Robert Morgenthau: Simply the Best

New York has been blessed with the talents of some of the most famous federal and local prosecutors in American history: Tom Dewey, Frank Hogan, Rudolph Giuliani … and Bob Morgenthau, who has served with distinction and honor as Manhattan District Attorney for three decades.

At the age of 85, Mr. Morgenthau is running for re-election again this year. In the recent past, Mr. Morgenthau’s re-election was a cinch; he is so formidable, his record so impeccable, that few serious candidates have bothered to run against him. This year, however, Mr. Morgenthau faces a real contest for the Democratic Party nomination, which is tantamount to election in Manhattan. Leslie Crocker Snyder, a former judge and prosecutor, has raised more than $1.8 million in her effort to unseat Mr. Morgenthau in September’s primary.

Ms. Snyder, 63, says that it’s time for a change. She implies that her age and gender make her the person to succeed Mr. Morgenthau. We disagree. Nothing in Ms. Snyder’s record provides evidence that she has the wisdom and stature to occupy this office. The Observer heartily endorses Robert Morgenthau for another term as one of the nation’s most effective local prosecutors, who has earned his place among the giants who have gone after bad guys in this city.

Mr. Morgenthau is no ordinary incumbent. He is an authentic icon who has prospered in this city of iconoclasts. His longevity is a tribute to the competence and effectiveness of his office. He comes from a family with a rich history in public service: his father, Henry Morgenthau Jr., was Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Secretary of the Treasury.

John F. Kennedy once observed that victory has a thousand fathers, while defeat is an orphan. Surely the victory over crime in New York has no shortage of people claiming paternity. In most accounts of the city’s successful effort to eradicate street crime, the heroes are people like Mr. Giuliani, Police Commissioners William Bratton and Raymond Kelly, and current Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Rarely does Mr. Morgenthau get any credit—but he should. After all, his office has been an integral part of the city’s campaign against crime.

If Mr. Morgenthau were not so effective, criminals would not be brought to justice, despite the best efforts of mayors, police commissioners and officers on the beat. Without successful prosecutors, the war on crime falls apart. Over the years, Mr. Morgenthau has prosecuted many of the country’s most important white-collar cases as well. In the early 1990’s, he began the money-laundering and fraud prosecution of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), which turned out to be one of the largest criminal enterprises in history. Recently, his office successfully prosecuted Dennis Kozlowski, the former head of Tyco, who was accused of looting the company.

Mr. Morgenthau deserves re-election not because he’s a legend, but because he is good at what he does. And that’s what counts.

Subway Searches: Safety First

The subway system is one of the great success stories of New York City. Despite occasional breakdowns and stations in need of sprucing up, the system of 656 miles of track succeeds remarkably in getting millions of New Yorkers, commuters and tourists where they need to go every day, in an efficient, safe and cheap manner. It is the central nervous system of the city, providing 4.7 million rides daily between 468 stations. The decision by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly to have police officers conduct random searches of passengers’ bags and luggage is an example of smart, no-nonsense government. With London’s mass-transit system struck by two terrorist attacks within two weeks, one of which claimed 56 lives and injured 700 people, New York would be foolish not to do everything it can to increase security underground. Not only might an attack cause significant loss of life, but the economic and psychological consequences could be severe.

Not surprisingly, there have been objections, although mostly from those who, whenever they see a uniform, start making noises about “a police state.” The New York Civil Liberties Union is preparing a federal lawsuit, and others have also raised legal issues. Naturally, it’s important that the searches not run afoul of the Constitution, and the NYPD has assigned lawyers to explore any such conflicts. (The actual process is hardly intrusive: Those who do not wish to have their bags searched are free to walk away, no questions asked, though they won’t be permitted onto the subway.) By instituting the new policy right away and not waiting for the usual belly-achers and publicity-mongers to stir up endless public debate, Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Kelly recognize that time is of the essence. New York remains target No. 1 for the Islamist terrorists who have already shown the willingness and ability to bring mass murder to our shores. Moreover, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has been regrettably slow to develop measures to protect our transit system since the attacks of Sept. 11. It’s reassuring that the NYPD has stepped in to fill the gap.

While no one can say if the searches will actually catch any terrorists, it’s clear that they will help to deter those bent on mayhem. Equally important, a visible police presence underground and in Grand Central Terminal and Penn Station will help the public maintain confidence in the transit system and in their Mayor. As an added benefit, if the bag searches turn up illegal drugs or weapons, those carrying them will be arrested. Commissioner Kelly has said he may expand the searches to buses and ferries as well.

The city’s ability to function depends on having a transit network that moves millions of people everyday. These are uncertain times, and our subway system is too important to allow terrorists to take control of this valuable public resource.

Hevesi Pops Pataki’s Bubble

Under the leadership—and we use the term loosely—of Governor George Pataki, New York State has seen its debt load rise from $27.6 billion to $49 billion. Rather than exercise fiscal prudence, Mr. Pataki has driven the state deeper into debt while employing a variety of gimmicks to create the façade of a growing economy. From ignoring the requirement in the State Constitution that voters have to approve state borrowing, to issuing bonds based on future revenues from tobacco settlements, to treating the Debt Reform Act of 2000 as a joke, the Governor has consistently chosen short-term gain over long-term economic health. Fortunately, last week State Comptroller Alan Hevesi canceled Mr. Pataki’s latest ploy, a plan to refinance $2.9 billion worth of old transportation bonds and use the resulting $1.3 billion to pay for road and bridge improvements. After warning for months that the plan would stick future taxpayers with hundreds of millions of dollars in debt service, Mr. Hevesi stepped in and called Georgie-Boy’s bluff.

The Governor’s lackeys—acting Transportation Commissioner Thomas Madison Jr. and executive director of the State Thruway Authority Michael Fleischer—are accusing Mr. Hevesi, a Democrat, of “an 11th-hour power grab.” They make the ridiculous claim that Mr. Hevesi’s action will “jeopardize New York’s ability to attract and retain businesses and jobs that are critical to our future.” The fact is, the relatively small savings achieved by the bond issue would have been wiped out starting in 2011, when the payments would have come due and taxpayers would have been hit with an additional $460 million in debt service. The Governor apparently thinks that’s just fine; in his own delusional world, after all, he’ll be President of the U.S. in 2011.

George Pataki has emerged as one of the most fiscally irresponsible governors in our state’s history. Alan Hevesi deserves thanks for putting on the brakes. Robert Morgenthau: Simply the Best