Commentary Magazine


Topic: New York City

De Blasio to Central Park: Your Money or Your Life

Imagine if New York City’s mayor ordered the Metropolitan Museum to turn over 20 percent of its income to other museums that he would designate. That’s exactly what New York Mayor Bill de Blasio had in mind with park conservancies. “During his campaign,” the New York Times reported, “Mr. de Blasio endorsed a plan to force the private groups that raise money for the city’s richest parks to hand over as much as a fifth of their budgets to needier parks.” He’s backed off from that, perhaps because it is blatantly unconstitutional, but, as the New York Post editorializes, “The public sector is putting our money where our mouth is,” de Blasio said. “We will…also turn to the major parks conservancies…[and] expect to get some real important contributions from the conservancies, as part of these processes.” Or, as the muggers who used to abound in Central Park would say, “Your money or your life.”

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Imagine if New York City’s mayor ordered the Metropolitan Museum to turn over 20 percent of its income to other museums that he would designate. That’s exactly what New York Mayor Bill de Blasio had in mind with park conservancies. “During his campaign,” the New York Times reported, “Mr. de Blasio endorsed a plan to force the private groups that raise money for the city’s richest parks to hand over as much as a fifth of their budgets to needier parks.” He’s backed off from that, perhaps because it is blatantly unconstitutional, but, as the New York Post editorializes, “The public sector is putting our money where our mouth is,” de Blasio said. “We will…also turn to the major parks conservancies…[and] expect to get some real important contributions from the conservancies, as part of these processes.” Or, as the muggers who used to abound in Central Park would say, “Your money or your life.”

Back in the bad old days of the 1970s, New York City’s Parks Department more or less collapsed. The system’s crown jewel, Central Park, was a graffiti- and crime-ridden mess. Half the benches couldn’t be sat on because they were in such disrepair. Vast stretches of the Sheep Meadow, the East Meadow, and the Great Lawn were barren dirt. Litter was everywhere. No water flowed in Bethesda Fountain and its great Angel of the Waters statue stared down at mud and worse.

But in 1980, the Central Park Conservancy was formed to take over maintenance of the park with contributions from surrounding buildings and their residents, foundations, and others. About $700 million and 34 years later, Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvin Vaux can rest easy. Their masterpiece, Central Park, one of the supreme artistic achievements of the 19th century in this country, is once again as it should be. The park is clean and safe, the lawns green. In spring vast drifts of daffodils can be seen “fluttering and dancing in the breeze.” The 9,000 benches have been restored, thanks to the Conservancy’s adopt-a-bench program. The many bridges (no two are alike) and other structures have been restored. Forty million visitors a year testify to the park’s magnificence.

The Conservancy supplies 75 percent of Central Park’s budget, freeing city funds for other parks. Its experts train Parks Department employees in best practices. It has restored, at its own expense, four small parks in Harlem. But, as the Post writes,  “Apparently it’s not enough for Bill de Blasio for people to be generous and make up for the city’s incompetence. He also wants the right to take your donations and spend them on what he wants.”

No wonder he and his wife honeymooned in Castro’s Cuba. Kleptocracy is Bill de Blasio’s preferred form of government.

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De Blasio vs. the NYPD–and Public Safety

If you were looking for a moment when the wheels truly seemed to be coming off the Bill de Blasio administration’s relationship with the NYPD, the late-August call by a prominent police union to oppose bringing the Democratic National Convention to Brooklyn is a good candidate. The idea had been floated for Brooklyn’s Barclays Center to host the DNC, but the president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, Ed Mullins, had some choice–and public–words for the mayor:

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If you were looking for a moment when the wheels truly seemed to be coming off the Bill de Blasio administration’s relationship with the NYPD, the late-August call by a prominent police union to oppose bringing the Democratic National Convention to Brooklyn is a good candidate. The idea had been floated for Brooklyn’s Barclays Center to host the DNC, but the president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, Ed Mullins, had some choice–and public–words for the mayor:

“While the Barclays Center is still new and glistening, the great city in which it stands is lurching backwards to the bad old days of high crime, danger-infested public spaces, and families that walk our streets worried for their safety,” Mullins wrote in an open letter running in Tuesday’s editions of the New York Post and The New York Times.

Mullins said de Blasio’s administration has made “dangerous choices” and as a result, the “degradation of our streets is on the rise.”

He added, sourly, “Right now, we don’t have a mayor who supports the police.” Mullins’s point was ostensibly that the NYPD shouldn’t have any additional burden put on it–indeed, that such a request would be chutzpahdik–while they’re being constantly second-guessed by a new administration. But it’s clear that the feeling had been building for some time and needed an outlet.

It’s worth keeping that moment in mind reading the latest news on the de Blasio administration’s ongoing power struggle with the NYPD. The background, briefly: de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, has been so involved with the administration that mayoral counsel Henry Berger is arguing she should legally be considered a consultant in order to shield her correspondence with the administration from reporters. McCray’s chief of staff, Rachel Noerdlinger, thus enjoys a high degree of access.

Noerdlinger, it was revealed by DNAinfo last week, is in a relationship with a man convicted of homicide and drug charges and who refers to police in derogatory language and nearly ran a cop off the road in New Jersey last year. De Blasio is sticking by Noerdlinger, who used to work for Al Sharpton. And now the Washington Free Beacon has unearthed something that New Yorkers probably had forgotten but the police groups might not have:

Rachel Noerdlinger, the controversial chief of staff to New York City First Lady Chirlane McCray, once called for boycotts of a local police union and all of its supporters, a position that could cause more headaches for Mayor Bill de Blasio as he seeks to minimize the fallout over Noerdlinger’s relationship with a convicted killer who has made disparaging comments about the police.

Noerdlinger, the longtime top aide to de Blasio’s wife, has been engulfed in controversy after it came to light that she is dating a convicted murderer and drug dealer who has called cops “pigs” and expressed distaste for white people.

The unearthing of these remarks by ex-con Hassaun McFarlan is said to have raised “serious concerns about Noerdlinger having a seat at top-level” New York Police Department (NYPD) meetings, according to the New York Daily News.

Noerdlinger in 2000, while working as Sharpton’s spokeswoman, called for the boycotting of companies that donated to the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, which had been helping to pay for the defense of New York policemen acquitted on charges of murdering Amadou Diallo. The comments came at a time of high tensions in the city over the Diallo case.

As the New York Post reported at the time, Noerdlinger’s boycott call was made at the same time prominent Harlem Rev. Calvin Butts was stirring up public anger against both the police and then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani:

“There are many who are calling for calm, but I am not one,” he told The Post. “I think that people ought to be agitated, they ought to be active.”

Earlier in the day, Butts told worshippers, “There is an evil that permeates the place called City Hall,” and called on New Yorkers to stand up for their rights.

“There is no chance that your police will not be resisted. They must be resisted, they will be resisted,” he said in a sermon.

The benevolent associations, unions, and other police groups likely remember that controversy quite well. If so, they also remember the support they tended to get from the Giuliani administration, in stark contrast to the atmosphere of distrust building around de Blasio. The revelation that the administration now has someone on board who had been calling for a boycott of the PBA makes it easier to understand why someone like Mullins at the SBA sees a proliferation of red flags around this administration.

De Blasio has not proved successful at maintaining public safety while reining in police procedure. Actions have consequences, and a lot of New Yorkers remember well the consequences the last time distrust of the NYPD was allowed to drive public safety policymaking. And if de Blasio doesn’t remember that, he’s clearly got staffers who can remind him.

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De Blasio and the Left: Reality Bites

After Bill de Blasio’s landslide victory, I wrote that New York’s incoming mayor had benefited greatly from what I called “the Obama effect.” President Obama had developed the blueprints for an inexperienced far-left activist to win a general election: rely on lofty rhetoric, because no one believes it anyway. That is, no one believes a modern-day politician would be foolish or reckless enough to actually carry out all the left’s preferred economic and security policies. Today’s New York Times confirms that I was mostly right: I should have said “almost no one.”

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After Bill de Blasio’s landslide victory, I wrote that New York’s incoming mayor had benefited greatly from what I called “the Obama effect.” President Obama had developed the blueprints for an inexperienced far-left activist to win a general election: rely on lofty rhetoric, because no one believes it anyway. That is, no one believes a modern-day politician would be foolish or reckless enough to actually carry out all the left’s preferred economic and security policies. Today’s New York Times confirms that I was mostly right: I should have said “almost no one.”

It turns out that some delusional true believers really do expect liberal politicians to trash the private sector in the name of social “justice” and sacrifice public safety out of some deranged hatred of the police. And they are unhappy with de Blasio. The new mayor might have thought he earned a bit of patience from the left. After all, he has already restricted effective and legal policing, and the results are clear: shootings have increased as the police have taken fewer guns off the street.

But that appears to have only whetted the appetites of the city’s hard-leftists. They got a taste of mayhem, and want more of it:

The mayor who shot to fame denouncing stop-and-frisk tactics and luxury condominiums is now defending hard-nosed policing and cutting deals with developers, bowing to the realities of leading an unruly city but also angering an activist left that propelled his rise to the Democratic elite.

Impatience with the mayor is now spilling into outcry. On Wednesday, housing advocates will march in Harlem to highlight what they say is a too-weak effort by City Hall to build affordable homes. And the Rev. Al Sharpton is planning a march on Saturday to call for an end to aggressive policing in the wake of a black Staten Island man’s death after being placed in a chokehold during a routine arrest.

Mr. de Blasio, who advisers say is deeply concerned about disappointing his supporters, has struggled to explain that the lofty liberal rhetoric of his mayoral campaign cannot be imported wholesale into City Hall — that there may be a limit on how many affordable units can be extracted from developers, that the so-called broken-windows policing strategy often credited with helping to lower crime cannot be abandoned overnight.

Really the whole story is worth reading. De Blasio, of course, isn’t actually tough on crime–by normal standards, at least. Only in the fever swamps of the left is he taking a hard line. And in a way, you can’t blame them. He did tell them he was one of them. On the other hand, there was no reason to believe him–the idea that de Blasio was being completely honest on the campaign trail did not really occur to seasoned observers. De Blasio’s base wants him to govern as if he were insane. He’s not insane. Therefore they will continue to be disappointed.

But the fact that he’s not insane is not a high enough bar. Public safety has already receded, and some of the miraculous gains made by de Blasio’s predecessors are beginning–only beginning–to fade. He’s at a crossroads, but it does offer de Blasio an opportunity: he has plenty of time to correct his mistakes and keep New York City on an even keel for the rest of his term.

It’s early enough that the damage from de Blasio’s mistakes is far from irreversible. And I think the Times story is unfair to de Blasio when it says: “Yet at home, Mr. de Blasio, who swept into office on the promise that New York City could be governed from the left, is discovering that liberalism has its limits.”

