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41 Million Tourists Can’t Be Wrong

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When speaking of New York’s status as a world-class city, there’s no need to reach for fancy adjectives or hyped-up hyperbole. The numbers themselves tell the story: More people visited the city last year than ever before, according to newly released statistics.

A staggering 41 million Americans and foreigners visited New York in 2005. During the holiday period of November and December, they spent over $4 billion in hotels, stores, restaurants, museums and on all manner of entertainment. (Had the transit union refrained from its illegal and pointless strike, that figure would be even higher.) The last week of 2005 was the highest-grossing week in Broadway history, with 280,000 people filling theater seats, as hotel occupancy for December rose 3 percent over 2004. Attendance at local attractions is up 15 percent, and the airports are showing a 7 percent rise in activity.

It’s important to remember that this doesn’t happen just by accident, nor can it be attributed to a favorable exchange rate. Under the steady leadership of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, New York continues to be the safest large city in the country. Crime is down to levels not seen since 1963. Tourists respond to word of mouth, and the buzz about New York is the envy of our competitors. It was only four short years ago that New York suffered the most brutal and lethal terrorist attack in world history. As hotels sat half-empty and restaurants watched their business dry up, it was unclear how long it would take for tourists to return. Mayor Bloomberg and his team didn’t wait to find out; instead, they showed the world a confident, determined city, and the world responded. Foreign tourists—who make up about 18 percent of visitors—are a particular prize, because they spend more than Americans and are responsible for 45 percent of all tourist spending in the city.

If we continue to put the focus on keeping the city safe and clean, there’s no reason why 2006 cannot draw an even larger crowd.

Christine Quinn: The Right Choice

Christine Quinn, a 39-year-old member of the City Council, has become the third person and first woman to hold the title of City Council Speaker. She is now, at least in theory, the second-most-powerful elected official in the city.

Ms. Quinn won the post in a vote of her Council colleagues. Not generally known for their wisdom and judgment, the Council members in this case made a commendable choice. They could have chosen another candidate—Bill de Blasio comes to mind—intent on provoking confrontations with Mayor Bloomberg. Instead, they chose a colleague who is shrewd, pragmatic and well liked.

The challenge Ms. Quinn faces is not inconsiderable. In a very large way, she owes her job to three Democratic county chairs—Thomas Manton of Queens, Vito Lopez of Brooklyn and Jose Rivera of the Bronx. None of these three gentlemen achieved their lofty positions by putting the city’s needs ahead of their own political requirements. They are old-fashioned political bosses, and they surely expect the rewards that flow from having backed a winner.

Ms. Quinn knows the debt she owes to Messrs. Manton, Lopez and Rivera. But she is smart enough to know that political insiders will be watching to see if, or how, she makes good on the marker.

Her responsibilities now are not to her district or to her supporters, but to the entire city. Although the Council Speaker’s name does not appear on any ballots outside of his or her district, the person who holds the job is a significant citywide figure. The last two Speakers, Peter Vallone and Gifford Miller, went on to run for Mayor. Perhaps Ms. Quinn will, too.

Her tenure as Speaker will be short, if term limits are not changed. She will have just four years—three, really—to make her mark. That’s not a lot of time, but then again, the skills she displayed in winning the job in the first place indicate that she knows how the system works. That’s not unimportant.

The City Council aspires to be taken as seriously as the Mayor in matters like the city budget. It has yet to reach those aspirations, in part because the Council is often distracted by cheap pandering and petty politics.

Ms. Quinn has the ability to take the Council to a new level of respect and competence. Let’s hope the bosses do not prove to be an impediment, or, if they try to be, that Ms. Quinn has the guts to take them on.

Cell Phones Ring Up Family Stress

Would you like to improve your marriage and have a better relationship with your kids? You might start by throwing out your cell phone.

New research from the University of Wisconsin, published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, shows that adults who spend a fair amount of time on their cell phones report higher levels of family stress, both with their spouses and their children. The study found that those who keep a cell phone close by are more likely to allow work to spill over into domestic time, taking calls and cutting deals while one’s nearest and dearest are neglected. So for all the supposed benefits of “being connected,” it turns out that cell phones may disconnect us from true communication with those who matter most.

Likewise, cell phones make it easier for family stress to spill over into the job: The researchers found that parents who keep a cell phone handy at work are often interrupted by their kids calling with some bit of minor, but momentarily distracting and stress-inducing, news. Women tend to suffer more, because kids still turn to Mom when it’s time to report some bit of trouble. As a result, both parents and children end up being on constant high alert, for no real reason other than that the technology encourages it.

Will New Yorkers start to switch off their cell phones and stash their BlackBerries? One moment, our phone is ringing ….