Charles Schumer, New York’s Statesman

It seems fair to say that politicians have rarely been held in such low regard as they are now. Voters

It seems fair to say that politicians have rarely been held in such low regard as they are now. Voters in California elected a movie star as their governor, in part because they are sick of traditional politicians. The Presidential campaigns of H. Ross Perot in the 1990’s were evidence of public weariness with politics as usual. A certain Mayor of New York owes his office to that same dissatisfaction.

So it is all the more remarkable that Charles Schumer-a career politician who has never been shy about calling attention to himself-is winning respect from New Yorkers of all political persuasions. Mr. Schumer, New York’s senior Senator, seems poised to take his place among the giants who have represented New York through the decades: Robert Wagner, Herbert Lehman, Jacob Javits and Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

Not everybody would have predicted that Mr. Schumer would gain so much stature so quickly. When he defeated Alfonse D’Amato in 1998, then-Congressman Schumer was best known for his extraordinary ability to gather the press together for a Sunday news conference announcing a federal grant here, a successful investigation there. There was no questioning his work ethic or intelligence. The question was whether he could transform himself from a bread-and-butter Brooklyn pol to the kind of statesman that New York expects in the U.S. Senate. As he prepares for re-election next year, Mr. Schumer has left little doubt that he is well suited to the role.

One way to judge the Senator’s effectiveness is to take stock of his enemies. They include some of the most virulent right-wingers who populate Talk Radio Nation. They have accused Mr. Schumer of all sorts of terrible things, including a bias against Roman Catholics, Latinos and African-Americans. Nonsense, really. But that’s what happens in modern politics when you dare to oppose candidates for federal judgeships whose views you regard as abhorrent and unconstitutional.

At a time when political courage is hard to find, Mr. Schumer has urged his fellow Democrats to oppose some of President George W. Bush’s egregious choices for federal judicial posts. Of course, taking such a position now, when Mr. Bush’s poll ratings have sunk, is not so courageous. But Mr. Schumer was battling the President even when Mr. Bush was breaking records for popularity. That took guts.

Charles Schumer is hardly a wild-eyed, bleeding-heart liberal, although you’d never know it based on the thinly disguised anti-Semitic attacks he has been forced to endure. As a Democratic Senator from New York who happens to be Jewish, he makes for an easy target for the hate-mongers who populate talk radio. It doesn’t matter that he supported the war in Iraq, or that Wall Street regards him as a voice of fiscal sanity in the Democratic Party. He is, to his enemies, an arch-liberal and an enemy of the President. In fact, he is simply a superb, effective Senator who fights for New York. No wonder the nuts hate him.

Legacy Admissions: Everyone Benefits

Several Senate Democrats are proposing legislation which, if enacted, could end up dealing a grievous blow to the quality of American higher education. The bill, filed by Senator Edward Kennedy, would require colleges to report admissions data on legacies-those incoming students whose parents or other relatives are alumni of the college. Senator Kennedy, the ranking Democrat on the Senate education committee, argues, with some justification, that by favoring students whose parents attended the school, colleges end up denying admission to some students who have high credentials but no blood ties to alumni. But the Senators are missing the big picture: Most private colleges and universities get close to 90 percent of their funding from alumni gifts. If colleges put an end to favoring the children of alumni, a good portion of that funding will dry up, resulting in decreased quality of education, higher tuition payments and less money available for financial aid. Quite possibly, many private colleges would eventually have to close their doors.

It’s no secret that legacies are favored; The Wall Street Journal reports that at most top colleges, legacies are accepted at two to three times the rate of other applicants. Still, they make up only 10 to 20 percent of any given student body. Frankly speaking, an institutional bias toward legacies at admissions time is what makes it possible for the 80 percent of students who are not legacies to get a top-notch education. Without alumni funding, colleges would be unable to hire quality teachers, build modern science labs, modernize libraries, keep up student dormitories, and make any of the investments in personnel and infrastructure which have earned America’s private colleges a reputation as the finest in the world.

Senator Kennedy-who was a legacy admission to Harvard, by the way -has been joined in his quest by a group which includes Democratic Presidential candidate John Edwards. They make the additional point that a pro-legacy admissions policy tends to favor white applicants at the expense of minority students. But it’s hard to see how their solution would help minority students in the long run. If you destroy a college’s ability to offer excellence, everyone loses. Moreover, by eliminating the legacy system, Senator Kennedy’s bill would have the perverse effect of denying to the increasing number of minority alumni the benefit of having their own children receive a favorable glance at admissions time.

That said, the bill might indeed have some merit-for state schools and other publicly financed institutions, which depend far less on alumni giving.

Alter Kockers Menace City!

A new crime wave has broken out in New York, one which threatens the safety and well-being of all good citizens. We’re talking, of course, about the Geezer Gang. You’re not familiar with the Geezer Gang? Some history, then: On Oct. 19, four men “of a certain age” were playing dominoes in Joyce Kilmer Park near Yankee Stadium. It wasn’t the first time they’d engaged in this nefarious activity: They’d been playing the game for decades, but somehow had managed to avoid the cops. But on this day, the city’s finest raided the game and charged the men with disorderly conduct and illegal gambling. “It’s just not right,” one of the menacing gang members, Anthony Quintero, 82, told the Daily News . “The city shouldn’t give good people tickets for having fun.”

“We come out here to have fun and not to do anything wrong,” said Geraldo Perez, the suspected ringleader. “Playing dominoes helps to keep our minds going.”

Clearly these men are hardened, experienced criminals-just listen to those smooth excuses! Mr. Perez even tried that old chestnut, “They should have better things to do, like get the people selling drugs.” Tell it to the judge, pops!

Luckily, the police were too clever for this shifty bunch: Though the men said they never play for money, a female undercover cop approached their table and asked if she could place a $10 bet on their game. They told her no-“We said, ‘We don’t bet, we just play,'” said Mr. Perez-but the brave cops closed in and issued the summons anyway. Like Al Capone’s bust for tax evasion, the Geezer Gang never saw it coming.

“I’m sad,” said Jose Veras, 73. “I never got a ticket and I played in the park all the time.”

New Yorkers will get their first glimpse of the cold-blooded Geezer Gang on Dec. 1, when they’re due to appear in court. Meanwhile, the city’s taxpayers can sleep soundly, knowing that there are four fewer alter kockers playing dominoes in the park.

Charles Schumer, New York’s Statesman