Is it true that de Blasio is discovering that liberalism has limits? I doubt it. Surely de Blasio has some terrible ideas about governing, as would anyone who was inspired to public service by the Marxist Sandinistas. But the manifold failures of big-government liberalism throughout the last century make it unlikely that any politician smart enough to win a serious office like New York City mayor in a landslide is just learning, on the job, that liberalism has limits. Liberalism is nothing but limits.

What de Blasio is dealing with now is a sector of the left–grown increasingly louder and more numerous in recent years–that doesn’t consider the results of public policy to be relevant. For the dedicated left, the value in a policy is its intentions and the purity of its identity politics. Gun crime is up, and to the left it matters not. De Blasio is not learning that his policies reduce public safety. He’s learning that his left-wing base wants those policies anyway.

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Ferguson and the Right: the Geography of Community Policing

One of the stranger reactions to yesterday’s disturbing standoff between a militarized county police force in Ferguson, Missouri and protesters was for leftist commentators to accuse libertarians and limited-government conservatives of insufficient outrage. Paul Waldman wrote an absolutely ridiculous version of this yesterday at the Washington Post, asking where all the libertarians were. In the process, he revealed that leftists apparently think if libertarians don’t work for Reason magazine, they don’t exist. (Why he missed libertarians who write for the same newspaper he does goes unexplained.)

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One of the stranger reactions to yesterday’s disturbing standoff between a militarized county police force in Ferguson, Missouri and protesters was for leftist commentators to accuse libertarians and limited-government conservatives of insufficient outrage. Paul Waldman wrote an absolutely ridiculous version of this yesterday at the Washington Post, asking where all the libertarians were. In the process, he revealed that leftists apparently think if libertarians don’t work for Reason magazine, they don’t exist. (Why he missed libertarians who write for the same newspaper he does goes unexplained.)

But foolishness aside, it did raise an interesting point: namely, the fact that this issue blurs ideological lines, as well as the fact that libertarians have raised their profile sufficiently to be on speed dial in case of emergency. The issue of heavyhanded policing itself does not divide the left, but it does divide the right. And that is a topic Ben Domenech has covered before and returned to again this morning in the wake of the Ferguson coverage. Domenech writes that attitudes toward the police can be something of a Rorschach test for libertarians and conservatives:

If you want an indication about where someone sits on the dividing line between conservative and libertarian, sometimes it’s as simple as how they answer this question: how do you feel about cops? Do you naturally tend to trust them, viewing them as a necessary and needed hedge acting in defense of law and order? Or are you naturally suspicious of them, believing them to be little more than armed tax collectors and bureaucrats with a tendency to violence and falsehood in service of their whims? Are cops the brave individuals who stand between the law-abiding and those who would rob, rape, and kill, or are they the low-level tyrannical overpaid functionaries of the administrative state, more focused on tax collection in the form of citations, property grabs, and killing the occasional family dog?

This isn’t to say that only libertarians are suspicious of cops. There has always been a strain of conservatism very skeptical of government power, and as police forces have become more interested in seizing assets and ignoring complaint, many conservatives have become openly critical of their behavior. Indeed, Mary Katharine Ham has a great response to what we’re seeing in Ferguson, as does Kevin Williamson. But how you answer that initial question will tell you a lot about your political assumptions regarding authority.

I would say, however, that there’s another dividing line here. How you feel about cops depends on your experience with them, and your experience with them often depends–aside from race, of course–on geography.

Look at the pictures of last night’s standoff in Ferguson. The complaints are not just about arbitrary arrests or a media crackdown. The complaints also have to do with the county police rolling in on military-style vehicles and wearing the kind of body armor and fielding the kinds of weapons–and pointing them at unarmed protesters–we usually associate with a war zone. Ferguson is not a war zone.

But intense and effective policing, even of high-crime areas, doesn’t have to look that way. In fact, a police force that looks the way it did in Ferguson last night is almost certainly an indication of counterproductive policing. (And thus raises questions about whether the police were actually sufficiently trained to use the weaponry they had with them.)

I work in New York City, and until recently lived in Washington Heights in Manhattan. It is a neighborhood with a troubled history. It’s also ethnically diverse and immigrant-heavy, and so it’s normally a model of a stable civil society brimming with energy–strivers with large families just trying give everyone in their world a better life. But it has also been a beneficiary of better policing. In 1987, the New York Times proclaimed it the city’s “murder capital.” Today, along with next-door Inwood, it is safer than all Manhattan neighborhoods except the Upper West Side and Upper East Side.

Having lived in Washington Heights twice a decade apart, I saw the improvement, though it began before I first moved to the neighborhood. The Heights were part of the general decline in New York City crime under the proactive policing efforts begun after David Dinkins’ atrocious term as mayor. And here’s the thing about the Heights: it did this without putting tanks on the streets and snipers on the roofs.

Proactive policing is not synonymous with militarized policing–not by a long shot. I have been amazed time and again by the calm under fire demonstrated by the NYPD. It’s almost exactly the opposite of what we saw in Ferguson. In Ferguson, the police showed up prepared for war; that in itself is an escalation, and it risks becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So conservatives and libertarians may have very different instinctive responses to the police. But controlling for other factors, including race–black New Yorkers gave former NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly 63 percent approval last year–it’s impossible to truly understand how a population sees the police without taking into account the geographic distinctions between them. Sometimes the most effective police forces fighting the most sophisticated threats are the ones who make the best argument against militarized law enforcement.

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The Soda Ban and Helicopter-Mayoring

Today the Michael Bloomberg era in New York City drew to a close. Not officially, of course; Bill de Blasio’s mayoralty was inaugurated at the beginning of January. But today it can begin in earnest, and in modest acclamation: the soda ban is dead. And with it exits a style of governing that will most indelibly be remembered for perhaps its greatest flaw: an obnoxious paternalism that told even the city’s starving homeless precisely what they can and cannot consume.

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Today the Michael Bloomberg era in New York City drew to a close. Not officially, of course; Bill de Blasio’s mayoralty was inaugurated at the beginning of January. But today it can begin in earnest, and in modest acclamation: the soda ban is dead. And with it exits a style of governing that will most indelibly be remembered for perhaps its greatest flaw: an obnoxious paternalism that told even the city’s starving homeless precisely what they can and cannot consume.

New York State’s highest court today rejected the final appeal to keep the ban on large sodas in place. The New York Times headline on the story is “City Loses Final Appeal on Limiting Sales of Large Sodas,” but I think we’re all winners here, the city included. Bloomberg is to be commended for some of his policies: the full-throated defense of public safety chief among them. But Bloomberg got caught up in paternalistic social engineering and the soda ban was one of the most invasive–and illegal–results. The Times reports:

In a 20-page opinion, Judge Eugene F. Pigott Jr. of the State Court of Appeals wrote that the city’s Board of Health “exceeded the scope of its regulatory authority” in enacting the proposal, which was championed by former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.

The decision likely will be seen as a significant defeat for health advocates who have urged state and local governments to actively discourage the consumption of high-calorie beverages, saying the drinks are prime drivers of a nationwide epidemic of obesity.

Two lower courts had already sided against the city, saying it overreached in attempting to prohibit the purchase of sugared drinks in containers larger than 16 ounces, about the size of a medium coffee cup. By a 4 to 2 vote, the justices upheld the earlier rulings.

In that article, however, you can see who Bloomberg’s real constituents were: first and foremost, the media. Proponents of intrusive statist powers are, according to the Times, “health advocates.” Simply because they say so. Even though some of the schemes the “health advocates” have pursued have been shown to produce exactly the opposite result–that is, the population’s choices become less healthy. But as with most liberal projects, the intentions are all that matter. Who wouldn’t want to ban large sodas? Think of the children.

The irony of the Bloomberg administration’s overreach on sugary drinks is that such helicopter-mayoring overshadowed other policies and came to identify him. He’s been replaced by a much more liberal politician, who may actually restore some of Bloomberg’s reputation. Say what you will about Bloomberg’s nanny statism, but he did not acquire his inspiration for public service by watching the Marxist Sandinistas.

Bloomberg’s record on public safety threatens to be undone by de Blasio, whose election ended the era of hugely popular and undeniably successful police commissioner Ray Kelly, after which the police were instructed to stop gun violence by smiling at passersby. It’s too early to say if the resulting recent spike in violent crime is here to stay, but all indications are that de Blasio’s terrible ideas about public safety are just as irresponsible and unserious as they seemed when they began emanating from Planet Brooklyn during the campaign.

The biggest initial threat to de Blasio’s public approval was his staunch opposition to charter schools. De Blasio prefers to delegate his education policy to the unions, with the result that minority students have even fewer opportunities. De Blasio soon realized that trashing proven educational opportunities perhaps struck the wrong “tone.” (We can cut de Blasio some slack here though: it’s doubtful the Sandinistas had anything to say about charter schools, so the mayor was learning on the job.)

De Blasio represents a different kind of progressivism than Bloomberg’s version of city governance. For Bloomberg, that has advantages. Had he been followed by a more conservative mayor, his successor would have simply built on the better policies Bloomberg instituted while quietly scrapping the restrictions on fizzy bubblech. Instead, he’s being followed by an ideologue testing the limits the people will place on his airy radicalism, using New Yorkers as crash-test dummies.

That may leave New Yorkers pining for Bloomberg, but there’s a caveat: de Blasio has so far shown himself responsive to public opinion. If that ends up curtailing his leftist impulses, such populism will distinguish itself from the pompous elitism with which New Yorkers had in recent years been treated.

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Is Skyrocketing Gun Violence a Wake-Up Call for de Blasio?

Important caveats apply, but the news out of New York City on gun violence is not good. The New York Post reports:

The number of shooting victims has skyrocketed across the city this year — up 43 percent in just the last month — while fewer guns are coming off the streets, NYPD statistics reveal.

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton has repeatedly shifted the focus from shootings to a steep decline in homicides, and claims he is not worried about the gun violence.

But sources told The Post it will only get worse in the hotter summer months, and that the alarming trend is the result of a more “reactive” police force handicapped by the inability to use tactics like stop-and-frisk.

“Cops aren’t putting their hands on anyone,” a source said.

It’s early yet, and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton is not entirely wrong, as a Post editorial concedes, that “Crime goes up, it goes down.” But as the Post also points out, crime fluctuates for a reason. There has always been a contradiction bordering on hypocrisy in liberal calls to crack down on legal gun ownership and Second Amendment rights to reduce gun violence while tying the hands of the police and impeding the proven–and constitutional–efforts to actually reduce gun violence.

Part of the left’s argument against the NYPD was that its “stop and frisk” policy resulted in relatively few arrests. They took this to mean that in such cases the stops themselves were unnecessary. It’s easy to spot the logical flaw here: the point was not to fill the prisons but to prevent crime. Which is exactly what the policy did:

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Important caveats apply, but the news out of New York City on gun violence is not good. The New York Post reports:

The number of shooting victims has skyrocketed across the city this year — up 43 percent in just the last month — while fewer guns are coming off the streets, NYPD statistics reveal.

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton has repeatedly shifted the focus from shootings to a steep decline in homicides, and claims he is not worried about the gun violence.

