Editorials

Driving Miss Gotbaum

The city’s Public Advocate, Betsy Gotbaum, is supposed to be watching out for government waste and stupidity. That’s why her recent remarks about the use of city-supplied cars and drivers are all the more infuriating.

“Tell me what the standard is and I’ll always adhere to it,” she said.

Well, that shouldn’t be too hard to figure out, should it? Here’s the standard, Ms. Gotbaum: Don’t use the city’s car and driver when you’re traveling on political (not governmental) business, running errands or visiting friends. If circumstances demand that you use a car and driver for a personal trip, immediately reimburse the city for the expense. In other words, do the right thing. Honestly, is that so hard to understand?

It’s breathtaking, really, to hear people like Ms. Gotbaum lament the supposed absence of clear standards when it comes to using taxpayer-supplied perks. As the Public Advocate, Ms. Gotbaum is meant to be looking out for the public’s interest, making sure that their money is spent wisely and efficiently. That’s a little scary, based on her recent behavior.

This all started, of course, when Alan Hevesi was found to have used a state-supplied car and driver to transport his ailing wife. Caught red-handed, and not for the first time, Mr. Hevesi reimbursed the state before last November’s election. And when the scandal didn’t go away, he reimbursed the state some more. In the end, however, he was found to have violated state law and was forced to resign as State Comptroller.

The Hevesi case has led to a closer examination of political perks. It’s important to note that most elected officials do not get cars and drivers. Those who do now face greater scrutiny about how and when they make use of these privileges.

In Ms. Gotbaum’s case, she repaid the city about $4,000 last fall to cover several years’ worth of non-official trips using her city-supplied car and driver. Some of the money was repaid only after the New York Post began looking into her actions.

The scandal that brought down Mr. Hevesi—and which may yet embarrass other officials—isn’t just about cars and drivers. It’s much larger than that: It’s hardly a secret that politicians and top appointed officials often use taxpayer-supplied staff as personal servants. Too busy to pick up their own dry cleaning, pay the phone bill, or pick up the kids from day care, they assign staff to handle such chores. That’s not right either, and perhaps when Ms. Gotbaum and Co. sort out the rules governing cars and drivers, they’ll turn their attention to the misuse of staff.

Christine Quinn: A Contender for 2009

The next Mayoral election isn’t until 2009, but New Yorkers are political animals, and a little self-interest goes a long way in this town. Which is why it’s not too early for voters to mull the uncertain landscape of a post-Bloomberg New York. By 2009, the city will have been led for 15 years by two socially liberal Republican Mayors—and, for the most part, the benefits have been significant and inarguable: low crime, a boom in new housing, true education reform, and a general determination to get results rather than wallow in complacency. Mayor Michael Bloomberg cannot run for a third term, and the last time we looked, no socially liberal, fiscally conservative billionaires were lining up to replace him.

But just as Mr. Bloomberg improved upon the record of his predecessor, Rudy Giuliani, there’s certainly no reason our next Mayor cannot take the ball and run with it. The next election has the potential to be a stirring referendum on the city’s future. Which is why we’re glad to see City Council Speaker Christine Quinn taking steps to position herself for a run. Last week, she reportedly hired Hilary Keller, who worked as a deputy fund-raiser in Eliot Spitzer’s campaign. It’s a wise move—to date, Ms. Quinn has just $75,000 in her coffers, compared with City Comptroller William Thompson, who has $569,000 and is considered to be a likely Democratic candidate.

If anyone would seem well suited for a campaign to become the city’s first female Mayor, it would be Ms. Quinn. Having occupied her Speaker’s post for only a year, she has already rejected politics-as-usual, and her leadership of the fractious and difficult Council has been something to behold. She confronted the Council’s annual pork-barrel spending by tightening procedures that members must follow in requesting money for pet projects. In 2004, the Council’s spending wish list came to $700 million; last year, the wish list came to just $400 million, thanks largely to the new system put in place by Ms. Quinn. Moreover, she’s made controversial—and welcome—moves, such as proposing that city nightclubs be required to install security cameras at entrances and exits, as a response to violence. She’s also pushed for aggressive enforcement of the drinking-age restrictions.

Perhaps most strikingly, Ms. Quinn has shown a gift for collaboration with City Hall. She worked with the Mayor to support legislation that restricts lobbyists’ access to city lawmakers and bars politicians from accepting gifts from lobbyists. She and Mr. Bloomberg jointly presented a plan for the city to purchase development rights to the 26 acres of rail yards on the Far West Side from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, with the long-term goal of creating a top-notch residential, commercial and corporate community with space for affordable housing and park land. During talks leading up to passage of the city’s $50 billion budget, she and Mr. Bloomberg avoided the bickering and blame that have characterized previous years, and Ms. Quinn resisted the budget-season ritual of cooking up confrontational photo ops to decry this or that aspect of the Mayor’s plan.

Christine Quinn is creating a record of courage, common sense and collaboration. To us, that sounds like a contender.

Wesley Autrey: What a Story

“Hero” is a word that is perhaps too easily tossed around and not often enough earned, but there’s precious little daylight between the true meaning of the word and the actions of Wesley Autrey, the 50-year-old construction worker and Navy veteran who leapt onto the subway tracks and saved the life of Cameron Hollopeter, a 20-year-old student who suffered a seizure and fell into the path of an oncoming train.

Ironically, Mr. Autrey’s supremely selfless action launched him into a glare of fame that the supremely selfish struggle mightily to achieve: He made the covers of the newspapers, sat down with David Letterman and was awarded a Bronze Medallion, the city’s highest honor for citizenship and outstanding achievement.

As New Yorkers celebrated Mr. Autrey’s post-holiday example of generosity, an evolutionary biologist pointed out to The New York Times that such split-second reactions happen too quickly to be based upon any sort of rational calculation, and that Mr. Autrey was likely following a “genetic disposition or childhood/cultural training.” The scientist noted that such “other-oriented” behavior made Mr. Autrey a “rarity.”

Like all true heroes, Mr. Autrey said he’d just done what anyone would have done in his place. As unbelievable as that is, for a few moments, he allowed all New Yorkers to get a glimpse of their better natures.

Editorials