2001-12-08 / Letters

The Dayton Dilemma

The Dayton Dilemma

Dear Editor;

In view of the tragedy, November 12, I am reluctant to comment further on the Dayton Seaside "tax mess" as the Wave called it, several years ago. But Dayton Seaside, essentially, is about the rule of law, I think, and impatience with efforts to seek respect for the rule of law does not serve the common good.

Perhaps in the first day of Chanukah (December 10), City Hall will achieve the victory it has sought for a number of years: new owners at Dayton Seaside. That City Hall made new owners a political aim should give all citizens pause. If City Hall can determine the owners at Dayton Seaside, whom will it choose next, in other enterprises? Is this the proper function of government – picking and choosing the identity of private ownership? Till now, I thought not.

But the victory will be bittersweet, perhaps, for Mayor Giuliani, Comptroller Hevesi, City Council Speaker Vallone, Council Deputy Majority Leader Spigner, Councilman Stabile – all of whom will also be removed, a few weeks after the Dayton Seaside owners. Also out of office January 1 will be Borough President Shulman and Public Advocate Green. Every one of these officials was either complicit, I believe, or compliant, in the Dayton Seaside ordeal. Although Assembly member Pheffer remains in her post, her political ambition was dashed this year. Congressman Weiner seems a safe bet for re-election, but in his intrusion into Dayton Seaside, he demonstrated his capacity to ignore the Constitution’s provision for separation of powers. Perhaps a rival will ask him why he wrote a clearly improper letter to the bankruptcy judge, without notice to the Dayton Seaside owners, seeking to prevent their opportunity to respond to his unfair charges against them. If Mr. Weiner will ignore the Constitution against one, are we certain he will not ignore the Constitution against another?

But my greatest lesson from Dayton Seaside is not that City Hall is no great respecter of the rule of law for all. My greatest lesson is that the daily media in our city is not committed truly to the First Amendment. Sure, the media will support the Amendment when it comes to irresponsible speech. But the daily media is not interested in using the Amendment itself to demand that officials comply with our state and federal constitutions, and state law and agreements with the citizens. It was the Wave, not those other guys that fought for the First Amendment at Dayton Seaside.

This is, clearly, a tragic time for Rockaway. In such a time, when the good hearts of the ordinary citizens are permitted to guide our course, the community rebounds, and renews itself. Indeed, the responses of the citizens of the city, state and country, to the terrible events of September 11 and November 12, are in accord with the populist spirit that I have found in Federalist No, 57. Clearly, the ordinary citizens of our country have displayed "communion of interests and sympathy of sentiments" with New Yorkers, since September 11. And who, more than the people of Rockaway, reflects the spirit of Federalist 57?

How right Madison was, in that document, in taking note of the dedication of the American people to the spirit of liberty. When we grieve our losses from our hearts, and not on orders from our leaders, we show the world we are a free people.

And when we demand that our leaders follow the rule of law, in letter and spirit, we show the world that our soil is inhospitable to tyrants, terrorists and thugs.

If the Dayton Seaside ordeal were to become common practice by government, I would be concerned for the future of freedom in our country. But Dayton Seaside is not likely, I think, to recur, because there was only one weekly in Rockaway – The Wave, that was prepared to look at the issue in terms of the facts, not in terms of bias. The reporting by the Wave, in Dayton Seaside, has to be an embarrassment to the daily media that showed no interest in the facts of this ordeal. In the months ahead, if any of the Dayton Seaside-involved former officials seek public office, I expect the daily media will then ask the questions it refused to ask while the ordeal was underway. But it will take a long time for the media to match the First Amendment standard set by the Wave in calling attention to the Dayton Seaside story.


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