But sources told The Post it will only get worse in the hotter summer months, and that the alarming trend is the result of a more “reactive” police force handicapped by the inability to use tactics like stop-and-frisk.

“Cops aren’t putting their hands on anyone,” a source said.

It’s early yet, and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton is not entirely wrong, as a Post editorial concedes, that “Crime goes up, it goes down.” But as the Post also points out, crime fluctuates for a reason. There has always been a contradiction bordering on hypocrisy in liberal calls to crack down on legal gun ownership and Second Amendment rights to reduce gun violence while tying the hands of the police and impeding the proven–and constitutional–efforts to actually reduce gun violence.

Part of the left’s argument against the NYPD was that its “stop and frisk” policy resulted in relatively few arrests. They took this to mean that in such cases the stops themselves were unnecessary. It’s easy to spot the logical flaw here: the point was not to fill the prisons but to prevent crime. Which is exactly what the policy did:

Research has converged on the conclusion that a shift from reactive to proactive policing by the N.Y.P.D. has played the crucial role in what the criminologist Franklin Zimring called a “Guinness Book of World Records crime drop.” Starting with community policing under Mayor David Dinkins, and greatly intensifying under Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani with the Compstat system’s intensive monitoring of crime, the city flouted the leading theory that police cannot reduce crime but can only respond to it.

While crime rose in many large cities over the past decade, it continued to decline in New York City. Zimring singles out the use of focused vigilance with “hot spot” policing, which began in 2002, as a particularly plausible explanation. Our research shows that a central element of that approach is the increased use of stop and frisk in high-crime neighborhoods.

Yet activist judge Shira Scheindlin embraced the very same logical flaw that the left was trying to push against the NYPD, and dramatically escalated the left’s war-on-the-war-on-crime by including it in a ruling outlawing the practice. That gave ammunition to those seeking to oust the successful police commissioner Ray Kelly, and far-leftist Bill de Blasio’s victory in the mayoral election sealed Kelly’s fate.

Getting rid of Kelly was only an element of the plan to discard the strategies that had helped bring down crime and save the lives of countless New Yorkers, especially those in minority neighborhoods. Now the NYPD is on the defensive because gun confiscation is down and gun violence is up.

Bratton’s spin includes bragging about the fact that while shootings are up, homicides are down. This, as California police officer “Jack Dunphy” (a pseudonym) writes, is not due to police work:

The fact that more people are being shot but fewer of them are dying is more of a testament to the state of emergency medicine in New York than to anything Bratton might be doing. Those two lines on the graph cannot diverge for long, and with the police effectively neutered, the criminal class surely will take advantage.

It’s great that a combination of emergency medicine and, probably, luck has kept the homicide rate from spiking along with the gun violence. But de Blasio must know–and Bratton surely knows–that if the numbers don’t improve soon, or if they get worse, the NYPD better have a strategy to turn things around.

As I’ve written in the past, the success of Rudy Giuliani’s administration may have helped get de Blasio elected by taking a problem off the table for the Democrats, but it will, for the same reason, likely make the voters less willing to give de Blasio a break if things head south. After the Giuliani and Bloomberg years, New Yorkers have had two decades of steadily improving quality of life and have come to expect a degree of safety in the city streets.

Those who have been in the city long enough to remember the situation Giuliani inherited will see its return coming a mile away, and vote accordingly (with their feet if necessary, by leaving the city). Those who have never known a less safe New York may very well panic at the first sign of disintegrating public safety. Either way, de Blasio and Bratton don’t have much room for error. If these numbers are not a fluke, New Yorkers will know precisely who to blame.

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Playing Politics with NYC’s Magnet Schools

Eight of the specialized public high schools in New York City, including Stuyvesant High School, The Bronx High School of Science, and Brooklyn Tech, rely on a standardized admissions exam. Mayor Bill de Blasio said during his campaign that this system, although it treats every student the same, is unfair, because it does not allow a sufficient number of minority candidates to prevail. This year, just 8 black students and 21 Latino students were admitted to Stuyvesant High School (disclosure: I attended Stuyvesant in the 1980s), leading de Blasio to repeat his claim that admission should be based on a range of factors, including recommendations and grades. Blacks and Hispanics, who make up about 70 percent of the city’s eighth grade class, make up only about 12 percent of the group of students admitted to the elite schools that use the exam.

To judge the controversy, it is worth reading this New York Times story from last year, which observes that at least one minority has enjoyed great success on the admissions exam: 72 percent of Stuyvesant’s students at that time were Asian. The story begins with Ting Shi, who, for his first two years in the States, “slept in a bunk bed in the same room with his grandparents and a cousin in Chinatown.” Because his parents worked 12-hour shifts, he “saw them only on Sundays.” After two years of test prep, including after-school and summer classes, Ting scored well enough on the exam to get into Stuyvesant.

The public magnet schools have been a means for non-affluent families to get an education on par with the education they would receive at a first-rate private school. You would think that people on the left would view the success of Asians in the system as a sign of the triumph of merit over racial and, in many cases, economic privilege. But Asians are the wrong kind of minority, and their success, far from meriting celebration, apparently needs to be rolled back.

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Eight of the specialized public high schools in New York City, including Stuyvesant High School, The Bronx High School of Science, and Brooklyn Tech, rely on a standardized admissions exam. Mayor Bill de Blasio said during his campaign that this system, although it treats every student the same, is unfair, because it does not allow a sufficient number of minority candidates to prevail. This year, just 8 black students and 21 Latino students were admitted to Stuyvesant High School (disclosure: I attended Stuyvesant in the 1980s), leading de Blasio to repeat his claim that admission should be based on a range of factors, including recommendations and grades. Blacks and Hispanics, who make up about 70 percent of the city’s eighth grade class, make up only about 12 percent of the group of students admitted to the elite schools that use the exam.

To judge the controversy, it is worth reading this New York Times story from last year, which observes that at least one minority has enjoyed great success on the admissions exam: 72 percent of Stuyvesant’s students at that time were Asian. The story begins with Ting Shi, who, for his first two years in the States, “slept in a bunk bed in the same room with his grandparents and a cousin in Chinatown.” Because his parents worked 12-hour shifts, he “saw them only on Sundays.” After two years of test prep, including after-school and summer classes, Ting scored well enough on the exam to get into Stuyvesant.

The public magnet schools have been a means for non-affluent families to get an education on par with the education they would receive at a first-rate private school. You would think that people on the left would view the success of Asians in the system as a sign of the triumph of merit over racial and, in many cases, economic privilege. But Asians are the wrong kind of minority, and their success, far from meriting celebration, apparently needs to be rolled back.

It must be acknowledged that, although the city has made free test prep available and is engaged in outreach efforts, children in better school systems on average have a better chance of scoring well on the test. Children in “lower-income families have less access to high-quality elementary and middle schools.” But this argument proves too much. Since the quality of one’s elementary and middle school education presumably has something to do with one’s preparation for high school, the claim that standardized tests are imperfect indicators of merit, which is true enough, is a front for a call to lower admissions standards. Any standard that fails to admit a sufficient number of blacks and Hispanics will be denounced as, in the words of Lazar Treschan of the Community Service Society of New York, “academic apartheid.”

To see that this complaint–that the tests don’t really measure merit–is a front, one has only to imagine what would follow if New York took the route of considering recommendations in admissions, which, incidentally, would mean that someone would have to be paid to read all those recommendations. It seems likely that this standard would benefit children in affluent school districts whose parents will push for such recommendations and whose teachers will have more time and resources to devote to identifying and helping promising students. If, after adopting this more expensive admissions system, we found that no more or only a few more black and Hispanic students were admitted, a new measure of merit would have to be found. The sole guide to whether or not a system is gauging merit, for those who object to the admissions exams, is whether an unspecified target number of blacks and Hispanics are admitted.

Asian parents and students compelled to defend the tests have been “puzzled about having to defend a process they viewed as a vital steppingstone for immigrants. And more than a few see the criticism of the test as an attack on their cultures.” While one should hesitate to characterize “Asian culture,” there is no question that attitudes toward test taking play a role in this debate. Students interviewed by the Times asserted that “rigorous testing was generally an accepted practice in their home countries.” In contrast, those who object to the exams on “philosophical grounds” argue that “you shouldn’t have to prep Sunday to Sunday, to get into a good high school.”

Although I agree that deploying so much industriousness to pass a standardized exam is not the best possible use of an eighth graders’s time, I suspect that this time is better used than that of parents and children struggling to game the more holistic standards used for admission to private schools. However that may be, once we concede what seems undeniably true: that children are not responsible for the families they were born into or the school districts in which they happen to reside, we also have to acknowledge what attempting to rectify that unfairness at the level of admissions standards requires: not developing a new merit system, but doing away with merit systems altogether.

State Assemblyman Karim Camara, a Democrat from Brooklyn, plans to introduce legislation that would give the city power to change the admissions criteria for the specialized schools (the admissions criteria for three of the schools are fixed by state law) and “specify what other admissions criteria should be used.” This move, which affects only the small percentage of New York City’s students who attend public magnets and seeks to replace a system that has worked for students like Ting Shi, is unlikely to improve New York City’s school system in any way. But it is certainly, as Mayor de Blasio has shown, good politics.

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Bill de Blasio’s Mandate

While it’s tempting for politicians to interpret an election victory as a mandate that aligns with their personal priorities over those of the electorate, the disconnect is especially glaring in the case of Bill de Blasio. The new mayor of New York City was sworn in yesterday in a downright bizarre spectacle. During a procession of speeches, the New York City of 2013-14 was notably absent to make room for the New York City of the progressives’ fevered imaginations, completely at odds with how New Yorkers generally view their home.

A majority of black and Hispanic New Yorkers believe race relations in their city are “generally good.” Yet the chaplain who gave yesterday’s invocation claimed the city was a “plantation.” New York has seen a steady drop in the murder rate–to historic lows, in fact–for over a decade at the same time as its incarceration rate has plummeted. Yet de Blasio’s inauguration featured a speech by Harry Belafonte in which the crowd was treated to his false depiction of the city: “While it is encouraging to know that the statistics have indicated a recent drop in our city’s murder rate, New York alarmingly plays a tragic role in the fact that our nation has the largest prison population in the world.”

But demonstrably false progressive propaganda on race and crime are just the opening acts. The main event, of course, is income inequality. This is a Progressive Moment, we are told, thanks to the victory of de Blasio and others, such as the election of an avowed socialist to Seattle’s city council advocating policies she acknowledged will cost jobs–but hey, revolutions are messy. And this Progressive Moment was made possible, as the New York Times explains, by frustration with “the city’s current gilded era” which “propelled” de Blasio to power. Except, of course, that this is a fantasy.

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While it’s tempting for politicians to interpret an election victory as a mandate that aligns with their personal priorities over those of the electorate, the disconnect is especially glaring in the case of Bill de Blasio. The new mayor of New York City was sworn in yesterday in a downright bizarre spectacle. During a procession of speeches, the New York City of 2013-14 was notably absent to make room for the New York City of the progressives’ fevered imaginations, completely at odds with how New Yorkers generally view their home.

