Can Hevesi Hold On?
Through his long years as a State Assemblyman, City Comptroller and, now, State Comptroller, Alan Hevesi has been a decent and valuable public servant. He’s a smart guy who understands how policy works (despite having a Ph.D.) and who, in his current job, understands the importance of keeping an eye on Albany’s fiscal follies.
That said, Mr. Hevesi clearly exercised awful judgment in using state employees to act as chauffeurs for his ailing wife, Carol. When the story broke several weeks ago about this misuse of power, Mr. Hevesi immediately apologized and promised to pay back the state about $83,000 for the employees’ services.
The story seemed to end there—but then it didn’t. The state Ethics Commission, ordinarily a fairly sleepy group, has roused itself to condemn the comptroller, and this week ruled that he broke state law.
Furthermore, Attorney General Eliot Spitzer has asked his office to open an investigation. In a measure of how convoluted, and politically perilous, the Hevesi situation is becoming, Mr. Spitzer has recused himself from the actual investigation, because he has endorsed Mr. Hevesi in the upcoming Nov. 7 election.
There is an object lesson in the Hevesi case for other politicians. Mr. Hevesi argued, without merit, that his wife required a driver for security reasons. It was a silly assertion, but one that many politicians have made to explain away excesses. In this post-9/11 world, the public should not be bamboozled into paying for political luxuries in the name of security.
Mr. Hevesi’s unfortunate recklessness has raised serious questions in the minds of the very people he doesn’t want questioning him: Governor George Pataki, the State Legislature and, most importantly, the voters. The Governor must decide whether to ask the State Senate to remove Mr. Hevesi by a two-thirds vote. The Legislature must decide if it wishes to begin impeachment proceedings. And voters must decide if they will hand Mr. Hevesi his re-election, something which until very recently was an all-but-accomplished fact: At the moment, he is about 40 points ahead of his unknown Republican opponent, J. Christopher Callaghan.
No one can blame Republicans for seizing on the Hevesi case. The state party is in disarray as the lethargic Pataki era ends, and their candidates stand a good chance of being swept in all four statewide races in November. That said, this is the first time in a while that prominent state Republicans have paid much attention to ethics charges.
Mr. Hevesi’s long record of service and competence make a strong argument against his removal or resignation. But will it be enough to erase all doubts?
Glass Tower Would Topple East Side
At first glance, it could be seen as the usual “not in my backyard” refrain: Many Upper East residents are vigorously opposed to plans to build an apartment tower at 980 Madison Avenue, above the Parke-Bernet Gallery building between 76th and 77th streets. But in this case, it’s not just the backyard that would be affected: The proposed glass skyscraper is 30 stories tall and would loom over the surrounding area. Its construction would immediately and irrevocably change the character and architectural integrity of the neighborhood.
In a landmarked district, where even replacing an awning must be granted approval, it’s puzzling why the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission and the Department of City Planning haven’t simply turned down the project outright. As far as the proposed tower itself goes, there’s nothing particularly wrong with it: Designed by well-known British architect Norman Foster, it would be a fine addition to midtown or downtown. But placing it in the heart of the Upper East Side defies all sense of proportion and establishes a risky precedent. Supporters of the tower make the case that the Carlyle Hotel, across the street, is a taller structure. But the Carlyle, built in 1930, is set far back from the street and is completely in tune with its neighboring buildings.
The local community board has voted against the glass tower, recognizing that there is simply no need to open the door to transforming this profoundly livable historic community with high-rise towers. One trusts the Landmarks Commission will show similar good judgment.
Bloomberg Works the Waterfront
One of the city’s most compelling success stories of recent years has been the way that formerly neglected and undesirable neighborhoods have seen a surge of private investment, rehabilitation and development, creating the opportunity for new, vibrant communities in areas such as the Bronx and Red Hook, Brooklyn. This month, the city announced that it would offer a similar plum to middle-income families, with the purchase of 24 acres of Queens waterfront property for the construction of a large-scale residential, recreational and retail development. It would be the largest middle-income building project in over three decades. At a time when affordable housing is scarce and the waterfront is ripe for renewal, the plan is a win-win. This barren industrial area will be transformed into new apartments and parks, and middle-income New Yorkers—such as police officers, firefighters and teachers, who often find themselves priced out of the market—will be able to put down roots.
The 5,000 apartments envisioned for the complex will be available for rent, for $1,200 to $2,500 a month, to families of four with annual household incomes of $60,000 to $145,000. The plot of land, though long underused, is in a prime spot: It was the intended location of the Olympic Village and boasts views across the East River of the United Nations and the Empire State Building. Residents will be able to take advantage of Long Island City’s growing nightlife and culture.
The city bought the property from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for approximately $146 million. Now Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Shaun Donovan, his skilled Department of Housing Preservation and Development commissioner, must make the plan real by working with the State Legislature and community groups, as well as mobilizing the private sector to bid on the project.