Editorials

Across the Hudson, Corzine Gets Results

When Michael Bloomberg left the private sector for the joys of running New York City, he inherited a political culture that had been changed radically by his predecessor, Rudolph Giuliani. That allowed him to focus relentlessly on the city’s financial well-being in the aftermath of 9/11 and the stock-market crash that preceded the attacks.

Across the Hudson River, another onetime business leader, Jon S. Corzine, faces a fiscal crisis of his own in New Jersey. But unlike Mr. Bloomberg, Mr. Corzine confronts a political culture rooted in inefficiency, dubious deals and outright corruption.

That’s what makes his challenge even more daunting, in its own way, than the challenges that Mr. Bloomberg faced five years ago. Mr. Corzine, the former C.E.O. of Goldman, Sachs, has to do more than find new revenue sources or cut wasteful spending. He has to take on the vested interests that have made New Jersey a fiscal basket case.

As one of the business leaders who helped transform New York’s economy in the 1980’s and 90’s, Mr. Corzine knows how to take on difficult assignments and prevail. That experience will prove useful as he sets out to transform New Jersey’s political culture of favor banks, secret deals, boss-driven inefficiencies and pay-to-play outrages.

Mr. Corzine is a political outsider, as was Mr. Bloomberg and–let’s remember–Mr. Giuliani. He has no vested interest in the status quo. He hasn’t been around long enough to accept the unacceptable.

In place of business as usual, Mr. Corzine is proposing a top-to-bottom review of the way New Jersey governs itself. He’s taking on issues like pension abuses, the plethora of local government entities, the extraordinary growth of government payrolls and school financing–issues that traditional politicians dare not touch for fear of voter rejection.

Although he is a good deal more low-key than Mr. Giuliani, Mr. Corzine seems no less offended by the corruption and double-dealing that seems embedded in New Jersey’s political culture.

He seems equally determined to root it out. Nobody who knew Mr. Corzine in New York would bet against him.

Beneath the Hudson, G.E. Still Trying to Weasel Out

Last year, after 30 years of rigorously avoiding responsibility for cleaning up the million pounds of carcinogenic PCB’s that its factories spilled into the Hudson River, General Electric signed a binding agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency to dredge 43 miles of the river. G.E. agreed to spend between $500 million and $700 million over a six-year period beginning in 2007.

But now G.E. and the E.P.A. have kicked the project ahead to 2008, claiming that the necessary facility in Fort Edward, N.Y., cannot be completed in time to begin dredging next spring. Had G.E. been behaving like a good corporate citizen all along, one could give them the benefit of the doubt on the delay. But the company has consistently shirked its duty to clean up the Hudson, and one cannot help but cast a jaundiced eye on this latest evasion.

Indeed, a 2005 report by a coastal-resources expert at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration showed that G.E.’s plan will fall far short of providing an adequate cleanup, noting that the company plans to leave a layer of PCB’s in the river and merely cap them with additional material. A strong storm would stir up the material and release the PCB’s into the water. The report concluded that “long-term recovery of the system may be delayed, projected time frame to achieve reduction in PCB’s may be extended and residual injury to natural resources may increase.”

The E.P.A., which is charged with overseeing G.E’s work, has not shown the backbone to force the company to meet its responsibilities. Which is no surprise, given that the agency answers to a reckless President who has shown himself to be profoundly unconcerned with environmental concerns.

And so now G.E. has bought itself another year of foot-dragging. For a company that showed a profit of $16 billion last year, G.E.’s actions are atrocious.

The Politics of a Park

It may occupy just 10 modest acres in Greenwich Village, but Washington Square Park has always occupied a large and significant place in New Yorkers’ minds. Its Stanford White–designed marble arch stands as a gateway to the free-thinking environs of the Village, while the park’s open spaces have hosted all manner of public speech and protest. Meanwhile, its trees have provided shade for families with kids as well as for thousands of New York University students. Indeed, N.Y.U. committed significant resources to rescuing the park from its shabby days in the 1970’s and 1980’s, and in 2004, the city contributed over $2 million to a thorough cleaning and restoration of the arch. There is still work to be done, however, to bring out the park’s true potential as a New York showcase.

Toward that end, over the past two years, the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation has been planning a $16 million renovation and redesign, which includes moving the park’s signature fountain so that it will be perfectly framed by the arch. In keeping with the park’s bohemian history, there was naturally some boisterous opposition. But the city worked alongside the community, and last year the plan passed muster with three tough customers: Community Board 2, the Landmarks Preservation Commission and the Arts Commission. Everything looked on track for this worthy project to begin any day now.

Until last week, when State Supreme Court Judge Emily Jane Goodman issued a ruling that blocks the city’s plan. Justice Goodman apparently believes that the Bloomberg administration held back various details of the redesign from the public, and so she has thrown a mighty wrench into the process. As a result, the Parks Department must now start all over again and resubmit the plan before the community board, which will undoubtedly mean another round of endless, drawn-out hearings. The city must also resubmit the plan to the Landmarks Preservation Commission and the Art Commission.

This is absurd. The fractious voices of some in the community surrounding the park have regrettably managed to find a court willing to delay a smart and community-friendly renovation. The forces of inaction are on the verge of ruining what would be a splendid improvement in the park, with more grass and less concrete. When the courts get involved in the politics of a park, you know that the citizens are losing ground to self-interested special interests.

Editorials