Bradley and McCain: The Out-of-Towners

Usually you wouldn’t describe U.S. Senators as Washington

outsiders. Indeed, the Senate is often described as one of the world’s most

exclusive clubs, the ultimate gathering of political insiders. To be a member

of the Senate is to be a full-fledged member of the nation’s power elite.

And yet, for all their years in this incestuous world, Bill

Bradley and John McCain have retained their strong sense of honor and decency,

and have never really thought or acted like members of the club. Instead, they

have been citizen-politicians, men of intellectual independence who put the

national interest above partisan wrangling. In fact, despite their political

résumés, they indeed are outsiders: They don’t need polls to tell them what

they believe; they are not afraid to criticize their colleagues and those who

seek to influence them; and they understand that public cynicism is a

reflection of transparently cynical politics.

Mr. Bradley served 18 years in the Senate before retiring

and declaring, rightly, that our electoral system is broken. Mr. McCain has

represented Arizona for 13 years. For all that, they exude a freshness that

makes Vice President Al Gore and Gov. George W. Bush of Texas look like tired

scions of diminished political dynasties. Mr. Bradley, a Democrat, and Mr.

McCain, a Republican, are running underdog campaigns for their respective

parties’ Presidential nominations. Not for the first time, they are challenging

the collective wisdom of the unimaginative party hacks whose prosperity depends

on the status quo. In Mr. Gore’s case, the Democrats have rallied around a man

who carries Bill Clinton’s baggage-a chore that would daunt Atlas himself. In

Mr. Bush’s case, the Republican machinery has chosen the amiable son of an

amiable but ineffective President, a man whose lines in the sand rarely

withstood the power of shifting winds.

Mr. Bradley and Mr. McCain represent genuine departures.

They are the class of the field. Of course, their strengths may be their

undoing. The insiders will work overtime to insure their defeat when primary

season begins. With luck, Mr. Bradley and Mr. McCain will continue to defy

conventional wisdom. If not, though, it wouldn’t be so terrible to see either

one, or both, running for Vice President. They would instantly elevate the

office and their running mates.

Pataki Blows the

Budget

With Wall Street thriving, Manhattan co-op prices rocketing

and a new overpriced restaurant blossoming on every corner, one could be

forgiven for assuming that Gov. George Pataki must be taking advantage of the

current economic boom to shore up the state’s financial health. Instead, Mr.

Pataki’s latest budget, according to independent budget analysts, is a sorry,

gimmick-ridden effort which will likely drive New York further into debt. While

most states are using the economic expansion to get their financial houses in

order before an inevitable downturn, Mr. Pataki and the state legislators came

up with a plan that calls to mind a 16-year-old kid with his first credit card.

One of the most flagrant instances of how the new budget

plays financial footsie is its reliance on “one-shots,” deals in which the

state sells its assets to  pay for

operations. Once something is sold, of course, it can’t be sold again, which

means the state will have to keep selling off assets, or come up with deep

spending cuts, to meet its obligations. Mr. Pataki also blew a chance to use a

$1.8 billion surplus to pay down the state’s debt, a debt which is already the

highest in the country. Instead, the budget contains tax cuts that will cost

the state $250 million a year.

Rather than take care of 

the state’s future, Mr. Pataki and the Legislature prettied things up

for short-term benefit. “This budget was just focused on getting through this

year and next year,” Diana Fortuna, president of the non-profit Citizens Budget

Commission, told The New York Times ‘

Richard Pérez-Peña. “After that,” added Frank Mauro, director of the Fiscal

Policy Institute, “we go over the precipice.” The only way disaster can be

averted, analysts say, is if Wall Street continues its dizzying growth. That’s

an awfully narrow beam on which to balance a state budget.

It’s no secret that the Governor thinks he’s only a few fund-raisers

and speeches away from a Vice Presidential spot on a national ticket. But

before Mr. Bush plucks Mr. Pataki as a running mate, he might want to consider

that New York’s electoral votes aren’t likely to follow the man who left the

state in the dumps.

H.E.A.F. Helps in

Harlem

It’s known that kids who attend prestigious schools get an

educational boost from the wide range of activities attached to the end of the

school day.  Children from less

fortunate schools frequently miss out. But now the Harlem Chess Center has

opened on West 119th Street, thanks to the efforts of Maurice Ashley, a

33-year-old New Yorker who earlier this year became the first African-American

grandmaster. Over 100 children have signed up, some as young as 5 years old,

and all will receive hands-on instruction and a chance to yell “Checkmate!” at

their peers across the chessboard.

The center is funded by the Harlem Educational Activities

Fund, a nonprofit organization which has blazed new trails for public-school

students. Among its many successes, H.E.A.F. helps middle school students from

Harlem and Washington Heights prepare intensively for admissions to selective

public high schools like Stuyvesant High School and the Bronx High School of

Science. Once students are enrolled in those schools, H.E.A.F. helps them

prepare for the SATs and other pre-college rigors. Those readers interested in

helping may contact H.E.A.F. at 210-6620.

At a time when a so-called “culture war” is being fought

over an exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, it’s refreshing to see that a

true base of culture and intellect is being quietly established on 119th

Street. Bradley and McCain: The Out-of-Towners