A majority of black and Hispanic New Yorkers believe race relations in their city are “generally good.” Yet the chaplain who gave yesterday’s invocation claimed the city was a “plantation.” New York has seen a steady drop in the murder rate–to historic lows, in fact–for over a decade at the same time as its incarceration rate has plummeted. Yet de Blasio’s inauguration featured a speech by Harry Belafonte in which the crowd was treated to his false depiction of the city: “While it is encouraging to know that the statistics have indicated a recent drop in our city’s murder rate, New York alarmingly plays a tragic role in the fact that our nation has the largest prison population in the world.”

But demonstrably false progressive propaganda on race and crime are just the opening acts. The main event, of course, is income inequality. This is a Progressive Moment, we are told, thanks to the victory of de Blasio and others, such as the election of an avowed socialist to Seattle’s city council advocating policies she acknowledged will cost jobs–but hey, revolutions are messy. And this Progressive Moment was made possible, as the New York Times explains, by frustration with “the city’s current gilded era” which “propelled” de Blasio to power. Except, of course, that this is a fantasy.

Back to the polling on New Yorkers’ attitudes toward their city: a majority say the economic condition of the city is good, and closing the income gap between rich and poor rated the lowest of four voter priorities even at the height of the de Blasio campaign. How do these numbers square with de Blasio’s landslide victory? Perfectly, as a matter of fact.

De Blasio was practically handed the mayoralty after winning the Democratic nomination and never looking back. But the primaries garnered 20 percent turnout. As the New York Times explained, this means de Blasio’s initial victory was bestowed on him by “about 3 percent of all New Yorkers.” The Times also reported that turnout in the general election was a record low of 24 percent–noticeably lower, even, than the turnout for Michael Bloomberg’s election to a third term.

This also casts some light on the question of what kind of national momentum this Progressive Moment has. New York is a liberal city. Seattle is a liberal city. It’s certainly notable that de Blasio is the first registered Democrat elected to lead New York in two decades, but it’s not as though statist excesses were rare in the Bloomberg administration–and, let us not forget, Bloomberg was a former registered Democrat who changed his registration in order to avoid a Democratic primary and then dropped his Republican registration while in office.

Some, such as reporters at Politico, suggest the local progressives may elevate the conversation to the national level. The outlet has a story about the crucial relationships de Blasio will have to manage, and President Obama is at the top of the list:

De Blasio’s going to want attention from the federal government that Obama probably won’t be able to give, and Obama’s going to be pressured to respond more fully to the kind of progressive politics that de Blasio represents.

Will he, though? Will the leftwing mayor of New York put pressure on a second-term president to follow his lead? Anything more than lip service is highly doubtful, and class warfare rhetoric was part of the president’s speeches before most people outside New York knew much about de Blasio. You could argue, in fact, the opposite: Americans on the whole seem more concerned about inequality than New Yorkers. But then you’d have to contend with the fact that for five years Obama has been pushing inequality as a stain on the national conscience and his approval ratings have been in a nosedive.

In that way and in others, the president offers de Blasio a cautionary tale. Obama was elected in the midst of an economic crisis, and he chose to push for an unpopular health-care reform bill despite the fact that health care was not a top priority for voters in 2008 and at the time Americans favored keeping the current health-care system. The lesson for de Blasio is how easily an administration can be knocked off-course if public opinion is discarded as soon as the sun sets on Election Day.

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Bill de Blasio and New York’s New Normal

Few doubt that New York’s Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio has benefitted from the twenty years of Republican governance he decried to win the Democratic nomination. New Yorkers’ memories of the disastrous Dinkins administration may be fuzzy, but there are also many with no memories of that era at all. For many this is difficult to believe, but yes: it really was that long ago.

That may have helped de Blasio win the election. But the fact that Republicans are victims of their own success to some degree in New York should not be too comforting to de Blasio. He and his backers seem to be forgetting the flip side to this coin: New Yorkers have gotten comfortable living in a safe city, and their tolerance for crime has thus diminished. De Blasio has almost no margin of error because his political base has no idea what it’s like to live in a city that can’t control its crime.

With the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy later this month, remembrances of that era are everywhere. But in 2007, the New York Times reported on another reason to look back to 1963:

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Few doubt that New York’s Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio has benefitted from the twenty years of Republican governance he decried to win the Democratic nomination. New Yorkers’ memories of the disastrous Dinkins administration may be fuzzy, but there are also many with no memories of that era at all. For many this is difficult to believe, but yes: it really was that long ago.

That may have helped de Blasio win the election. But the fact that Republicans are victims of their own success to some degree in New York should not be too comforting to de Blasio. He and his backers seem to be forgetting the flip side to this coin: New Yorkers have gotten comfortable living in a safe city, and their tolerance for crime has thus diminished. De Blasio has almost no margin of error because his political base has no idea what it’s like to live in a city that can’t control its crime.

With the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy later this month, remembrances of that era are everywhere. But in 2007, the New York Times reported on another reason to look back to 1963:

As 2007 draws to a close, it seems very likely that there will be fewer than 500 killings in the city (as of Sunday evening, there had been 492) for the first time since reliable records started being kept.

That was 1963.

The body count that year reflected the beginnings of what was to be an alarming rise in the city’s murder rate through 1990.

So if you live in New York today, you may remember the bad old days of high crime, but you probably don’t remember the last time the city was as safe as it has been in the current era. That’s the message Republican candidate Joe Lhota tried to send in his campaign ads against de Blasio. But the ads fell flat.

In fact, the reality of New York in 2013 left Lhota–a former deputy mayor in the Giuliani administration–grasping to conjure visions of a dangerous past as prologue. In one ad, he used footage from a recent biker gang attack to make his point. Yet this made no sense: showing recent crimes that took place under the “right” kind of public safety strategy is surely not a very good way to argue against theoretical changes in that strategy.

It was a riddle Lhota never came close to solving: how do you explain the consequences of certain policies to voters who aren’t familiar with either the consequences or the policies? Lhota might as well have been regaling the crowds with stories of how he used to walk to school uphill in the snow both ways while carrying his shoes.

But that doesn’t mean the new normal worked solely to de Blasio’s benefit. The very same elements that helped him win the mayoral election will likely have the opposite effect once in office. What kind of tolerance will the brunch-and-farmer’s-market crowd have for unsafe streets? De Blasio doesn’t want to find out.

And that means de Blasio will be confronted with a fact many on the left have, against all evidence, relentlessly denied: the NYPD is keeping the city safe. As Heather Mac Donald explained in the New York Post just before Election Day:

In the ’90s, the local press incessantly promoted other cities’ crime records as rivals to New York’s, so desperate was it to discredit the idea that New York’s dependency-routing Republican mayor and his newly assertive police department were behind the New York turnaround. Yet, by decade’s end, those other cities’ crime declines — most notably San Diego’s and Boston’s — flattened out or reversed. …

Today, Boston’s murder rate is twice New York’s; Washington DC’s is three times New York’s; Baltimore’s, five times. If New York’s blacks faced the same homicide risk as San Diego’s blacks, our city’s overall homicide rate would be nearly 75 percent higher.

Policing alone explains the New York crime-fighting difference. New York was nearly the same city in 1990 and 2010 regarding the same liberal “root causes” of crime — income inequality, poverty and drug use have not diminished. Even conservatives’ own pet “root cause” of crime — illegitimacy — hasn’t improved.

That will be a reality check for de Blasio, who subscribes to the classic liberal mode of governance: decry the rich while depending on them for revenue. This approach to governing really should have been discredited long ago: the rich already keep the city running with tax revenue and the money they spend around the city, and enabling the poorer city dwellers to improve their standard of living doesn’t get any easier when you soak the job creators.

But again, it’s hard to discredit something people have no memory of. There is no frame of reference for so many younger New Yorkers or those who have moved to the city in recent years. The New York they know–the only New York they know–is the one they live in now. They expect de Blasio to keep it that way.

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De Blasio’s Advantage: No One Believes Him

The first lesson to take away from Bill de Blasio’s first-round victory in the Democratic primary and then nearly fifty-point landslide in the general election is that it is quite possible none of it would have taken place but for an early television ad starring his son, Dante. That ad introduced many voters to de Blasio’s diverse family, and he never looked back. The power of presentation seems much better appreciated on the left these days than the right.

More important, however, is the conventional wisdom slowly building about de Blasio’s intentions once in office. The New York Daily News’s insightful opinion editor Josh Greenman tweeted his instinct that de Blasio will treat crime prevention in New York the way Barack Obama treated anti-terrorism policy: “that pragmatism will trump principles to ensure security.” His column on the election, published at about the same time, expanded a bit:

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The first lesson to take away from Bill de Blasio’s first-round victory in the Democratic primary and then nearly fifty-point landslide in the general election is that it is quite possible none of it would have taken place but for an early television ad starring his son, Dante. That ad introduced many voters to de Blasio’s diverse family, and he never looked back. The power of presentation seems much better appreciated on the left these days than the right.

More important, however, is the conventional wisdom slowly building about de Blasio’s intentions once in office. The New York Daily News’s insightful opinion editor Josh Greenman tweeted his instinct that de Blasio will treat crime prevention in New York the way Barack Obama treated anti-terrorism policy: “that pragmatism will trump principles to ensure security.” His column on the election, published at about the same time, expanded a bit:

While too much political friction brings paralysis, too little presents the opportunity for major mistakes. For the good of the city, de Blasio has to see this danger coming. He needs to get used to saying no to his friends, and even turning some of them into enemies. …

Similarly, de Blasio, who has made a career of channeling complaints about the NYPD, will soon be the commander-in-chief of those armed forces, responsible for driving the murder rate lower and holding the line on quality-of-life crimes.

Deep down, despite all his criticism of Bloomberg, de Blasio knows: If he loses a handle on crime, the jig is up.

Indeed it is. De Blasio is unlikely to get himself a second term if he reminds New Yorkers of the bad old days of crime. But what’s more interesting, and no doubt frustrating to conservatives, is the fact that progressives who run on dismantling successful security policies get elected because these days, voters just don’t believe them. Maybe it’s the Obama effect: years of shamelessly vilifying the American national-security establishment turned into obsessive targeted assassination, the surveillance state on steroids, and a third and nearly a fourth new military engagement in the Middle East once Obama grasped the levers of power.

There’s a certain amount of condescension in this view, probably unwarranted with regard to both Obama and de Blasio. Obama has always seemed to understand the difference between foreign entanglements, as he sees them, and domestic security. His tech-heavy campaigns and nanny-state addiction to control foreshadowed his policy agenda. For his part, de Blasio is an experienced political operative who has worked for both Clintons in New York–and for David Dinkins, whose failed mayoralty resulted from the last time New Yorkers elected a Democratic mayor.

