The Kerry Dance or The Edwardian Charm?

Next week, New York voters in the Democratic Presidential primary will let the world know which of the two Johns they prefer. Will it be the taciturn front-runner from Massachusetts, John Kerry, or the surging Senator from North Carolina, John Edwards? The stakes are high: New York is among 10 states voting on so-called Super Tuesday, and among the six states where Mr. Edwards is concentrating his resources. Polls show Mr. Kerry to have a significant lead in all 10 states, but Mr. Edwards has the advantage of being the underdog and somewhat of a media darling.

But will New Yorkers fall for Mr. Charm School? Mr. Edwards may indeed be catnip to the rest of the country-good-looking, personable, a great performer who eschews the podium for the personal touch. But in the unforgiving light of a New York primary, Mr. Edwards comes off as the sort of fellow who pumps your hand, looks you in the eye and says, “No money down-and you’ll make a fortune in real estate!” South Carolina fell for Mr. Edwards’ act, but he was born there. So far, it’s the only state he’s won; if he hadn’t placed a strong second in Iowa and Wisconsin, it’s doubtful that he would even be bringing his charm offensive to New York.

Senator Edwards is the closest we have come to seeing a white Jesse Jackson candidacy: great stories, great speeches about the poor and two Americas, but little substance. This is a man who has three houses, yet continues to talk as if he is struggling to make a buck. He has said nothing that is particularly relevant to New Yorkers, and his one big issue-his anti-free-trade stance-could pose a threat to the city since, as the world hub of financial markets, New York benefits from the flow of money across international borders.

Once the Dean scream sent Dr. Howard to the showers, the Bushies started to worry. Should John Kerry prevail, there’s an assumption that he’ll choose Mr. Edwards as his running mate. But former Senator Bob Graham of Florida would make more sense as a No. 2. That ticket could give the Republicans trouble.

In the meantime, John Edwards is coming to town. Are New Yorkers going to fall for this man who’s all hat and no cattle? We don’t think so . . .

Another Ego Trip for Ralph

In his twilight years, Ralph Nader so craves the spotlight that he will do almost anything to attract attention to himself. So he is running for President, again. And once again, his effort will play into the hands of George W. Bush and the Republican Party.

Mr. Nader’s pointless campaigns may very well destroy his admirable legacy of consumer advocacy, an issue he single-handedly invented in the 1960’s. At this point in his life, Mr. Nader should be preparing the groundwork for his successors in the good-government and consumer-advocacy movements. Instead, he has become a clownish figure, a Harold Stassen for the 21st century, doomed to become a joke rather than to be remembered as a serious figure in the history of postwar America.

Mr. Nader had confused his cause with himself. Sadly, this narcissism drove him to run for President in 2000, an exercise in self-indulgence which helped hand the White House to Mr. Bush and his band of cronies. Mr. Nader may believe there was no difference between Mr. Bush and Al Gore, but this administration’s record of plunder, incompetence and inequity suggest otherwise.

As the Democrats prepare a strong challenge to Mr. Bush, Mr. Nader once again threatens to split the anti-Bush vote and so allow the President to win a second term despite his falling poll numbers. Is that really what Ralph Nader wants?

When he was younger, Mr. Nader was willing to get things done, and American consumers are far better off because of his efforts. Cars are safer today because of Ralph Nader. Government is better-run thanks to the groups he inspired, like Common Cause. But instead of exiting the public stage in a dignified fashion, Mr. Nader has chosen to call attention to himself, even if it means the abject failure of the causes he advocates. It’s called hubris, and it’s not a pretty spectacle.

A Union Soap Opera

The city’s union bosses continue to show why organized labor so richly deserves its diminished place in the modern American workplace. For years, the well-compensated bosses have stood in the way of efficiency and modernization. They cling to absurd and costly work rules, making New York an expensive place to do just about anything, from making a motion picture to running a city agency.

Now the city’s largest public-employee union, District Council 37, is busily engaged in a spectacle that tells us everything we need to know about the priorities of today’s labor leaders. The executive director of the 121,000-member union is engaged in a brutal-and laughable-battle with the union’s former treasurer over … well, what else? Power. Forget the actual issues, which ought to concern so-called labor leaders. The executive director, Lillian Roberts, and the ex-treasurer, Mark Rosenthal, are caught up in a vicious personal battle even as the union negotiates with City Hall over a new contract. Things have gotten so ridiculous that Mr. Rosenthal has sued Ms. Roberts for libel, accusing her of lying during the union’s recently concluded elections, in which Ms. Roberts won re-election as executive director and Mr. Rosenthal lost his treasurer’s post.

Ms. Roberts shows there are no depths to which she will not descend in the name of preserving her power and her exorbitant salary. When she was running for re-election, she attacked the size of Mr. Rosenthal’s salary, even though she was making more than he was, and put forward her own candidate for treasurer. After she won re-election, the union’s board voted to cut her $250,000-per-year paycheck by 30 percent-a cost-saving measure that one might expect Ms. Roberts to approve of, having so recently attacked Mr. Rosenthal for making too much money. But instead, Ms. Roberts played-yes-the female race card: She argued that she shouldn’t be forced to take a pay cut because, after all, she is the first black woman to lead the union. You see where that argument is going. Is the day far off when Ms. Roberts will accuse her fellow union members of racism and sexism?

Of course, these divisions within the union will make it harder for its so-called leaders to negotiate a new contract with Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Union members haven’t gotten a raise in three years, and they’ll only get one this time around if they can produce savings and efficiencies. That will take energy and creativity-but at the moment, there is no energy or creativity to spare, what with the union engaged in a pointless civil war.

Perhaps some union members will begin to wonder precisely why they are hostage to such mediocre, self-interested leadership. If so, perhaps we’ll finally see some real reform in the city’s relationship with its workers.

The Kerry Dance or The Edwardian Charm?