Chancellor Rudy Crew’s resistance to the idea seems to have cost him any brownie points with his boss. “Clearly, Rudy Crew has done a great job,” said a Giuliani aide. “But this is a broken system.” The Mayor will also call for a major expansion (perhaps a doubling in size) of the privately funded School Choice Scholarship Foundation.
· A good swift kick for the City University of New York . The administration seems to view an overhaul of City University on a parallel plane with welfare reform. “If you want a public education and the taxpayer has to pay for it, there have to be standards and attendance requirements,” said a City Hall source who termed the university “a disaster.” That will do nothing to steady the nerves of City University’s faculty and administrators, many of whom see themselves being made scapegoats for much larger problems. The hounding out of office of Hostos Community College president Isaura Santiago Santiago may have been the opening salvo in an aggressive and not very subtle assault on the university’s leadership.
· A plan enabling small businesses to purchase affordable health insurance for employees . Details were sketchy, but this idea sounds very much like the work of a moderate Republican who understands that the health care crisis didn’t end with the demolition of President Clinton’s health care reform several years ago.
· Development deals . The Mayor will focus some attention on the long battle to develop the old New York Coliseum site on Columbus Circle. What could be particularly interesting, if true, is the Mayor’s proposed hands-on role in developing a cultural component for the prospective new development. Reliable sources told The Observer that the Mayor would like to select the cultural tenant himself. The Mayor also will revisit his 1997 State of the City speech by returning to his support for a rail-freight tunnel that would connect the Brooklyn waterfront with New Jersey and thus mainland America. The proposal has been an obsession of Representative Jerrold Nadler, and the West Side (11)Democrat was among the happiest people in the world last year when the Mayor made the tunnel proposal the centerpiece of his State of the City address. Mr. Giuliani hasn’t said much about it since, so this update could prove newsworthy.
· A minor league baseball team for Staten Island . Staten Island Borough President Guy Molinari has been talking about building a minor league ball park in his borough for years, and now it seems he will get his wish. “I can’t think of a favor that I sought that was turned down!” exulted Mr. Molinari on the subject of life with the Giuliani administration. It was New Year’s night at the College of Staten Island, after the freshly reinaugurated Mayor had sworn in the borough president for his third term-and though it would be un-American to equate a baseball team with a political favor, Mr. Molinari did seem awfully bubbly about the idea.
· A word of support for the police-community task force, and for “those who have been left out, those who have been left behind …” But will the Mayor say anything we haven’t already heard about either of those topics? “I doubt it,” said a source.