De Blasio capitalized on the public’s Bloomberg fatigue, but even the outgoing mayor, having been a campaign target, told the New York Times after the two met post-election that he wasn’t sure de Blasio was silly enough to govern as he campaigned:

Still, Mr. Bloomberg offered a hint that his successor may find governing a metropolis to be slightly more complicated than the more abstract terrain of a political campaign.

“He’s got to make his own decisions,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “Some things will look easy, and then he gets into them, he’ll find them more difficult, and maybe he’ll change his mind.”

There’s that condescension again, as the Times translates Bloomberg’s message: governing is “slightly more complicated” than not governing. De Blasio is getting the Obama treatment at this point. The true liberal governing agenda is so reckless that most people on the left just assume liberals are making empty promises, and those on the right hope they are.

It’s the strange reality of post-9/11 politics, and a testament to the success of figures like Rudy Giuliani. New York has suffered through periods in which it was difficult to imagine the city at or near its true potential. It is now difficult for New Yorkers to imagine that mindset, thanks in large part to the public servants who helped rescue the city from the Dinkins era. It is characteristic of this new confidence–which borders, at times, on a very un-New York complacency–that few are willing to believe a progressive will govern as a progressive, that liberalism is fun in theory but there are too many lives at stake to put it into practice.

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“Empty”: Eliot Spitzer’s Creepy New Ad

The best thing Eliot Spitzer has going for his race to be New York City comptroller is that voters don’t pay enough attention to the job to be overly concerned about the potential damage someone as destructive as Spitzer can cause in the office. (Stop random New Yorkers on the street and ask them if they even know who their current comptroller is; many won’t, even though he’s currently also running for mayor.)

But they should be concerned, because the job of comptroller, which involves financial management and oversight for the city, is one that Spitzer is almost uniquely unqualified for. What’s more, Spitzer is so lost in his own world of narcissistic hyperactivity that his campaign is determined to remind voters just how unqualified he is for the job. Take his latest ad, titled “Empty,” which is predicated on the belief that New Yorkers would vote for someone who promises to bring the city to financial ruin:

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The best thing Eliot Spitzer has going for his race to be New York City comptroller is that voters don’t pay enough attention to the job to be overly concerned about the potential damage someone as destructive as Spitzer can cause in the office. (Stop random New Yorkers on the street and ask them if they even know who their current comptroller is; many won’t, even though he’s currently also running for mayor.)

But they should be concerned, because the job of comptroller, which involves financial management and oversight for the city, is one that Spitzer is almost uniquely unqualified for. What’s more, Spitzer is so lost in his own world of narcissistic hyperactivity that his campaign is determined to remind voters just how unqualified he is for the job. Take his latest ad, titled “Empty,” which is predicated on the belief that New Yorkers would vote for someone who promises to bring the city to financial ruin:

    

Turning the city’s financial district into a ghost town is the kind of dystopian fantasy that may–may–run through the minds of Occupy Wall Street-style Chomskyite pseudoanarchists. But Spitzer wants to be elected to a vital position of power over the city’s finances. He is not a college freshman, when this sort of thing would have a certain idealistic charm only because of the near-certainty that the kid would grow out of it. That Spitzer’s admiration for bringing financial ruin to the private sector has only increased as he has aged tells you all you need to know about him.

But this should be no laughing matter to New Yorkers. In October 2011, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli released a report detailing how the ongoing Wall Street sluggishness was hurting the city. DiNapoli is the comptroller for the state, not the city, but he made clear the damage being done to both. As the New York Times explained at the time:

Wall Street’s struggles will most likely be reflected in New York City’s tax revenue, as well as in the revenues of nonfinancial businesses, like high-end real estate firms and expensive restaurants, which depend on a steady flow of well-off customers. The comptroller’s report estimates that for every job lost on Wall Street, two are lost in the city in other industries, and one additional job is lost elsewhere in the state.

“These developments will have a rippling effect through the economy and adversely impact state and city tax collections,” Mr. DiNapoli said in the statement. “As we know, when Wall Street slows, New York City and New York State’s budgets feel the impact and that is a concern.”

Again: for every job lost on Wall Street, the city loses two more and the state an additional job. At the time, DiNapoli was warning that the securities industry could shed 10,000 more jobs over the following year. Tax revenue plummets, which for those who lost a job because of the city’s struggles and now rely more on city services is a perfect storm of financial crisis.

DiNapoli had been interviewed by WNYC radio about the report, and said that to put the numbers in perspective, the prior year Wall Street had been the source of 14 percent of the state’s tax revenue and 7 percent of the city revenue. DiNapoli was asked about the Occupy protests and how the protesters were calling for policies that could impoverish those they were claiming to represent. He responded, diplomatically:

When employment contracts, that’s personal income tax revenue, and money that’s spent in neighborhoods on goods and services, so that’s where that ripple effect happens.

That’s how a responsible comptroller speaks about basic economics. It’s also the opposite of how Spitzer sees the world. An empty financial district and taxpayers fleeing the city is a scene that leaves Spitzer grinning like a madman. It is disturbing both that Spitzer finds this so amusing and also that he thinks voters would too, hence the ad. As CNN reports:

The new ad is part of a $450,000 buy premiering this week and will be featured primarily on major news websites. Its twin came out Monday, a less triumphant spot that instead featured Spitzer’s admission of the personal failing that lead to his resignation as New York governor in 2008.

Making creepy, “triumphant” videos about New York City as a ghost town is how Spitzer spends his own money. New Yorkers can be forgiven for wondering just what he’ll do when he has access to theirs.

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Is Bloomberg a Lobbyist or a Mayor?

Over the last several weeks NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s anti-gun lobbying efforts have come under the microscope. After the shootings in Sandy Hook, Bloomberg started the 501(c)(4) Mayors Against Illegal Guns Action Fund. One would think that given the resources at the disposal at the super-rich Bloomberg, the group could and would operate independent of the city and its already thinly stretched resources. The fact that it should be financially self-sufficient for the optics alone should’ve been clear to the mayor and his staff. This week, unfortunately for Bloomberg, it became clear how the group has invested city resources into the one-man crusade against guns as far away as Nevada. The New York Post reports on a lobbying trip a city employee recently made:

Mayor Bloomberg is spending city cash and resources on his pet project to toughen US gun laws through his national organization, The Post has learned.

City employee Christopher Kocher was sent to Nevada as a representative of Mayors Against Illegal Guns to lobby for a bill that enforces background checks on all firearm sales in that state.

But Kocher, who works as a special counsel to the mayor’s office, apparently didn’t want his role to be known and scrubbed his City Hall e-mail address from the state of Nevada lobbying-registration Web site early this month.

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Over the last several weeks NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s anti-gun lobbying efforts have come under the microscope. After the shootings in Sandy Hook, Bloomberg started the 501(c)(4) Mayors Against Illegal Guns Action Fund. One would think that given the resources at the disposal at the super-rich Bloomberg, the group could and would operate independent of the city and its already thinly stretched resources. The fact that it should be financially self-sufficient for the optics alone should’ve been clear to the mayor and his staff. This week, unfortunately for Bloomberg, it became clear how the group has invested city resources into the one-man crusade against guns as far away as Nevada. The New York Post reports on a lobbying trip a city employee recently made:

Mayor Bloomberg is spending city cash and resources on his pet project to toughen US gun laws through his national organization, The Post has learned.

City employee Christopher Kocher was sent to Nevada as a representative of Mayors Against Illegal Guns to lobby for a bill that enforces background checks on all firearm sales in that state.

But Kocher, who works as a special counsel to the mayor’s office, apparently didn’t want his role to be known and scrubbed his City Hall e-mail address from the state of Nevada lobbying-registration Web site early this month.

The trip, and the earlier revelation that the city’s own Web hosting services were used by the group, raised eyebrows. Bloomberg’s staff have claimed that the group’s activities, even in Nevada, impact New Yorkers, thus justifying the expense with their tax dollars. It wasn’t always this way. In 2011 Fred Siegel and Sol Stern wrote for our magazine about how Bloomberg had used his private largess to wield unprecedented political power in the city:

Bloomberg [has] spent tens of millions of dollars annually between elections to make sure that not too many influential New Yorkers would risk criticizing him. Mayor Bloomberg’s predecessors, from Ed Koch to Rudy Giuliani, had also been tempted, and had at times given into the temptation, to use the power of incumbency and control of taxpayer funds to reward allies and punish enemies. The difference is that Bloomberg was able to channel his private philanthropic giving each year to hundreds of the city’s arts and social-service groups with the reasonable expectation that the gratitude these groups felt to their patron would extend to their patron’s political causes. At the very least, it would make the groups and their influential boards of trustees think twice before criticizing the mayor’s policies.

At an event last week the group held a rally where the names of victims of gun violence were read in solemn remembrance. Famously, or perhaps infamously would be the better word, the name of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, a bomber in the Boston Marathon attack, was read. The group later claimed that the name found its way on the list thanks to a list found on the Salon website. Considering Tsarnaev was on his way to bomb Times Square when he was, thankfully, shot dead by the Boston Police Department, is a fact that someone on the group’s staff should have been aware of.

This isn’t the first time Bloomberg has used city resources to pay for his own pet projects. In his campaign against sugary drinks, advertisements on the subway have been ever present, and recently sponsored tweets were even purchased by the city warning about the dangers of juice. If the mayor cared to be careful with New Yorkers’ money he would be best advised to store it away for a rainy day.

That rainy day might come soon, as a pending $40 million lawsuit by the family of a young girl was recently filed. While the mayor was spending his energies campaigning against guns and telling New Yorkers what to eat, he was also forcing the implementation of a deeply flawed 9-1-1 system. The pending lawsuit involves the death of a young girl who died while waiting for medical attention after Bloomberg’s newly installed multimillion dollar system crashed inexplicably for several minutes just days after its launch. Instead of sending city staffers to Nevada, there are more than a few problems the Bloomberg administration could and should be addressing that are much more immediate to the health and wellbeing of New Yorkers much closer to home.

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What Would Montesquieu Make of Modern New York?

In the wake of the latest New York City corruption scandal, the New York Times convened a panel to answer an interesting question: Mayor Michael Bloomberg remains, to our knowledge, above and disconnected from the sea of corruption around him; it is because rich politicians have less need for the money of others, and are therefore less corruptible?

Leave aside the low expectations–Bloomberg may be many things, but at least he’s no crook–and the liberal goggles through which the Times views the issue–Mitt Romney’s honest wealth makes him cold and out of touch; Bloomberg’s honest wealth makes him honest–and there is actually a very old question here about politics and the ideal nature of republican governance.

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In the wake of the latest New York City corruption scandal, the New York Times convened a panel to answer an interesting question: Mayor Michael Bloomberg remains, to our knowledge, above and disconnected from the sea of corruption around him; it is because rich politicians have less need for the money of others, and are therefore less corruptible?

Leave aside the low expectations–Bloomberg may be many things, but at least he’s no crook–and the liberal goggles through which the Times views the issue–Mitt Romney’s honest wealth makes him cold and out of touch; Bloomberg’s honest wealth makes him honest–and there is actually a very old question here about politics and the ideal nature of republican governance.

