Unions, Civil Libertarians and Bureaucrats

While the litany of outrages perpetrated against the public-school children of New York City is endless, the case of Milton McFarlane may be the most outrageous yet. Mr. McFarlane is the teacher who was arrested on May 2 and charged with sodomizing two of his students, a 9-year-old and an 8-year-old, in their classroom. That’s horrific enough. But it gets much worse. It turns out that Mr. McFarlane says he is H.I.V.-positive. And he was accused of approaching a student for sex in 1998–but Board of Education investigators chose to drop their inquiry because of conflicting statements from witnesses. Scandalously, the case was not referred to the Police Department. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani rightly condemned these so-called investigators as incompetent.

Actually, the level of incompetence is criminal, and it is not limited to the Board of Ed investigators. Something like this can only happen because the city’s education system is hostage to three forces of the status quo, who have combined to throw the city’s 1.1 million public-school children into a quagmire from which there is no apparent escape. Specifically, blame lies with the Board of Ed bureaucrats, the teachers’ union and the civil libertarians who decry any kind of police authority.

Edward Stancik, the independent investigator of New York’s school districts, did not pursue the original accusation against Mr. McFarlane, and the teachers’ union, with its own bureaucracy and set of rules, has been conspicuously silent. Does U.F.T. President Randi Weingarten have anything to add to make sure that people like Mr. McFarlane never receive a union card? The civil libertarians’ position is that the police have no place in the schools. And so we get people like Milton McFarlane, a criminal posing as a teacher, sexually assaulting students and destroying families until, finally, he gets caught.

Schools Chancellor Harold Levy has acted appropriately in firing the responsible investigator. And Mr. Giuliani was right to propose legislation that would require the Board of Ed to turn over such cases to the Police Department.

That’s a good start. We now see, tragically, what happens when such matters are left to the Board of Education, the teachers’ union and their partners in inaction.

Con Ed’s Dirty Air

Jokes about the smog in Los Angeles always get a laugh from New Yorkers, who perhaps forget that New York City’s pollution levels also violate federal clean-air standards. And if Consolidated Edison has its way, the air quality in the city is about to get worse. Con Ed has announced that the utility plans to restart Boiler 100 at its Hudson Avenue power plant, near the Brooklyn Navy Yard. With Boiler 100 up and running, Hudson Avenue would produce more pollution per megawatt of power than any other plant in the city, according to an analysis by the National Resources Defense Council.

To understand Con Ed’s stunning arrogance in this matter, it helps to know that, when Con Ed shut the boiler down 100 in 1997, the utility asked for an emissions credit from the state for having reduced air pollution. And no wonder: Boiler 100 is a relic. Built in 1951, it burns oil rather than cleaner natural gas. The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation estimates that, with Boiler 100 reactivated, the Hudson Avenue plant would annually produce 825 tons of nitrogen oxide, which causes smog, and 918 tons of sulfur dioxide, which causes acid rain. But, having received an emissions credit for being a good corporate citizen and closing Boiler 100 four years ago, Con Ed is now trying to tell the state that reactivating the very same boiler will be harmless to the environment. Incredibly, the D.E.C. has indicated that it will allow Con Ed to proceed, according to The New York Times .

Why would the state give Con Ed a green light to restart a polluting power plant? In a word, politics. Elected officials know that New York faces a power crunch this summer–and whoever happens to be Governor during a brownout or a blackout will be held accountable. Governor George Pataki is gambling with the city’s air quality rather than doing the real, and politically problematic, work of finding a solution to the energy shortage.

Mr. Pataki, who gets high ratings from environmentalists, should take a stand for New Yorkers’ health and demand that Con Ed conduct an environmental impact review before Boiler 100 starts its dirty work.

A Candid Cop Camera

Across the Hudson River, residents of Jersey City are benefiting from a high-tech approach to crime control that has implications for all large cities which struggle to make streets safe for law-abiding citizens. Seventeen video cameras have been placed in high-crime areas of Jersey City, and will transmit 24 hours a day to civilians working within the police department. Corners known for drug dealing, storefronts which are the scenes of repeated break-ins and streets where muggings are frequent will be monitored. Jersey City Mayor Bret Schundler’s willingness to fight crime with the latest technology should be taken as a model for what could be done in New York.

Civil libertarians–who, by the way, rarely live in high-crime neighborhoods–are already carping about “Big Brother.” But as Jersey City Councilwoman Melissa Holloway, who represents the area where the first cameras have been placed, told The New York Times , “Right now, what we need is a little Big Brother.” The cameras, which can rotate 360 degrees and zoom in and out, allow residents of crime-plagued neighborhoods to know that, even if there is not a cop around, the police department is keeping an eye out for their safety. And if a crime does occur, a video record will exist to help track down and prosecute the offender. Mayor Schundler hopes to increase the number of cameras to over 100.

While crime in New York City continues to decline, too many of its citizens are still forced to cede their neighborhoods to criminals. A test program of crime-surveillance cameras would be another step toward recivilizing the city.

Unions, Civil Libertarians and Bureaucrats