How high a price must a great city pay for political
correctness? New Yorkers need look no
further than the current media circus enveloping Parks Commissioner Henry Stern for a grim lesson in how a highly
successful public servant, no matter how significant his
accomplishments, can be pilloried, and possibly driven from his job, because of
an unwillingness to temper his at times politically incorrect private
How did Mr. Stern find himself in this mess? As has been
reported, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, responding to
complaints from disgruntled Parks
Department workers, found that whites held more managerial positions
than blacks and Hispanics, and were promoted at a faster rate. While that is obviously not an acceptable state of
affairs, and bears serious looking into, one would be hard pressed to
find another city agency where that was not also true-or any large corporation,
for that matter. That Henry Stern is being held accountable for the faults of a still racially imbalanced society is
ludicrous. From the recent slew of negative press, Mr. Stern’s greater
fault seems to have been a carelessness with ethnic humor in conversations
which were not always private. The glee with which The New York Times and other politically correct mouthpieces have
leapt on Mr. Stern is stunning. To get beyond this caricature of Mr. Stern, one
simply has to look at his record.
Henry Stern made New York parks popular again, and he did it
despite large cuts to his agency’s operating budget. Over the past seven years,
2,600 acres of new park land have been
acquired under his management. On his watch, the capital budget for
parks has more than doubled, to almost $200 million, because Mr. Stern was
successful in lobbying the City Council. Thanks to him, graffiti is now almost
impossible to find in city parks. He restored parks in all the boroughs: Marcus
Garvey Park in Harlem, Fort Greene Park in Brooklyn and the park land along the
Bronx River. He conducted a census of trees on city sidewalks, which led to new
resources to maintain them. Mr. Stern’s tireless and selfless work has greatly
benefited all New Yorkers who value the city’s green spaces.
Mr. Stern recruited some of his staff from Ivy League
schools, students who otherwise would have
turned to banking, law or media. He also employed welfare recipients
from the city’s “work experience program,” 2,060 of whom his agency helped find
jobs in government and the private sector.
Yes, it is clear the 65-year-old Mr. Stern is not an adept
player at public relations and that he made some mistakes. But what he has
given the city far outweighs his flaws. New Yorkers should have the grace to
acknowledge his real legacy.
City Council, Still
How many New Yorkers followed last fall’s post-election
fiasco in Florida with detached disdain? Certainly New York’s democracy was a
good deal more evolved than Florida’s. New York would never tolerate ham-handed
attempts to defy the people’s will. Right?
The City Council, that
bastion of modern democracy, is intent on saving its collective skin, and if
that means running roughshod over the voters’ expressed wishes, then so be it.
Twice in the last few years, New Yorkers have voted overwhelmingly in favor of
term limits for the Mayor, Public Advocate, Comptroller and the Council. Never
was the public’s collective wisdom so evident-the Council has long been derided
as a holding pen for hacks and time servers, a legislature singularly uninterested
in legislating. Many Council members are lawyers who practice on the side, such
is their devotion to public service. Most members live for the annual practice
of handing out taxpayer dollars to favorite community groups.
Well, the scam is over. And even still, the Council resists.
Twenty-two of the Council’s 51 members have put their names to a bill that
would overturn term limits, allowing members to run for re-election later this
year. Michael Meyers, executive director of the New York Civil Rights
Coalition, found exactly the right words for this absurd spectacle:
“Transparent, despicable, reprehensible, shameless idiocy.” Some might argue
that he was being far too diplomatic.
The City Council has been a laughingstock for decades. No,
not every member is a dim bulb, but as an institution, it requires a general
housecleaning. New members with new ideas could transform this stodgy body into
a vibrant legislature.
Mayor Rudolph Giuliani,
no fan of term limits but a man who respects the people’s will, must
veto this outrage. We can’t count on Council Speaker Peter Vallone-he won’t be
able to stop passage. Mr. Giuliani has been a force for good government since his days as a U.S. Attorney. By
vetoing the abolition of term limits, he would make yet another
contribution to better democracy in New York.
Homes for the
Some facts are not easy to swallow, nor should they be. Such
as the fact that 10,000 children are currently sleeping in New York City
homeless shelters on an average night.
As The New York Times recently
reported, the population of homeless in city shelters is the highest it’s been
in 20 years. The painful plight of a homeless child may be the saddest thing
one can imagine. Leading the way in trying to alleviate this suffering is Homes
for the Homeless, the nation’s largest provider for homeless families, which
was started in 1986 by Leonard Stern, chairman of the Hartz Group. Since its
founding, 18,000 homeless families and 30,000
homeless children have received emergency transitional housing. In addition
to housing, Homes for the Homeless offers
services necessary to building an independent life: education, job
training, after-school programs, emotional counseling
and child care. No city should accept thousands of its children sleeping
in shelters each night. Through the dedication and perseverance of Homes for
the Homeless, each night a few more New York children are spared such a fate.
Those interested in learning more may call 212-529-5252 or
visit the Web site, www.homesforthehomeless.com.