Montesquieu believed that because bad laws and their consequences are so difficult to undo or unravel in a democracy, representative government required that its elected practitioners possess virtue. This may sound obvious, but he wasn’t arguing the benefit of virtuous leaders; he was arguing the necessity of them for the system to survive. Virtue, to a monarch, was highly preferable to the alternative but its absence, in his mind, did not fatally undermine the functionality of the government. He also made the seemingly counterintuitive point that men who make laws to which they are not obligated have less need for virtue. (This is highly debatable, and something on which I think he was mistaken. But his underlying point is sound: self-interest begets temptation.)

He restates this explicitly in his collection My Thoughts: “What usually makes a man wicked is that he finds himself in circumstances in which he is more influenced by the utility of committing crimes than by the shame or danger in committing them.” Virtue–offering shame in this case–is a form of rationality. Earlier in that passage Montesquieu also makes an eloquent case for the kind of Western democracy that would later emerge and prove him prescient in the cauldron of the 20th century:

The laws make good and bad citizens. The same spirit of timidity that makes a man exacting in his duties in one republic will make a man cunning in another. The same spirit of boldness that makes a man love his Country and sacrifice himself for it in one State will make a highway robber in another.

The system matters. So, as Montesquieu might say were he to visit modern-day America: What’s the deal with New York? The city, like the state and many others, is high on democracy but seemingly low on virtue. Bloomberg, who governs much like a classic British aristocrat buoyed by his wealth and noblesse oblige, appears to possess the virtue his colleagues lack but is somewhat mystified by the self-rule they practice. What gives?

As one might imagine, the answer is complex. In part, the corruption around the mayor is encouraged, but by no means justified of course, by the distortions to the democratic process; the city might gain from more freedom, not less. State Senator Malcolm Smith, at the center of the current corruption scandal, wanted to bribe his way onto the mayoral ballot which, thanks to campaign finance law, was the destination, not the journey, as Bob McManus explains in the New York Post today:

But the ballot, not the office, was where Smith’s real opportunity lay. Running for office brings access to the city’s six-dollars-for-one, taxpayer-funded campaign-contribution-matching system.

Clearly Smith was in a position to deliver state money to others — see above, Bharara’s complaint — so why not use that influence to attract “contributions” from corrupt favor-seekers? Multiplied by the match, that would create a pot of cash that an imaginative fellow like Malcolm Smith would have no trouble putting to beneficial use.

There is also the question of defining corruption. It’s true that Bloomberg hasn’t been caught doing anything that would land him in prison, but is that where we draw the moral line too? Bloomberg’s vast riches enabled him to skirt the normal party process and shape-shift politically to ease his path to office in the way citizens of more modest means could never hope to. Once in power, he used his private wealth to essentially buy the acquiescence and silence of those who might otherwise be tempted to criticize or challenge him, as Sol Stern and Fred Siegel explained in COMMENTARY in 2011:

The difference is that Bloomberg was able to channel his private philanthropic giving each year to hundreds of the city’s arts and social-service groups with the reasonable expectation that the gratitude these groups felt to their patron would extend to their patron’s political causes. At the very least, it would make the groups and their influential boards of trustees think twice before criticizing the mayor’s policies.

The vehicle for Bloomberg’s gifts was the Carnegie Corporation. During the 2005 election year alone, Bloomberg donated $20 million to Carnegie, which in turn distributed the mayor’s largesse to 400 arts and social-service groups in gifts of $10,000 to $100,000. Officially, the donor to Carnegie was listed as “anonymous,” but as New York Times reporter Sam Roberts pointed out, all the groups were aware that the generous benefactor also had a day job at City Hall. “That Mr. Bloomberg is the source of the Carnegie contributions has long been an open secret and cannot help but benefit the mayor politically,” Roberts wrote.

His political shape-shifting also meant Bloomberg was less constrained by principle and less accountable for his actions in office. He also was prevented by law from serving a third term, so he simply had the law changed so he could stay in power. That may make him more ethical than Malcolm Smith, but that’s a low bar–and it’s far less clear that Montesquieu would approve.

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Bloomberg’s Soda Grab and the Administrative State

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his aides at the NYC Department of Health seem to have been caught unawares Monday when Judge Milton Tingling Jr. struck down their “Portion Cap” ban on large sizes of sweetened beverages. They probably realized the mayor’s signature nanny-state initiative was unpopular with ordinary New Yorkers; but lulled, perhaps, by favorable press, they hadn’t realized how vulnerable it was on legal grounds as well.

In the short term, Judge Tingling’s decision is a delicious win for consumer liberty against the Napoleonic New Bossiness streak in the city’s chief executive. As has been pointed out, however, the judge would not necessarily have struck the regulations down had they been adopted by the New York City Council rather than imposed by the mayor’s appointees through administrative fiat; he wasn’t recognizing any general right of individuals to decide for themselves what foods to consume. Moreover, the judge’s diagnosis of the rules as “arbitrary and capricious” because they were riddled by so many exceptions is at best double-edged from opponents’ standpoint; would we really prefer rules redrafted so as to allow fewer exceptions?

But yesterday’s decision should cheer us for other reasons. It holds the Gotham administration accountable for overstepping the separation of powers, an important principle in the safeguarding of liberty. (In a profile of Judge Tingling, the New York Times notes that he’s been skeptical of government claims to power in a number of other cases as well.)

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Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his aides at the NYC Department of Health seem to have been caught unawares Monday when Judge Milton Tingling Jr. struck down their “Portion Cap” ban on large sizes of sweetened beverages. They probably realized the mayor’s signature nanny-state initiative was unpopular with ordinary New Yorkers; but lulled, perhaps, by favorable press, they hadn’t realized how vulnerable it was on legal grounds as well.

In the short term, Judge Tingling’s decision is a delicious win for consumer liberty against the Napoleonic New Bossiness streak in the city’s chief executive. As has been pointed out, however, the judge would not necessarily have struck the regulations down had they been adopted by the New York City Council rather than imposed by the mayor’s appointees through administrative fiat; he wasn’t recognizing any general right of individuals to decide for themselves what foods to consume. Moreover, the judge’s diagnosis of the rules as “arbitrary and capricious” because they were riddled by so many exceptions is at best double-edged from opponents’ standpoint; would we really prefer rules redrafted so as to allow fewer exceptions?

But yesterday’s decision should cheer us for other reasons. It holds the Gotham administration accountable for overstepping the separation of powers, an important principle in the safeguarding of liberty. (In a profile of Judge Tingling, the New York Times notes that he’s been skeptical of government claims to power in a number of other cases as well.)

Under separation of powers as generally understood at the time of the Framers, an executive agency cannot enact new legislation on its own, that being a role constitutionally reserved for the legislature. Especially during the Progressive Era and New Deal, these barriers were eroded as administrative agencies claimed a power to issue regulations that looked more and more like traditional legislation, under powers deemed to have been delegated by the legislature. Still, there are some limits, both under the U.S. Constitution and in New York (which under a 1987 case called Boreali v. Axelrod applies its own, quirky standard in evaluating whether a regulation oversteps the separation of powers.) And those limits to delegation were at the heart of the soda case.

The New York City Health Department was asserting a breathtakingly broad definition of its powers, on the grounds that successive city charters give it sweeping authority to address all matters relating to health. Under the interpretation advanced by Bloomberg’s lawyers, this vague charter language would empower the department to issue pretty much whatever diktats it pleases for New Yorkers to obey on any topic somehow related to advancing health. (They did concede that the department could not take actions that were otherwise unconstitutional–say, suspending freedom of the press or quartering troops in civilian homes during peacetime.)

Against this, Judge Tingling reasoned (as have judges in other cases) that the charter language could not have been meant to grant the department an absolute and monarch-like authority over a subject populace; natural and reasonable limits must be read into it. What are the natural and reasonable limits to the authority of a public health agency? Looking at cases where the agency’s authority to act had been upheld, the judge noted instances of emergencies, particularly those relating to epidemics of contagious or communicable diseases. Those are indeed the traditional functions at the core of a public health agency; saving us from voluntarily assumed dietary choices that may very gradually undermine our health is not among them. So if the agency wishes to assert powers in these new areas, it must ask the legislature for new authority.

In that legal finding is the germ of a much-needed rebuke to some actors in the public-health movement, who have taken the centuries of moral and practical authority originally built up by their colleagues from the fight against epidemic infectious disease and dubiously sought to apply it to a dozen other health-related questions of life and lifestyle, including not only doughnuts, soft drinks and salty snacks but also such supposed “disease vectors” as gun ownership and overreliance on cars for commuting.

It’s about time someone told them no. Let’s thank Judge Tingling for doing that.

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Bloomberg Spends His Time on Soda, Not Record Homelessness

On Monday afternoon, Mayor Michael Bloomberg called a press conference to discuss a judge’s decision to strike down his infamous soda ban. The mayor told reporters he was confident the ban would be upheld by higher courts, and explained why the soda ban has been such an integral part of his administration: “It would be irresponsible not to do everything we can to try and save lives.” 

On that point, I agree with Mayor Bloomberg. His administration should be doing everything it can to save the lives of its citizens. Would a ban on soda (he calls it “portion control”) actually save lives? The research indicates that the soda industry is already suffering. Today the New Yorker quoted a soda industry statistic showing a 12-percent decrease in non-energy drink sales for the carbonated soft drink industry since 2005. Despite that decline, obesity rates have continued to climb. Attempts to institute taxes on soda have proven futile in fights against obesity and there has been little successful research conducted into if reduced soda intake would effectively reduce BMI (body mass index). Putting aside the egregious violations of individual liberty that this and many other Bloomberg pet projects commit, the soda ban would also likely achieve few, if any, of its aims.

If Bloomberg were so interested in saving lives, he should be focusing on how to do so within the bounds of his powers as mayor–powers that wouldn’t be challenged in court and fought over long after he leaves office. In 2004, shortly after becoming mayor, Bloomberg delivered a speech outlining his administration’s goals, including promising to lower the city’s shelter population as well as tackling other issues related to the homeless. The Atlantic Cities reports on how that turned out:

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On Monday afternoon, Mayor Michael Bloomberg called a press conference to discuss a judge’s decision to strike down his infamous soda ban. The mayor told reporters he was confident the ban would be upheld by higher courts, and explained why the soda ban has been such an integral part of his administration: “It would be irresponsible not to do everything we can to try and save lives.” 

On that point, I agree with Mayor Bloomberg. His administration should be doing everything it can to save the lives of its citizens. Would a ban on soda (he calls it “portion control”) actually save lives? The research indicates that the soda industry is already suffering. Today the New Yorker quoted a soda industry statistic showing a 12-percent decrease in non-energy drink sales for the carbonated soft drink industry since 2005. Despite that decline, obesity rates have continued to climb. Attempts to institute taxes on soda have proven futile in fights against obesity and there has been little successful research conducted into if reduced soda intake would effectively reduce BMI (body mass index). Putting aside the egregious violations of individual liberty that this and many other Bloomberg pet projects commit, the soda ban would also likely achieve few, if any, of its aims.

