And so we went to bed, or to press, without a winner in the closest Presidential election since, er, the last one. As Election Day dawned on the East Coast and millions of New Yorkers stopped by their polling place before going to work, the pundits were predicting a long night. Perhaps even a long week.
They were right. At midnight on Nov. 2, the election is too close to call.
We may not know the winner, but we certainly do know the challenges that await either John Kerry or George W. Bush. A week ago in this space, we outlined why we believe some of those challenges are the result of the President’s poor decisions and lack of judgment. But now, with the election behind us, partisans of both candidates must put aside their differences for the good of the nation. We live in perilous times. We cannot afford to allow the campaign’s divisions to exacerbate the nation’s problems.
To the winner goes the spoils-and the innumerable headaches. First and foremost is the war on terror, which will continue for years to come. The new President must have a plan to deal with the seething unrest in the Arab-Muslim world, a plan that goes beyond military intervention in Iraq. How can we better use our might and our influence throughout the world? As the Iraq adventure has demonstrated, we simply cannot invade every country we dislike, or even every country which we believe harbors or supports terrorism. We don’t have that many soldiers.
So we must be more creative and more flexible, even as we remain ruthless in the defense of our homeland and our values. We cannot allow foreign policy and national security to remain in the hands of ideologues. If Mr. Bush has won, he must start anew, and those who misled him about Iraq or who twisted intelligence to suit their agenda must be dispatched to think tanks. If Mr. Kerry has won, he cannot fall back on the Democratic bench by restoring Bill Clinton’s national-security and intelligence teams. He must choose men and women attuned to the new reality of global terrorism, not relics from the Cold War trained for a different kind of enemy.
At home, the national treasury is in ruins. A gigantic surplus has been transformed into a yawning deficit. Tax cuts written for the benefit of a few are causing distress among the many. The next President will have to pay not only for the matériel and intelligence needed to defeat our foes, but must also figure out how the nation will pay for the looming retirements of the baby-boom generation. (By 2008, the first of the baby boomers will be reaching their 60’s.) Forget for a minute the costs that will come with an aging population. How will we, as a nation, move forward-intellectually, culturally and in every other way-with a grayer, slower, more fragile population?
More so than at any other time since the 1960’s, the challenges facing the next President are fearsome. We can only hope that we have made the right decision.
America’s Safest City
While both George W. Bush and John Kerry virtually ignored New York City during their respective campaigns, and while Washington has been notoriously stingy to New York under the Bush administration, that hasn’t stopped Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly from maintaining a stunning record of crime reduction. According to newly released statistics from the F.B.I., crime in New York City fell in eight of nine key categories in 2003, and it is by far the safest large city in the country. New York’s overall crime rate fell 5.8 percent, compared with a 0.5 percent crime drop in the rest of the U.S. Violent crime in the city-which includes homicide, rape, robbery and assault-dropped 6.9 percent, or double the national average. Residents of Dallas are three times as likely to be the victim of a crime as residents of New York.
Three years ago, when Rudolph Giuliani left City Hall as the hero of 9/11 and the Mayor who made New York safe for its citizens and visitors, few expected that a further crime drop was possible. If anything, there was an unspoken assumption that crime might very well inch back up-since surely some of the reduction had been won at the price of Mr. Giuliani’s tacit approval of rough-and-tumble policing. And yet Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Kelly have managed to bring crime rates down even more, without the questionable shootings and accusations of police brutality which, valid or not, occasionally bedeviled the Giuliani years. One reason is that the police have forged stronger and better ties with the city’s low-income communities. The current reductions are even more striking when one considers that the NYPD must now devote significant resources to fighting terrorist threats, and with fewer police officers than Mr. Giuliani had at his disposal.
And 2004 is looking to be even safer than 2003: The murder rate is down 7 percent so far from last year. “We are on track to have the fewest number of murders that this city has had since we started keeping records,” Mr. Bloomberg said recently. The Citizens Crime Commission has predicted that the city will end the year with 550 murders-just two more than in 1963.
A low crime rate has profound, immeasurable implications for the city’s economic health. No matter who sits in the White House, New Yorkers are lucky to have Mike Bloomberg and Ray Kelly keeping an eye on the city.
For those who might be discomfited by the results of the Presidential election, take heart: If New York, Connecticut and New Jersey seceded and established themselves as a separate country, we would become the world’s second-wealthiest nation in terms of per capita income. We’d be right behind those fat cats in Luxembourg-and we’d have bumped the U.S. out of second place.
But don’t start dining out on those flush paychecks just yet: A new study by Rutgers University, titled “Tri-State Affluence: Losing by Winning,” has found that taxpayers in Connecticut, New York and New Jersey pay a disproportionately high share of federal income and employment taxes, ranking 49th, 40th and 50th, respectively, in the amount of aid we get back per tax dollar.
The study reports that the tristate region has 10.8 percent of the U.S. population and earns 13.1 percent of the nation’s personal income, but is responsible for 15.8 percent of income and employment taxes collected by the federal government. The highest incomes were found in Fairfield County; Somerset, Hunterdon, Morris and Bergen counties; and New York, Nassau and Westchester counties.
In return for those high taxes, residents of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut don’t get a fair shake from Washington. “To the degree that the money is going for valid public-policy purposes, it is fine,” said James Hughes, dean of the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy. “But if it goes for subsidies and unfair tax breaks for cowboy capitalists in other states, then it is not fair.”
Of course, the political possibilities for a breakaway republic of the United Tristates of America are endless. We can already hear the sound of a campaign speech being written in Chappaqua.