Bloomberg’s State of the City

Mayor Bloomberg’s State of the City address won praise from leading Democrats as well as Republicans, and with good reason. It outlined an ambitious agenda grounded in everyday reality, not in divisive ideology. Rather than rest on his achievements, the Mayor is pressing forward to new challenges.

As he begins his second, and last, term, Mr. Bloomberg identified affordable housing as one of his chief concerns for the next four years. He said that his first-term housing program, which built or rehabilitated almost 50,000 units of affordable housing, was “only the beginning.” His new budget will fund a $7.8 billion plan to build or rehab 165,000 affordable-housing units in the coming years. Some of those homes will go up in neighborhoods like the South Bronx—places so many people wrote off as doomed a generation ago.

The Mayor’s plan recognizes that New York will continue to flourish only if the middle class can afford to stay here—or move here. Housing costs are an important consideration, but not the only one. Crime, schools, jobs and general quality of life—these are the bread-and-butter issues that can inspire loyalty, or cause an exodus from the city. Sad experience, whether during the 1970’s or the early 1990’s, teaches us that middle-class taxpayers will leave if they feel unsafe, if their children can’t use public schools, or if they simply can’t afford to live here.

Taxes, of course, present another problem of affordability. High taxes will drive out people, too. That’s why the Mayor emphasized the need to take a look at the cost of the health-care and pension packages offered to city workers.

Simply put, New York can no longer afford the kind of benefits it now gives current employees. The city’s labor force can’t be exempt from the larger trends in the American workplace. New employees will have to pay more for their health insurance. The old benefits and pension package also will have to change, with employees asked to contribute more.

Of course, teachers’ union boss Randi Weingarten sees the Mayor’s reform efforts as nothing less than a declaration of war against city workers. But then again, she would say that, wouldn’t she? Her narrow views and parochial interests belong to another era. The city faces a genuine fiscal crisis in the years ahead, partly because of out-of-control benefits. Mr. Bloomberg understands that these hidden costs must be brought under control, or else he will be forced to cut services, raise taxes or do both.

Mayor Bloomberg made it clear that he wants to stabilize the city’s finances and avoid the lurch from crisis to crisis that has often characterized city budget-making. Keeping the city affordable certainly is one way of doing just that.

Revenge: It’s a Guy Thing

Revenge is a dish best served cold, as the saying goes, but for women, it may be a dish best not served at all. A new study using magnetic-resonance imaging shows that while men get a charge from witnessing an act of revenge, women do not. Instead, they feel empathy for the person on the brunt end of the revenge, even when they don’t like that person. To put it in simpler terms, science is starting to prove what has long been assumed to be true: When you get right down to it, women are just nicer than men.

The researchers at University College London conducted experiments in which test subjects were told to play a cooperative game in pairs. But a handful of actors were secretly brought in, and some were told to cheat and behave selfishly. The test subjects then witnessed everyone being subjected to mild electrical shocks. When one of the “nice” players was being shocked, both men and women had an empathic response. But when one of the “selfish” players was receiving the jolt, men’s brains showed high activity in the satisfaction region and none in the empathy center, while women’s brains were still lit up in the empathy area and showed no activity indicating satisfaction.

The study’s authors believe, however, that the male fondness for revenge plays an important role in society, if one agrees that those who transgress the rules of any given society must be called into account and punished in some fashion.

But is it good news that M.R.I. technology is being used to figure out the differences between men and women? Perhaps soon, women will be asking their dates to bring their M.R.I. results to dinner.

Wendy Wasserstein

Perhaps more so than any other New York playwright, the loss this week of Wendy Wasserstein at the all-too-young age of 55 touched the heart of the city. For decades, she enchanted and entertained New Yorkers with her sharp, idea-packed plays, and became a crucial player in the city’s cultural community. To those who knew her personally, she was profoundly generous, courageous, sweet and empathic. In her work, she reinvented the politically driven romantic comedy, with her unique ability to capture the pleasures and pains of being a self-aware woman in the modern world. Her thought-provoking plays offered women, and men, a way to see themselves with humor, dignity and forgiveness.

She didn’t just work here: Wendy Wasserstein was a New Yorker through and through, born in Brooklyn to a textile manufacturer and an amateur dancer. She graduated from Mount Holyoke College, then studied writing at City College and developed her dramatic talents at the Yale University School of Drama. And the plays came spooling off her pen: Her first was Any Woman Can’t, produced Off Broadway in 1973, followed by her first big success, Uncommon Women and Others, in 1977. With The Heidi Chronicles in 1989, she perfectly captured the contradictions of women who were schooled in the feminism of the 1960’s and 1970’s but found themselves driving the kids around in a Volvo in the 1980’s. The play won the Tony Award, the New York Drama Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize. Her next play, The Sisters Rosensweig, had the largest advance sale for a non-musical in Broadway history. And she continued to be prolific, with solid plays such as An American Daughter, Old Money and Third, which recently completed its New York run. Along the way, she found time to write a best-selling children’s book and to start the Open Doors program, which takes underprivileged public-school students to the theater. She also gave birth to a daughter, Lucy Jane, who will surely grow up hearing the most miraculous tales of her mother’s love and talent.

She was the best kind of New Yorker, a beautiful bundle of seeming contradictions—giddy but pragmatic; kind-hearted but also hard-nosed; politically serious but also mocking the self-serious. At a time when depictions of New York women tend toward the shallow, shrill and shopping-obsessed, we need Wendy Wasserstein’s voice—and her bubbly laugh—more than ever. Fortunately, she left a legacy of deep friendships and brilliant plays in which her warmth, wit and wisdom live on.