If Bloomberg were so interested in saving lives, he should be focusing on how to do so within the bounds of his powers as mayor–powers that wouldn’t be challenged in court and fought over long after he leaves office. In 2004, shortly after becoming mayor, Bloomberg delivered a speech outlining his administration’s goals, including promising to lower the city’s shelter population as well as tackling other issues related to the homeless. The Atlantic Cities reports on how that turned out:

In January 2013, for the first time in recorded history, the New York homeless shelter system housed an average nightly population of more than 50,000 people. That number is up 19 percent in the past year alone, up 61 percent since Bloomberg took office, and it does not include victims of Hurricane Sandy, who are housed separately.

The Bloomberg administration has blamed the economic crisis for the record numbers of homeless citizens in city shelters, but City Limits took Bloomberg and his administration for task on their wavering commitment to solving the problem, which has now turned into a crisis:

In the final chapter of his tenure, Bloomberg and the Department of Homeless Services appear worn out on the issue, maybe downhearted by the size of the problem. A sense of helplessness has grown where there was once a hint of notable successes. For all the brash ambition in the mayor’s final state of the city speech in February, homelessness didn’t merit a mention.

The Mayor’s staff and press office have spent a considerable amount of time and energy promoting a soda ban that the research suggests will be ineffective. Instead of spending the city’s limited resources in this manner, Bloomberg would have better served the city of New York by upholding his promise to homeless New Yorkers to get them off the street and into homes. The next mayoral election is in November. If Bloomberg decides to punt the issue to his successor, New York City’s homeless will spend at least one more winter in the cold.

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Ed Koch, 1924-2013

Cities decline. St. Louis was the third largest city in the United States in 1900 and now it’s the 58th. Cities die. Detroit had the most well-to-do middle class in the United States in 1960 and is now a lunar landscape. New York could have been one of those cities. In the mid-1970s, it gave every indication of becoming one. It went broke. It was drenched in crime, its transportation system covered in graffiti, its police force stained by corruption, its education system a calamity, its parks more muddy than grassy. And in the summer of 1977, all the horror came together in a blackout in which looters caused what would today be more than $1 billion in damage in a matter of six or seven hours.

Along came Ed Koch, a reform-minded congressman from Greenwich Village, considered to stand on the left of the Democratic Party. In retrospect, his election and assumption of the mayoralty was nearly providential. In one respect, what he did for the city was reasonably simple—he made it clear to the business community, which was fleeing in droves, that he understood how important it was to the city’s present and future, and did what he could within the limits of the day to alter New York’s anti-capitalist climate.

But it was what he did intangibly that really made the difference for a suffering city. He personified its understanding of itself—brash, informal, cheerful, pugnacious, blowhardish, tough, optimistic, and convinced of its own greatness. He seemed to have a mystical sense of how his theatrics might actually help New Yorkers feel better about where they lived, at a time when New York had become a sitcom punchline for danger and dirt and decay. He was as angry as they were about the crime; he was as in love with its energy; he was as disgusted by the kids running wild; and he was as dismayed by the self-destruction of the poorest neighborhoods, especially in the Bronx, where he was born.

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Cities decline. St. Louis was the third largest city in the United States in 1900 and now it’s the 58th. Cities die. Detroit had the most well-to-do middle class in the United States in 1960 and is now a lunar landscape. New York could have been one of those cities. In the mid-1970s, it gave every indication of becoming one. It went broke. It was drenched in crime, its transportation system covered in graffiti, its police force stained by corruption, its education system a calamity, its parks more muddy than grassy. And in the summer of 1977, all the horror came together in a blackout in which looters caused what would today be more than $1 billion in damage in a matter of six or seven hours.

Along came Ed Koch, a reform-minded congressman from Greenwich Village, considered to stand on the left of the Democratic Party. In retrospect, his election and assumption of the mayoralty was nearly providential. In one respect, what he did for the city was reasonably simple—he made it clear to the business community, which was fleeing in droves, that he understood how important it was to the city’s present and future, and did what he could within the limits of the day to alter New York’s anti-capitalist climate.

But it was what he did intangibly that really made the difference for a suffering city. He personified its understanding of itself—brash, informal, cheerful, pugnacious, blowhardish, tough, optimistic, and convinced of its own greatness. He seemed to have a mystical sense of how his theatrics might actually help New Yorkers feel better about where they lived, at a time when New York had become a sitcom punchline for danger and dirt and decay. He was as angry as they were about the crime; he was as in love with its energy; he was as disgusted by the kids running wild; and he was as dismayed by the self-destruction of the poorest neighborhoods, especially in the Bronx, where he was born.

He served a term too long, and had a sad final few years in office, but he tore into his post-mayoral life with the gusto he’d shown in his first two terms. He wrote bad movie reviews; he hosted “The People’s Court”; he had a radio talk show; he did television; and he was courted by both parties because you could never tell where he was going to come down. He wasn’t that much fun to be around, to be honest, because with Ed, everything, and I mean everything, was about Ed. He could not begin a sentence with any other word than “I.” 

But, in the end, there is this to be said about him, and it may be the most important thing: He cared, and cared deeply, about his people, and their homeland, and their future. He fought for them, he fought against those who would wound them, and knew who their enemies were both foreign and domestic (he told Vanity Fair that the living person he most despised was Jimmy Carter).

He died as he lived, a good Jew.

UPDATE: After I posted this came word that Koch had already designed his own tombstone, and had chosen for his epitaph the final words spoken by Daniel Pearl, the journalist slaughtered by Al Qaeda: “My father is Jewish. My mother is Jewish. I am Jewish.”

Baruch dayan emet.

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Will Liberals Meet Reality on the NYC School Bus Strike?

In the New York Post last week, John wrote an excellent piece on the latest union-taxpayer showdown in New York City–the school bus driver strike that began earlier this month. This battle, like many across the country for oversized compensation for unionized workers that outpaces a municipality’s ability to pay, could shape the financial future of New York City for years to come. In the Post John explained, 

You should watch this one closely, whether you have kids who’ve been kicked off a bus or not, because it’s a sneak preview of what is likely to be coming over the next decade in municipalities across the country.

These workers aren’t city employees. They work for private companies. The city’s contracts with those companies are up in June. The city plans to bid out the work.

It has to. You want it to. Trust me: Under the terms of the current contracts, providing this bus service costs — I hope you’re sitting down before you read this next clause — $7,000 a year per passenger.

That’s seven grand per kid.

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In the New York Post last week, John wrote an excellent piece on the latest union-taxpayer showdown in New York City–the school bus driver strike that began earlier this month. This battle, like many across the country for oversized compensation for unionized workers that outpaces a municipality’s ability to pay, could shape the financial future of New York City for years to come. In the Post John explained, 

You should watch this one closely, whether you have kids who’ve been kicked off a bus or not, because it’s a sneak preview of what is likely to be coming over the next decade in municipalities across the country.

These workers aren’t city employees. They work for private companies. The city’s contracts with those companies are up in June. The city plans to bid out the work.

It has to. You want it to. Trust me: Under the terms of the current contracts, providing this bus service costs — I hope you’re sitting down before you read this next clause — $7,000 a year per passenger.

That’s seven grand per kid.

Predictably, the unions have spent a considerable amount of time, effort and money trying to convince parents that their children would be safest in the hands of unionized drivers. The New York Post reported on the statistics regarding bus accidents with supposedly safer unionized drivers yesterday: 

Buses with public-school contracts were involved in more than 1,700 accidents in which the driver was at fault in each of the past five years for which numbers are available, according to statistics compiled by the city’s Department of Education.

The incidents range from minor fender-benders to collisions that resulted in 912 injuries in 2011, the latest year for which stats are available.

A year earlier, there were 1,792 accidents resulting in two deaths and 1,796 injuries.

Despite this bloody record, the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181 claims its crippling bus strike is being waged in the best interests of its student passengers — because only its members can do the job safely.

While thousands of New York City parents have been inconvenienced, the strike has hit the city’s disabled students the hardest. The New York Daily News reported on the heartbreaking reality for students who rely on school transportation to provide them with physical therapy and social interaction. The strike has left these vulnerable students homebound indefinitely, setting back progress they may have been making not only educationally, but also physically and emotionally. 

The former head of the MTA (the city’s transportation authority), Joe Lhota, recently announced his bid for mayor as a Republican, immediately shaking up the field of contenders. On Fox 5 New York this week Lhota commented on the strike,

These are private sector bus drivers who want to be treated as civil servants. That’s a very, very slippery slope that we’d go down. This is a contract arrangement between a private company… and these bus drivers. These bus drivers aren’t like transit authority workers, they are private sector workers, but they want the same benefits… The mayor is absolutely correct. The courts have held that what the union is asking for is illegal. You should not negotiate when something is illegal. 

The perceived mayoral front-runner, Christine Quinn, refuses to get involved in the debate, despite Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s hard line with the strikers. If the dispute outlasts Bloomberg’s administration (ending in November), which it may, its future under a new mayor is still very much up in the air. Candidates’ stances on the strike could play an outsized role in the race for parents and grandparents inconvenienced for the remaining months of the school year. 

While the strike is a local issue for residents of New York, it is yet another example of how unions across the country, despite claims regarding their competency and dedication, are interested in their own bottom lines and little else. For New Yorkers famous for their extremely liberal voting records, this could be a very rude awakening about the reality of union conflicts across the country.

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The NYPD’s Sky-High Approval Numbers

In April of last year, I mentioned that although former city comptroller Bill Thompson had run a surprisingly close race against New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2009–despite being vastly underfunded and written off by the national Democratic Party–heading into this year’s race to replace Bloomberg, Thompson quickly found himself the underdog. The presumed frontrunner was (and is) City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

I noted that one major difference between the two was in their respective approaches to the New York City Police Department amid the controversy over the city’s effective “stop and frisk” tactics that helped improve safety in some dangerous neighborhoods. Thompson threatened to fire Police Commissioner Ray Kelly; Quinn recognized the good work of the NYPD, though she expressed modest reservations about “stop and frisk.” I suggested voters would be prepared to punish Thompson and that his position on the NYPD was hurting his poll numbers. Today Quinnipiac released the results of a survey whose findings buttress my argument considerably:

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In April of last year, I mentioned that although former city comptroller Bill Thompson had run a surprisingly close race against New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2009–despite being vastly underfunded and written off by the national Democratic Party–heading into this year’s race to replace Bloomberg, Thompson quickly found himself the underdog. The presumed frontrunner was (and is) City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

I noted that one major difference between the two was in their respective approaches to the New York City Police Department amid the controversy over the city’s effective “stop and frisk” tactics that helped improve safety in some dangerous neighborhoods. Thompson threatened to fire Police Commissioner Ray Kelly; Quinn recognized the good work of the NYPD, though she expressed modest reservations about “stop and frisk.” I suggested voters would be prepared to punish Thompson and that his position on the NYPD was hurting his poll numbers. Today Quinnipiac released the results of a survey whose findings buttress my argument considerably:

In the wake of the Newtown massacre of the innocents and the growing gun control debate, New York City voters approve 75 – 18 percent of the job Police Commissioner Ray Kelly is doing, his highest approval rating ever, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today.

