Teachers’ Union: Greedy in Time of Grief

It ought to come as news to nobody that times are tough, and likely to get tougher. Thousands have been put out of work, while City Hall and Albany are bracing for budget deficits the likes of which haven’t been seen in years. The city is battling a potential $5 billion deficit; the state, possibly $10 billion. It’s hardly the time for a public employees’ union to demand a 22 percent pay increase. But the United Federation of Teachers has never been known for its brains or sensitivity.

The U.F.T. insists that the city must fork over the huge raise in order to keep pace with the pay offered in suburban school districts. It’s a familiar, tired and now totally inappropriate argument. Apparently nobody has told Randi Weingarten, the union’s president, that the people who pay her members’ salaries–New York’s taxpayers–are having a hard time at the moment. Then again, maybe she knows and simply doesn’t care.

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani rightly condemned the union’s demands as “unrealistic.” In reply, Ms. Weingarten charged that the Mayor–a man regarded as a hero throughout the world since Sept. 11–is using the terrorist attack as an excuse to avoid raises for city workers. That’s a particularly loathsome accusation, and one hopes Ms. Weingarten will apologize to the Mayor.

Nobody is saying that New York’s teachers should not get a raise. In fact, Mr. Giuliani’s budget calls for an 8 percent increase. That’s eminently fair. If Ms. Weingarten disagrees, she should pay a visit to the unemployment office, or to the offices of almost any private company. She’d soon discover just how happy she should be with an 8 percent raise.

The U.F.T.’s demands are utterly tone-deaf. The city has suffered a terrorist attack on its infrastructure and its already weakening economy. City Hall is in no position to offer what the teachers are demanding, and the teachers ought to understand that. Ms. Weingarten should take what Mr. Giuliani is offering. When the city recovers, as it will, she can go back to the new Mayor and ask for more.

Until then, the U.F.T., like other patriotic New Yorkers, should understand that the times call for sacrifice and common sense.

A Loudmouth Bigot For President?

‘I want to be President of the United States.” So announced Al Sharpton on Dec. 1, adding that this wasn’t just a publicity ploy and that he was seriously mulling a run for the Democratic nomination in 2004. While separating cheap publicity stunts from earnest political ambition is never easy when it comes to Mr. Sharpton, there’s no doubt that he has the ability to embarrass and disrupt an already fractured Democratic Party. The fact that sensible adults have to pay even a moment’s attention to Mr. Sharpton’s shenanigans is the fault of countless Democrats of all races who have never shown the courage to confront him. Their failure of nerve has allowed him to build a voting block which mistakenly regards him as a legitimate power broker for the disenfranchised.

For a man who would be President, Mr. Sharpton has broken an awful lot of bread with bigots, and he seems to favor those who traffic in the lowest depths of anti-Semitism. He has never repudiated the hate-filled messages of Louis Farrakhan, nor did he distance himself from the late Khalid Muhammad, who called Jewish people “the bloodsuckers of the black community” and who did his best to incite riots during youth marches in Harlem. Never one to avoid trouble when he can exploit it, Mr. Sharpton helped throw New York into turmoil and national disgrace by supporting the false accusations of Tawana Brawley. His profound lack of ethics was again on display in 1995, when, at a racially charged rally outside Freddy’s Fashion Mart in Harlem, he exhorted the crowd to oust the “white interloper” who ran the store. A street vendor later entered the store with a gun and set fire to the place. Seven people died.

What have New York Democrats received in return for tolerating Mr. Sharpton as one of their own? In this year’s Mayoral election, Mr. Sharpton plunged himself into the center of the racial tensions swirling around Mark Green and Fernando Ferrer, inflamed those tensions, and then nudged his constituency to stay home rather than vote for Mr. Green, thereby helping hand the election to a Republican, Michael Bloomberg. Presumably the Democratic Party is still trying to figure out a way to thank him.

Mr. Sharpton has one talent: He knows how to make himself into the center of a circus. And until black and white elected officials call his bluff, he will continue to turn those around him into circus puppets. He will never be elected President; but particularly at this moment in history, New York needs men and women of integrity at the forefront of its political establishment. It is up to those very people to publicly reject Mr. Sharpton and his repulsive bigotry.

Daniel Rose Makes A Difference

While it’s easy to despair over the state of New York’s public schools, there are those who refuse to give up and who have shown startling success in guiding public-school students to the highest plateaus of academic achievement. One such program is the Harlem Educational Activities Fund, a nonprofit, mostly privately funded organization which has shown that positive mentoring and tutoring can interrupt the cycle of low expectations and turn public-school kids from disadvantaged backgrounds into academic stars.

Among its many achievements, HEAF helps middle-school students in Harlem and Washington Heights prepare for admission to selective public high schools such as Stuyvesant High School and the Bronx High School of Science. Eighty-one percent of its students gain admission to such schools, and HEAF sticks by them as they take their SAT’s and go on to college, working with each student for at least 10 years.

HEAF is not the result of a committee or bureaucracy. One man, Daniel Rose, single-handedly created the program and has funded, managed and nurtured it over its 10-year existence. His determination and dedication has changed the lives of hundreds of young New Yorkers who were facing daunting odds.

The organization also runs the Harlem Chess Center, an after-school program that teaches youngsters the game of chess. Not only have studies shown that kids who play chess perform better on the reading portion of standardized tests, but a HEAF chess team, the Dark Knights, has won six national championships–and that’s against teams whose players often have expensive private tutors.

The future of the city’s schoolchildren depends in large part upon the model that HEAF has established: a private-public partnership which combines intelligence and efficiency. Those who would like to help may call 210-6620 or visit www.heaf.org. Editorials