The City Council: A Bunch of Lulus

The City Council has long been municipal government’s theater of the absurd. It exists for no discernible reason other than to provide less-than-gainful employment all too often for a sad collection of hacks, mediocrities, yes-men and the occasional charming eccentric. If the Council actually provided a legislative counterweight to the Mayor, it would have a genuine mission. Instead, it generally goes along with whatever the Mayor wishes, as long as the Mayor allows the Council to pack the budget with constituent candy.

Ridiculous as the Council can be, the current version has managed what many would consider impossible: It has become a caricature of itself. The Council Speaker, an ambitious young man named Gifford Miller, recently expanded the number of Council committees to 41. Of course, every committee must have a chairman; now, 41 of the Council’s 51 members get to call themselves Mister or Madam Chairman.

If that were the extent of the absurdity, we could all laugh at the Council’s self-importance and move on to more pressing matters. Regrettably, however, this nonsense costs us money: Every committee chair gets extra money beyond the $90,000 annual salary paid to these part-time lawmakers. And who gets to parcel out these goodies? Why, the Speaker himself, a man who wants to be Mayor and who would very much like the support of every other Council member. What better way to win a popularity contest than by giving away taxpayer money?

These bonuses are called “lulus,” and lulus they are. They can range from $4,000 to $18,000 per year. So if you have your eye on a fatter piece of the public treasury, wouldn’t you make sure to stay on the Speaker’s good side? This system is bad government at its worst, for it places a premium on blind personal loyalty. The expansion of the Council’s committees has nothing to do with necessity and everything to do with Speaker Miller’s political needs. He wants to create a cadre of supporters.

If Mr. Miller is really interested in better government, he ought to figure out precisely how many committees the Council really needs and then pay the committee chairs a fixed rate. That way, they won’t have to worry about whether or not their work pleases the Speaker. Council members should be accountable to the people, not the Speaker. This seems to be a radical idea in Gifford Miller’s City Council.

Hitting Wrong Note In Harlem Boys Choir

The facts are not in dispute: A 14-year-old member of the world-famous Boys Choir of Harlem was sexually molested by a counselor at the Boys Choir Academy for two years. The director and founder of the choir, Walter Turnbull, who knew about the abuse, not only failed to notify the police, but he also allowed the counselor to continue supervising students. He used choir funds to pay the abuser’s bail, and he punished the victim by refusing to allow the boy to go on a trip to Japan. Yet both the choir’s board and the city’s Department of Education decided this month that Mr. Turnbull can retain his role as the choir’s artistic director. This outrageous decision puts political considerations first, and the well-being of the choir’s children last.

Why is Mr. Turnbull, who enabled a sexual abuser who was subsequently convicted and sentenced to two years in prison, being allowed to remain in power? The choir’s board makes the ludicrous claim that the choir couldn’t survive without him. Who are they kidding? Yes, Mr. Turnbull founded the choir and worked hard for its success. But this isn’t Peoria: New York’s musical community is filled with capable, talented men and women who would jump at the chance to be artistic director of the Harlem Boys Choir. Mr. Turnbull had the good fortune to have the choir’s board and Harlem power-brokers like Representative Charles Rangel on his side. The Department of Education-which has a say in the matter because the city co-manages the choir’s school-caved in to the board’s pressure, out of fear of angering black voters and hurting Mayor Bloomberg’s re-election chances. It is a mark of cynicism that the city is willing to support a mediocre administrator who tolerated the sexual abuse of a child.

It is not an encouraging sign that Mayor Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein seem to be factoring the Mayor’s political viability into decisions which should have nothing to do with politics.

Mel Gibson’s Anti-Semitic Cinema

It takes a lot of chutzpah to try to enlist the Pope as a flack for your movie. Mel Gibson tried to do just that a few weeks ago, claiming that Pope John Paul II had given a big thumbs-up to his movie, The Passion of the Christ . It turned out this wasn’t quite the case, but Mr. Gibson is not one to worry about accuracy. While playing fast and loose with the facts is nothing new in Hollywood, Mr. Gibson is indeed playing a dangerous game with his film, which twists the truth around to claim that it wasn’t the Romans who killed Jesus, it was the Jewish people. At a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise in Europe and even on American college campuses, it is profoundly irresponsible for Mr. Gibson to foist his crackpot theories on the moviegoing public.

Very few people have seen the movie: Mr. Gibson has been screening it privately at various friendly churches, with attendees required to sign a non-disclosure agreement. No Jews allowed. Recently, two respected Jewish leaders-Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League in New York, and Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles-saw the film and confirmed to The New York Times that it contains scenes which blame the Jews for Jesus’ murder. The belief that an angry Jewish crowd crucified Jesus is the seminal issue of anti-Semitism, the faux-historical justification for thousands of years of anti-Jewish violence and genocide. The one passage in the Bible which suggests that Jewish people were responsible for

Jesus’ death was repudiated by the Second Vatican Council. Mr. Gibson’s movie, however, dramatizes that very passage and puts words into the mouth of the Jewish high priest Caiaphas, having him say of the crucified Jesus: “His blood be on us, and on our children.”

Mr. Gibson is hardly representative of Christian thinking; he chooses to practice an esoteric form of Roman Catholicism that rejects the modernizing changes of Vatican II, which brought reforms to the church in the early 1960’s. What he worships is his own business; one hopes the public will choose not to pay money to see his propaganda. As Mr. Foxman told The Times, the movie will “strengthen and legitimize anti-Semitic feelings.” Moreover, Mr. Gibson’s decision to premiere his movie on Feb. 25, Ash Wednesday, is an insult to the majority of Christians who do not share his atrocious views.

The City Council: A Bunch of Lulus