Voters also approve 70 – 23 percent of the job New York police are doing, the highest score since a 76 – 18 percent approval rating February 7, 2002, in the wake of 9/11, by the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University poll.

Kelly’s approval is 81 – 14 percent among white voters, 63 – 27 percent among black voters and 76 – 18 percent among Hispanic voters. Approval for the police overall is 80 – 14 percent among white voters, 56 – 37 percent among black voters and 67 – 23 percent among Hispanic voters. There is almost no gender gap in approval for Kelly or the police.

Voters disapprove of the police use of the stop-and-frisk tactic 50 – 46 percent.

New York City voters say 63 – 19 percent, including 53 – 31 percent among black voters, that it would positively affect their decision to vote for a candidate for mayor if the candidate promises to ask Kelly to stay as police commissioner.

Voters surely care who their next mayor is, but they seem to care even more who the police commissioner is. This also transcends identity politics, as the results clearly show. Liberals spilled much ink–usually getting the story wrong–in attempts to gin up animosity between the city’s minorities, especially New York’s black population, and the NYPD. Yet black voters overwhelmingly approve of the job Kelly and the NYPD are doing. That may help explain why Thompson, who is black, has gained no traction with voters by trashing the NYPD.

It also explains why Republicans have not stopped trying to convince Kelly to run for mayor. After all, many attributed Bloomberg’s poor showing in the 2009 election to the fact that some New Yorkers were just tired of Bloomberg’s never-ending mayoralty–yet Kelly has been police commissioner for as long as Bloomberg has been mayor, and he’s currently enjoying approval ratings significantly higher than Bloomberg’s. But it also may explain why Kelly keeps resisting the calls to jump in the race. He’s good at his job, New Yorkers agree, and he gets to stay out of the political fray, for the most part. And even though he’s not running in the election, he gets quite the vote of support during the campaign: the more clearly candidates express their approval of the NYPD, the more voters seem inclined to support them. With the mayoral race still wide open, the candidates could do worse than to take Quinnipiac’s free advice.

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Bloomberg’s Quest for a Celebrity Successor

In December, I wrote about New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s attempts to find a big-name successor, which focused on Hillary Clinton. Clinton is at the very least keeping her options open for a possible 2016 presidential run, which would have to start far too early to take on a responsibility like running New York City. But according to a report in the New York Times today, Bloomberg has been a one-man search committee, floating not just Clinton but also Ed Rendell, Mortimer Zuckerman, Chuck Schumer, and former Bloomberg deputy Edward Skyler.

That’s quite a list, and says much about how Bloomberg views the job. New York City is the media capital of the world, the front lines of 21st century homeland security, and a powerhouse when it comes to urban policymaking, especially with regard to fighting crime. There’s a reason that, as Rendell put it to the Times, he often hears it described as “the second most difficult job in the country.” There’s no doubt Bloomberg believes this–after all, he’s been in office three terms and still hasn’t gotten it right. But Bloomberg’s opinion of what it takes to run the city diverges both with precedent and the judgment of New Yorkers.

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In December, I wrote about New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s attempts to find a big-name successor, which focused on Hillary Clinton. Clinton is at the very least keeping her options open for a possible 2016 presidential run, which would have to start far too early to take on a responsibility like running New York City. But according to a report in the New York Times today, Bloomberg has been a one-man search committee, floating not just Clinton but also Ed Rendell, Mortimer Zuckerman, Chuck Schumer, and former Bloomberg deputy Edward Skyler.

That’s quite a list, and says much about how Bloomberg views the job. New York City is the media capital of the world, the front lines of 21st century homeland security, and a powerhouse when it comes to urban policymaking, especially with regard to fighting crime. There’s a reason that, as Rendell put it to the Times, he often hears it described as “the second most difficult job in the country.” There’s no doubt Bloomberg believes this–after all, he’s been in office three terms and still hasn’t gotten it right. But Bloomberg’s opinion of what it takes to run the city diverges both with precedent and the judgment of New Yorkers.

Of that list of five names, Rendell is the most interesting, because he is in some ways both the most and least logical of that list. He was born and raised in New York City. And he was also a (successful) big-city mayor in the Northeast, having run Philadelphia quite competently beginning in 1992, just two years before Rudy Giuliani would begin his first term in New York. But he is also far removed from his New York days, and has a keen understanding of why he would also be a poor choice to run New York City. “I’m not sure how many times I’ve stepped foot in Brooklyn,” he told the Times. “I have no understanding of Queens and no understanding of the Bronx.”

New York City is far more than just Manhattan, a fact which explains why the current crop of mayoral candidates is so underwhelming. The perceived Democratic frontrunner is City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, a Manhattanite. There is no viable candidate with strong roots in the outer boroughs. Like it or not, this is what would have made Anthony Weiner the putative frontrunner, had he not stumbled over a sex scandal.

Although Bloomberg has taken Quinn under his wing, these stories are fairly insulting to Quinn, since Bloomberg appears desperate to prevent her succession. And if a Manhattanite barely has the New York street cred to be mayor, a Philadelphia transplant most certainly has even less. Chuck Schumer wouldn’t have this problem, but he’s staying put in the Senate, having a clear shot at the Democrats’ top Senate leadership spot if Harry Reid retires (or is defeated) in 2016.

That leaves, of the five, Skyler and Zuckerman. Skyler is a relative unknown, and it’s far from clear that even with Bloomberg’s backing he could overtake Quinn. That leaves Zuckerman, the controversial billionaire publisher of the New York Daily News. He, too, is flattered by the suggestion but will be passing on the race:

“I would love to be in that job,” said Mr. Zuckerman, a student of policy who has no party affiliation and weighed running for the Senate a few years ago.

He insisted that Mr. Bloomberg’s suggestion had an informal “teasing” feel, even as he acknowledged a longstanding call to public service in New York.

“If I could be appointed, I’d probably be serious about it,” he added, wryly.

This whole quest is a classically Bloombergian love letter to the city. Bloomberg thinks highly of New York, and even more highly of himself. So he wants someone with the star power to keep New York at the top of the map. But New York doesn’t need his help to do so, and all signs point to Bloomberg’s legacy being a failed technocratic experiment anyway.

Bloomberg should notice something about the other candidates who are either running or considering it. In addition to Quinn and other Democrats, former Giuliani aide Joe Lhota is seriously exploring a run. Lhota is leaving his post as a well-respected head of the city’s transportation authority. And Republicans are apparently still trying to get Police Commissioner Ray Kelly to run. Kelly is popular and has obvious real experience running an essential part of city governance. The street-level experience, the granular knowledge of life in New York, and the years spent paying their dues by working to craft city policy are all things they have in common.

If Bloomberg’s time in office has demonstrated anything, it’s that the city would be ill served by a celebrity figurehead. Bloomberg may love New York, but he needs to have more faith in New Yorkers.

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New York GOP: Victim of its Own Success?

It was one of the great ironies of the 1992 presidential election that talk of a “peace dividend” contributed to Bill Clinton’s victory over George H.W. Bush by portraying Bush not as a failure, but as a success. As vice president and then as president, Bush presided over the American victory in the Cold War and the disintegration of the Soviet Union and its peaceful passage of power from Gorbachev to Yeltsin. Americans could attempt to fully turn their attention away from foreign policy, and thus away from the need to reelect Bush.

Along those lines, Charles Lane at the Washington Post had a very perceptive column last month arguing that when it came to crime, Republicans were victims of their own success. Lane wrote:

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It was one of the great ironies of the 1992 presidential election that talk of a “peace dividend” contributed to Bill Clinton’s victory over George H.W. Bush by portraying Bush not as a failure, but as a success. As vice president and then as president, Bush presided over the American victory in the Cold War and the disintegration of the Soviet Union and its peaceful passage of power from Gorbachev to Yeltsin. Americans could attempt to fully turn their attention away from foreign policy, and thus away from the need to reelect Bush.

Along those lines, Charles Lane at the Washington Post had a very perceptive column last month arguing that when it came to crime, Republicans were victims of their own success. Lane wrote:

It is a GOP triumph, because the enormous decline in crime over the past two decades coincided with the widespread adoption of such conservative ideas as “broken windows” policing and mandatory minimum sentences….

We’ll never know whether 2012 would have played out the same way if crime had staged a comeback during the recession, as many expected. Certainly in the past, crime was as important to the Republican brand as abortion and gay rights, if not more important.

Safer streets, though, have blunted what was once a sharp wedge issue, and, perhaps, freed the electorate to consider social and moral issues in a different light.

In fact, in recent times no place has been more important to the GOP’s image as successful crime fighters than New York City, where many of those policies were tested and proved their worth. Lane wrote that Democrats cannot afford politically to stray far from the GOP’s stance on crime because voters believe it is the GOP’s approach that reduced crime.

This, too, is an ongoing phenomenon in New York. And both factors may very well influence New York’s next mayoral race the way Lane believes they influenced the 2012 presidential election. With no prominent Republican in the mayoral race, Joe Lhota, the city’s transportation authority chief, stepped down to explore a run for mayor. Lhota is a well respected alumnus of Rudy Giuliani’s administration, and as the New York Times reports, Giuliani’s success has changed the city’s self-perception in ways that may hinder Lhota’s run:

One of Mr. Lhota’s earliest challenges could be determining how to characterize his ties to Mr. Giuliani, a polarizing figure who was an influential mayor.

Kathryn S. Wylde, the president of the Partnership for New York City, the city’s premier business association, said in an interview that a Lhota campaign would provide an opportunity to “remind us of what New York City was like 25 years ago” — before Republican administrations seized control of Gracie Mansion.

“So many current residents don’t remember,” she said. “It will be a good education for many young or new New Yorkers, who take for granted that New York has always been as vibrant and safe and livable a city as it is today.”

Lhota, essentially, may have too good a record to run on. To be sure, there are other marks against Lhota, the primary one being a fare hike Lhota helped bring about. Others include starting off with relatively weak poll numbers and the usual low Republican voter registration. But the fare hike is another irony: voters may concentrate on having to pay more for a subway ride, but may gloss over the speed with which Lhota’s MTA got the city’s transportation system back up and running after Hurricane Sandy.

New Yorkers may take their subways for granted. I don’t remember fully appreciating the New York transportation system until experiencing the Washington, D.C. metro–known for its constant delays, derailing trains, ever-broken escalators, doors that open when the train is in motion but not when they trap an infant without its mother, train schedules that will get you to a Nationals baseball game but may not be running trains when the game is over, and of course the occasional bird of prey joining morning commuters or even, on special occasions, getting its own train.

So Lhota has his work cut out for him. But the New York GOP can take some solace in the fact that if Democrats take the mayor’s office for the first time in two decades, they won’t have done it without 20 years of Republican success in the interim.

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