By choosing Joseph Lieberman to be his running mate on the Democratic Presidential ticket, Al Gore has accomplished several things. First and foremost, he has allied himself with one of the most impressive and ethical figures in politics today. Second, he has made news, because Mr. Lieberman is the first person of the Jewish faith to run for the nation’s second-highest office. Third, Mr. Gore has put some distance between himself and the depredations of the Clinton administration, given Senator Lieberman’s 1998 speech criticizing Bill Clinton for his “immoral” and “harmful” behavior in the Oval Office, as well as Mr. Lieberman’s attacks on Hollywood, a community which often has been President Clinton’s most ardent support group. And finally, by choosing a moderate Democrat, Mr. Gore has further weakened the far-left, Jesse Jackson wing of the party.
Mr. Lieberman’s religion has received the lion’s share of attention in the days following his selection, and indeed it remains to be seen whether America will embrace a Jewish Vice President. Certainly the Connecticut Senator’s reputation as an independent, centrist thinker who favors gun control and abortion rights but leans to the right on issues of education and national defense should give him wide appeal to the electorate. The liberal tag won’t stick to this 58-year-old Yale University graduate: He’s pals with Republican “values czar” William Bennett, he voted in favor of George Bush’s Gulf War, he did not hesitate to challenge Bill Clinton’s Middle East policies and he was one of the few Democrats who took the accusations of Clinton-Gore fund-raising abuses seriously. He sounded far more like a Republican when he accused Mr. Clinton and Mr. Gore of using “the White House as a marketing tool.”
New Yorkers, who live in a city that is home to the highest population of Jewish people outside of Israel, may have a particular interest in how Mr. Lieberman’s religion will surface in the race. As an Orthodox Jew who refuses to campaign on the Sabbath, his high profile will likely introduce aspects of Jewish culture and faith to many Americans. Of course, the country has previously accepted a Jewish Secretary of State, Secretary of the Treasury and Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank; and if anyone needs reminding, Barry Goldwater was of Jewish origin.
Win or lose in November, Joe Lieberman adds a much-needed dose of intelligence, dignity and human warmth to the first Presidential contest of the millennium.
From Brearley to the Bronx
Why would a teacher accustomed to the sanctified halls of a private school such as Dalton or Brearley want to leave that oasis to teach in the city’s worst public schools? Especially when, according to the arcane rules of the New York City public school system, any teacher who wanted to make such a change would have their new starting salary capped at what a public school teacher makes after five years-about $39,000-even if the teacher had 10 or 20 years’ previous experience. But that may change, now that Schools Chancellor Harold Levy has sweetened the pot, offering experienced teachers from private and parochial schools a starting salary of $48,000 if they transfer into the city’s 99 worst schools. As a former business executive, Mr. Levy understands that appeals to nobility work best if they are backed with a little extra cash.
Naturally, private schools believe that their teachers won’t want to exchange teaching the children of privilege for teaching the children of poverty. “The failing schools that the chancellor needs teachers for are such a different world that I don’t think they’d be an attractive option for our teachers,” Dorothy Hutcheson, head of Nightingale-Bamford, told The New York Times . She may be right. But perhaps there are more than a few teachers who would be invigorated by stepping into a different world, and who are still stirred by that forgotten ideal of noblesse oblige. Indeed, any plan for bringing motivated and brainy teachers into impoverished schools should receive the full endorsement of the private and parochial schools. After all, they could then claim to be upscale training programs in the fight against the city’s epidemic of uneducated kids.
Mr. Levy should be commended for recognizing that, unless something bold is done to correct the educational neglect of hundreds of thousands of city schoolchildren, all New Yorkers-even graduates of Dalton and Brearley-will pay a price.
Budgets Without the Bull
With New York politicians practicing their craft within a few blocks of the world’s most sophisticated spinners and media manipulators, a truly nonpartisan analysis of the city budget is about as rare as Halley’s Comet. Which is why the Independent Budget Office-which does its best to analyze the budget, impartially and clearly, for the benefit of the City Council, community boards and anyone who reads a newspaper-plays a vital role. The recent selection of Ronnie Lowenstein as director of the I.B.O. is to be applauded as evidence that, despite the whiff of Democratic partisanship that has occasionally seeped into past I.B.O. reports, the office still aspires to neutrality.
Ms. Lowenstein, who had been deputy director of the I.B.O., beat out two candidates whose ties to the administration of ex-Mayor David Dinkins led those in charge of the new appointment-City Council Speaker Peter Vallone, City Comptroller Alan Hevesi, Public Advocate Mark Green and Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields-to question their ability to run an impartial shop. Ms. Lowenstein, who has a Ph.D. in economics and was previously a regional economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, had as deputy director shown herself to be quite familiar with the city’s Byzantine budget and is undaunted by the city’s elected officials.
Now her real work begins: to make sure that New Yorkers without Ph.D.’s can understand the fiscal matters affecting their daily lives, and that too often come already wrapped in partisan packaging.