Pataki: Is He for Real?
Having done significant damage to New York in his three terms as Governor, leaving a mountain of debt and a fragmented and ineffectual state Republican Party, George Pataki has apparently decided to further muck up his final months in office with some blatantly sleazy moves. Why are we not surprised?
It was reported last week that Mr. Pataki has renominated Joseph Strasburg as chairman of the New York State Mortgage Agency. Mr. Strasburg is a curious choice, to put it mildly: The mission of the mortgage agency is to make housing more affordable, by offering loans to potential homeowners and by helping developers win decent mortgage-insurance rates. In his unpaid position as chairman, Mr. Strasburg thus has the ability to do a lot of good for New Yorkers who are struggling to afford their own homes. Mr. Strasburg happens to have another job, however, one that pays him handsomely to make housing less affordable: He is a $600,000-a-year lobbyist for the Rent Stabilization Association, a group of landlords and developers who push for rent increases and lobby to have apartment rents deregulated.
The conflict of interest is absurdly flagrant, and it’s a fundamental assault on any principle of good government. Does anyone believe for a second that Mr. Strasburg can be an effective pro bono advocate for low- and middle-income New Yorkers when he’s being paid over half a million dollars to fight for higher rents and developer perks? In addition, in his role at the agency, he is in a position to direct loans to the same developers he is being paid to represent. Appointing Mr. Strasburg to chair the mortgage agency is no different from having the C.E.O. of Exxon Mobil simultaneously serve as Secretary of Energy.
Like many of the Governor’s appointments and policies, this one comes with a strong odor of hypocrisy. Just last month, a commission created by Mr. Pataki issued a report stating that directors of state authorities, such as the mortgage agency, need to have no apparent conflicts of interest. Mr. Pataki gave the report a thumbs-up—and then turned around and ignored its recommendations by renominating Mr. Strasburg.
That Mr. Pataki would use a political appointment to reward a crony, at the expense of the voters of New York, is in keeping with his inflated view of himself. Indeed, another recent report—this one from the Pratt Center for Community Development, a housing advocacy group—accused the Pataki administration of diverting public-housing funds to luxury housing, campaign donors and friendly developers.
The Pataki administration is leaving office by paying off its friends and rewarding its donors. George Pataki has found a way to create a legacy of laziness, mediocrity and pervasive neglect of the public interest, while creating a culture in which ethical corruption has become an acceptable way of life. Meanwhile, he continues to make noises about running for President in 2008. Some suspect he’s not serious, but is simply encouraging rumors of a candidacy to increase his eventual value in the private sector. But what corporation or firm would want to hire a man whose lack of competence and shaky ethics have left a mess in Albany which will take years to clean up?
A New Yankee Stadium
Go just about anywhere in the world and you’ll find somebody, at some point, wearing a Yankees cap. The world’s most famous sports team is a symbol of this city’s ambition, power and spirit. People who have never set foot in the five boroughs recognize the Yankees’ famous “NY” logo, a tribute not only to the team but to the city it calls home.
The Yankees are good for New York. Yankee Stadium has been good for New York and for the borough of the Bronx. For that reason, the city has supported the Yankees’ plans to build a needed new stadium adjacent to the team’s current Bronx home. A new ballpark guarantees that Yankee Stadium will remain one of the city’s most famous attractions.
It turns out, however, that not everybody appreciates or understands the team’s role as a good-will ambassador and as a force for economic development. Several months ago, members of a local community-planning board in the Bronx rejected the team’s plan. Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrión Jr. has replaced some of the dissenting members. That’s his business, and he is well within his rights and power to do so.
In the long run, however, the opinions of a few cranks on an essentially powerless board won’t matter. The City Council, more representative of the city at large, approved the project despite the board’s opposition. And most New Yorkers support the idea to build a modern, state-of-the-art facility for a team that represents the city around the world.
While it is true that the new Yankee Stadium will be built on a site currently occupied by two parks, it’s also true that a new park will be built where the current stadium stands. Everybody wins in this transaction—if only that could be said of every trade the Yankees make!
Yankee Stadium is an aging ballpark, barely hanging on in an era of super-duper, high-tech 21st-century stadiums. The team deserves better. So does the city.
Summer in the City
The summer officially starts this week, on June 21, although for New Yorkers the mad dash out of town on weekends began on Memorial Day and will stretch on to Labor Day and beyond. Those who blithely announce their weekend plans “in the country” at Thursday-night Manhattan dinner parties may arouse envy, but what they actually deserve is pity. For what better way to screw up a perfectly lovely summer weekend than to spend it out of town?
Sure, the rolling green hills of Litchfield County, the mountains of the Catskills and Berkshires, and the beaches of the Hamptons and the Jersey Shore all look great on paper. But look closer: A large part of the weekend is spent sitting in your car, stuck in traffic, first on the Long Island Expressway, then in gridlock in the quaint little towns anytime you need to go out for dinner. And don’t get too excited about that meal: The restaurant will be crowded and the food second-rate at best. And don’t linger too long over coffee: You need to get a full night’s sleep, because the next morning you’ll be very busy trying to repair your house—which, because it’s so rarely occupied, is basically falling apart and nothing works. So your Saturday and Sunday are spent cleaning and repairing the plumbing, wiring, heating, air-conditioning, sprinkler system, tennis court and pool—all the while swatting away big black flies, fierce mosquitoes and checking yourself for deer ticks. And just when you’ve got the place somewhat habitable, it’s time to pile back into the car and beat the traffic back to the city. By the time September comes, you are dog-tired, broke and ready for a vacation.
Meanwhile, those who choose to spend summer weekends in the city are living on easy street. The sidewalks are empty, museums and restaurants are open for business, tickets for a Broadway or Off Broadway play can be obtained on the spur of the moment, and Central Park offers 58 miles of shaded pedestrian pathways. And what could be more relaxing than to enjoy the comfort of your air-conditioned apartment, where everything works.