According to a recent public-opinion survey, more than 50 percent of New Yorkers don’t like the way Mayor Michael Bloomberg is doing his job. Obviously, they haven’t been paying attention.
In his first year on the job, Michael Bloomberg not only has built on his predecessor’s successes, but has managed a feat or two that many regarded as impossible. He has not ducked tough decisions, and he has displayed a professional politician’s touch in dealing with Governor George Pataki, the City Council and other new colleagues. When you consider that he has done all of this in spite of a rotten national economy, a fiscal crisis in the state, a city still recovering from the Sept. 11 attacks and no previous political experience, it’s hard to imagine that he could have done anything better.
When Mr. Bloomberg inherited America’s safest big city from Rudolph Giuliani, all eyes were fixed on New York’s crime rate. Would it go up with Mr. Giuliani’s departure? Most thought it was inevitable. Guess what? Most categories of crime have continued their historic decline. That alone would be enough to consider Mr. Bloomberg’s first year a success. But there’s been more.
Consider, for example, his seemingly impossible, self-assigned task of dismantling the hidebound Board of Education. Other Mayors have talked about getting control of the schools. Mr. Bloomberg did it, and he did it the old-fashioned way, by hectoring, cajoling, horse-trading and preaching. This was not only a monumental achievement, it was brave as well. Mr. Bloomberg has gotten what he wished for, and now he will not be able to hide behind an unaccountable Board of Education if school performance suffers. But he did the right thing for the right reasons-a political rarity.
Similarly, he performed an act of courage in asking for an increase in the city’s property taxes to help fix an out-of-control deficit. Tax hikes are never popular, but this one-amounting to an 18 percent increase-was regrettably necessary. The Mayor rightly says that we can’t allow city services to deteriorate. That’s what happened in the 1970s, and it took a quarter-century to recover.
His ambitious housing initiative, which will provide thousands of affordable units in the years to come, demonstrates that even when budgets are tight, he and his advisers can still find a way to attack problems proactively and creatively.
These are tough times, and Mr. Bloomberg has made it clear that times may get even tougher. No doubt this accounts for some of the Mayor’s undeserved negative ratings. Still, though, it’s remarkable how much he has achieved, especially given his unlikely transition from the private sector to City Hall.
The Mayor says he doesn’t care much about public-opinion polls. That’s fine. The Bloomberg Mayoralty is civil, it is task-oriented, and it solves problems without massive conflict or name-calling. This is an administration that gets things done without noise, hysterics or tantrums. That’s refreshing.
The Fortune Society Opens Castle to Ex-Cons
If you think times are a bit tight in New York at the moment, imagine if you were an ex-con looking for a job or an apartment. Almost 20,000 people are released from New York prisons each year-many if not most of them eager to rebuild lives that didn’t work out the first time, and to live within the law. But without decent housing and some social support, the odds are hardly in their favor. The Castle, a home for ex-cons located on Riverside Drive and 140th Street, should be a model for how New York copes with this problem-one that will only grow, as those who were arrested under the Rockefeller drug laws in the 1980’s and 1990’s are released in the near future.
The Castle offers more than a bed: It offers respect, in the form of rooms with hot plates, private showers and a view of the Hudson River. It is owned and operated by the Fortune Society, an inmate-advocacy group that exists on private funding and government grants. The building, a former Catholic girls’ school which became a seedy drug bazaar in the 1980’s, has had its neo-Gothic façade restored and its interior refurbished with wooden cabinetry and a color scheme chosen by a feng shui expert. “We tried to do this beautiful, because beautiful matters,” JoAnne Page, executive director of the Fortune Society, told The New York Times . “Beautiful tells people they matter.” Unlike other halfway houses for ex-prisoners, the Castle does not reject applicants because of AIDS, joblessness or drug addiction. The Castle has 41 permanent beds, and residents can stay as long as they like, although the expected stay is about a year to 18 months, during which time residents are also offered the Fortune Society’s job-placement services.
It would be nice, of course, if New York wasn’t facing a tide of prisoners needing apartments and jobs. But it is. “We’ve known for years that housing was a desperate need,” Ms. Page told The Times . “People are coming home, and the question is whether they’ll come home as a resource or a risk.”
Beware the Hostile Heart
Feeling a bit hostile today? Be careful-hostility not only loses you friends, it’s also bad for your heart. According to a new study conducted by Brown University Medical School psychologist Raymond Niaura, hostility is a better predictor of heart disease in older men than many of the usual culprits like smoking, high-caloric diets or elevated levels of LDL cholesterol. This is further evidence of the link between emotional and physical health. It’s as important to manage your anger as it is to manage your diet.
As reported in the American Psychological Association’s Monitor, hostility was defined as “a stable tendency to interpret the world and other people in a cynical and negative manner.” The study measured this tendency in a group of men in 1986; those who scored in the high hostility range turned out to be the most likely to suffer angina, heart attacks and ischemic heart disease in the next three years. The researchers speculate that hostility may elevate stress hormones and thereby damage the heart. Follow-up work is being done. In the meantime, it seems that in more ways than one, it pays to be nice.